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New technology, timetable tweaks and leaf-busting trains to keep Scotland’s Railway on time this autumn

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Friday 15 Sep 2023

New technology, timetable tweaks and leaf-busting trains to keep Scotland’s Railway on time this autumn

Region & Route:
Scotland’s Railway: Scotland

Scotland’s Railway will use specialist trains, timetable tweaks and innovative technology to keep passengers and freight running on time throughout autumn. 

Network Rail’s 18 leaf-fall teams and its fleet of seven leaf-busting trains will work around-the-clock to keep trains on the move, reducing delays during this challenging period. 

Leaves on the line are the railway’s equivalent to black ice on the roads, causing trains to lose their grip on the rails and increasing braking distances. 

This can cause trains to overshoot signals or platforms and also affects signalling systems – making it harder for signallers to track where trains are.

To combat this, specialist rail-head treatment trains (RHTTs) and multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs) will cover more miles than ever before, visiting the Airdrie-Bathgate route for the first time and working for longer on the Highland Main Line.

They’ll use high-pressure water jets to clean the rails before coating them with a sandy gel that sticks to them, helping improve train wheels’ grip.

Between September 18 and December 8, more than 80,000 miles of track will be treated by this specialist fleet while teams of engineers will work on the tracks to target leaf-fall black spots.

The leaf-fall teams will also trial the use of ‘hydrophobic’ sand in Scotland, which has been successfully used in south east England last year – it sticks to the rails, giving trains more traction. Network Rail will be monitoring the effect this has closely throughout the season.

A train fitted with cryogenic equipment will also be trialled in the Edinburgh area. This will shoot dry ice pellets onto the rails, causing leaves to crack and break away to leave a clean, dry surface behind for trains to grip onto. 

ScotRail will make changes during autumn to make its timetable more resilient against the adverse conditions that the change in weather can bring. Most of these will be minor, with changes to calling patterns and arrival times on a very small number of services. The majority of routes will retain the same schedule that’s in place just now.  

Liam Sumpter, route director at Network Rail Scotland, said: “Our teams will be working extremely hard with colleagues across Scotland’s Railway to keep passengers and freight moving this autumn.  

“Leaves on the line are dangerous, affecting trains in the same way that black ice affects cars. To prepare for this, we’re using tried and tested techniques, as well as some innovative technology, such as cryogenic equipment and hydrophobic sand, that will break down leaves and improve traction for trains.” 

David Simpson, service delivery director at ScotRail, said: “We know few things frustrate customers more than when their train is delayed because of leaves on the line, and people are always a bit sceptical, but the reality is that it can lead to disruption across the network. 

“Each autumn, thousands of tonnes of leaves fall from trees on to railway infrastructure, which can create a challenging environment. Wet weather and passing trains can cause leaves to break down into a slippery surface on the line which result in train wheels losing grip, making it harder for them to stop quickly – similar to black ice on the roads. 

“That’s why, this autumn, we’ll be working flat out alongside our colleagues at Network Rail to keep rails and train wheels clean to help minimise the impact the weather has on our customers. 

“We’ve been working round-the-clock to prepare our trains and our stations for the change in weather. We’ll be making sure the timetable is as resilient as possible, and customers are kept up to date with accurate information about their journeys.” 

About Network Rail

We own, operate and develop Britain’s railway infrastructure; that’s 20,000 miles of track, 30,000 bridges, tunnels and viaducts and the thousands of signals, level crossings and stations. We run 20 of the UK’s largest stations while all the others, over 2,500, are run by the country’s train operating companies.

Usually, there are almost five million journeys made in the UK and over 600 freight trains run on the network. People depend on Britain’s railway for their daily commute, to visit friends and loved ones and to get them home safe every day. Our role is to deliver a safe and reliable railway, so we carefully manage and deliver thousands of projects every year that form part of the multi-billion pound Railway Upgrade Plan, to grow and expand the nation’s railway network to respond to the tremendous growth and demand the railway has experienced – a doubling of passenger journeys over the past 20 years.

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