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What a re-leaf: Trains passing through Ilford, Romford, and Stratford will be fitted with foliage blowers to keep trains running this autumn

PUBLISHED: 07:00 11 October 2019

Network rail have analysed where leaves fall. Picture: Network Rail

Network rail have analysed where leaves fall. Picture: Network Rail

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Delays due to leaves on the line could become a distant memory thanks to new leaf blowing technology.

Six “leaf-busting trains will operate 24/7” along the line. Picture: Network RailSix “leaf-busting trains will operate 24/7” along the line. Picture: Network Rail

Commuters can breathe a sight of re-leaf after Network Rail revealed that six "leaf-busting trains will operate 24/7" to minimise the disruption caused by leaves on the line through Ilford, Stratford and Romford.

The new equipment will use high-pressure water jets to remove debris, before coating the rail with a gel to provides more grip.

The kit will be installed on "specialist trains" which will travel more than 80,000km between now and December 13 through Norfolk and east London - the equivalent of travelling around the world twice.

Network Rail analysed data to identify several leaf hotspots and said problem areas are often where trees and vegetation grow close to the line.

As leaves on the line cause track and signal failures, response teams will carry out daily inspections to remove the build-up of leaves in a number of key areas.

Mark Budden, Network Rail Anglia's route director, said: "We have looked at the data to identify where the hotspots are and are fully prepared to deal with leaves that fall onto the tracks, which create a problem similar to black ice on the road.

"We're working with the train operators to prevent delays to trains. We're going to be working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep passengers moving, so they can get to their destination safely and reliably this autumn."

In addition to leaf blowing technology, trains on the line will also be fitted with Wheel Slide Protection (WSP) - which is like ABS in cars.

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Leaves on the line stick to damp rails and passing trains compress them into a thin, slippery black layer on the rail which affects braking distance and reduces traction and acceleration.

This means train drivers must slow down earlier for stations and signals to avoid overshooting them. They must also accelerate more gently to avoid wheel spin. All this can increase journey time and lead to delays for passengers.

WSP helps the trains' wheels to brake more evenly, preventing wheel damage and wear that could lead to trains being taken out of service for repair.

Last year, thanks to WSP, none of Greater Anglia's train wheels needed repairs, helping to "maintain the reliability of the service".

Jamie Burles, Greater Anglia's managing director said: "We are acutely aware of the frustration and inconvenience felt by our passengers if things go wrong, so we are pleased to be taking action in partnership with Network Rail, making additional preparations to protect train services during what is traditionally a difficult period on the railway.

"We will be doing all we can, as ever, to make lives a little easier for our passengers, getting them from A to B reliably, on time and in comfort."

Rory O'Neill, TfL's general manager for London Overground, added: "We have been working closely with Network Rail and our operator Arriva Rail London, who run the London Overground on our behalf, to look at innovative ways to minimise the impacts of leaf fall which can cause delays to customer journeys.

"We hope this proposal will help ensure disruption is kept to a minimum."

Rail passengers using Greater Anglia's intercity service between Norwich and London are being advised to check before they travel this autumn as some trains will leave earlier than usual until mid-December.

Network Rail owns, operate and develops Britain's railway infrastructure including 20,000 miles of track, 30,000 bridges, tunnels and viaducts and the thousands of signals, level crossings and stations which is use by 4.8million passengers a day and 600 freight trains.

For more information visit: networkrail.co.uk.

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