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NI Railways tackling leaves on the line to keep trains moving

Monday 12 October 2020

Translink NI Railways is working hard to minimise disruption caused by leaves on the track which can cause problems at this time of year, similar to cars being affected by black ice. Hundreds of tonnes of leaves fall onto our railway lines each autumn, which then compress under the weight of trains and make the tracks slippery. 

We have teams working hard 24/7 to clear the tracks of leaves and keep our services running smoothly.

NI Railways Head of Rail Infrastructure Engineering Jim Moore said: “We receive detailed specific leaf fall forecasts from the Met Office, which predict when the heaviest leaf fall will occur - when it is windy or stormy, large amounts of leaves can fall at once, often in a short space of time.

“Our drivers undergo training in how to deal with adverse weather conditions such as leaves on the line, as it means trains need to accelerate gently out of stations and allow longer braking distances for signals, much like driving a car in ice or snow. 

“Each year during leaf fall season, our teams clear a total of around 25 thousand miles of track, that’s equivalent to the distance of the earth’s equator. In addition, we purchase of around 60,000 litres of Sandite. We also take preventative measures earlier in the year, with tree and hedge cutting beside railways to try and limit the amount of leaves”. 

Jim continued: “Our special Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV) engineering train cleans the tracks with a high-pressure water jet, before applying a layer of sand and gel - Sandite - to improve grip. This runs in addition to scheduled trains, many of which are equipped with measures to combat low adhesion such as wheel slip protection and sanders. 

“As well as posters in stations and on our trains, we have videos* and information on our website and social media channels which reminds our passengers how they can keep up to date with service information this autumn”.

Jim concluded: “Tackling low adhesion caused by leaf fall is just one part of our autumn and winter weather programme. Additional measures include the provision of points heaters which come on during low temperatures to prevent them from freezing. We would like to assure our customers that we do all we can to keep services running on time and minimise delays. We would urge passengers to check our social media channels, the Translink Journey Planner App and for up to date travel information.”

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