Every Autumn, hundreds of tonnes of leaves fall on the tracks. As they are compacted and compressed under the wheels of carriages, they form a smooth and slippery layer that sticks to the rails.
This has the same effect as black ice on the roads, and makes it more difficult for trains to start and stop.
Vegetation is managed and removed in problem areas for leaf fall, on an ongoing basis and reduces the volume of leaves ending up on the rails.
What Are We Doing
Right now we have two leaf busting trains that work at night. One uses high pressure water to clean the rail and one spreads sandite on the rails to improve adhesion. Sandite is a gel loaded with fine particles and makes it much easier for wheels to grip the rails.
We also have 12 sandite application machines which spread sandite further up the tracks as the trains pass. ...to keep 260 miles of track clear and keep you moving this Autumn...
Our local train fleet and cross border Enterprise trains use a wheel slip protection system to improve grip.
All our drivers have been trained to drive safely in low adhesion conditions due to leaf fall, frost or snow. This training ensures that they can identify and react correctly to these conditions, making sure that there are minimal effects on services and passengers.
This training takes place every year in our state of the art train simulator which recreates the rail conditions during leaf fall, frost or snow. We spend £400,000 annually minimising delays caused by low adhesion.
Do Our Actions Help Reduce Delays?
Our work to combat the problems of autumn weather resulted in the delay minutes for 2015 being 47% less than the delay minutes for 2014.
Unfortunately autumn weather conditions will always have some impact on our services; however, extensive consultation has taken place with industry leaders to understand, implement and maintain best practice and to keep abreast of new developments.
It will also support Belfast City Council's City Centre Regeneration and Investment Strategy with the Hub designated one of the 5 Special Action Areas in the City.
Keeping You Moving
Snow and ice can also cause serious problems for the railway. Snow can be compacted by passing trains into solid ice, which prevents points working and ice can coat level crossing barriers preventing them from moving up and down.
Winter conditions can affect trains too, with ice build-up causing problems including jamming doors. When snow is forecast our staff will be ready and waiting to manually clear snow from points where no heaters have been installed We have stocks of salt and 'snow free point' to prevent ice and snow build up on platforms and in points.
All of our level crossing barriers have been fitted with heaters and the majority of our points have had heaters installed since 2010. This keeps the temperatures just above zero and stops them from freezing up. At stations and depots, our staff are out clearing, gritting and de-icing platforms, as well as keeping floors safe and dry and of course... Keeping you moving this winter.