Why are leaves on rail lines an issue now (and never seemingly used to be)?

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  • Why are leaves on rail lines an issue now (and never seemingly used to be)?
  • strike
    Member

    Never recall it being an issue in the 90’s and previous….

    Premier Icon mikewsmith
    Subscriber

    Really? It’s been a long standing joke.

    Basically as I understand it they use an electrical loop to tell where a train is on the tracks to move points and manage junctions. When leaves go mushy they stop this signal being reliable and they have to do more manual checks which takes longer. This is why they fell everything by railways now

    beicmodur
    Member

    Someone asked this last year and train driver responded with something like “wet leaves on rails is like driving your car on black ice, you have to crawl over them”.

    IHN
    Member

    I know this is probably massively over simplifying the issue, but can’t they fit scrapers/brushes to the fronts of the trains to clear the leaves off?

    Premier Icon wwaswas
    Subscriber

    It did use to be an issue for traction for starting/stopping/inclines – wheels would skid and then flat spot or just spin – trains used to have sand boxes next to their wheels the driver could trigger to give traction.

    Now as mikewsmith says, with modern signal systems, it also ‘trips’ fail safes when wheel/track circuits become intermittent.

    footflaps
    Member

    Been an issue for as long as I can remember…..

    Premier Icon andytherocketeer
    Subscriber

    Been taking the pee about “wrong kind of leaves” and “wrong kind of snow” on the line since at least the early 1990’s

    Causes trains to skid and flat-spot the wheels. As well as knackering the track.

    Premier Icon joat
    Subscriber

    Now they’re not allowed to use powerful herbicides, it’s harder to control trackside vegetation. Plus steam trains regularly used to set fire to scrub, keeping it at bay. A little leaf plough would be great but wouldn’t last very long on joins and points.

    Premier Icon wwaswas
    Subscriber

    There’s a lot of debate about using railways as green corridors – as noted above during the steam age lines were kept clear due to fire risks.  Now people almost want behave as if they’re nature reservces which results in a lot more leaf fall onto the lines and also, during storms, more mature trees falling across tracks or damaging equipment.

    So leaves on the line weren’t a historic problem but certainly since the early eighties when I started regularly commuting they have been,

    Premier Icon njee20
    Subscriber

    The wrong kind of snow came about in the early 90s as a bit of a joke deriving from comments on why the new class 91s (IIRC) were having issues. It’s actually quite valid too – there were instances a few years ago of Desiros catching fire after ingesting fine powdery snow, which doesn’t happen with more dense snow.

    Leaf mulch has been an issue for years, less so in steam days because the locos weighed so much more, but certainly ever since. They’ve been using dedicated treatment trains for some years to combat it. They get fairly dirty…

    peajay
    Member

    And in days of old the train brakes were shoes that worked on the wheel surface that also kept the wheels clean, modern stuff has inboard discs so when the wheels get manky with leaf carbon they stay that way.

    peajay
    Member

    Steam locos were 80-90 tonnes that class 66 is 130 tonnes.

    Premier Icon binners
    Subscriber

    As the tracks are all pretty straight, could you not just fly down them spraying Agent Orange? As railways generally tend to pass thorough the less salubrious areas, surely nobody would mind?

    whitestone
    Member

    The shoe/disk brake thing is something I’ve heard before. Quite a few power units have sand blowers aimed at the wheels on the power bogies to help with this. The 333 class units used on the Leeds – Skipton line have had them retrofitted for example.

    CraigW
    Member

    Nowadays most passenger trains are multiple units, weight about 40 tonnes per coach. They may struggle more than a proper loco.

    Premier Icon The Duke
    Subscriber

    Been driving trains for a few years now and leaf fall is defiantly a big problem, the leaves get crushed by the wheels and form a teflon like slippery coating on the rails that can make starting and stopping extremely difficult. Approaching a red signal and not sure your going to stop is pretty terrifying and I’ve failed to climb gradients and had to return to the bottom of the hill for another attempt. Most trains have sanders fitted and wheel slide protection that’s like ABS to stop the wheels locking up when braking, unfortunately the trains I drive don’t have these fitted with the result that too much braking locks the wheels and puts flat spots on them. Leaf fall residue can also stop trains being detected by the track circuits with the potential for a signal to show green with a train ahead. Best way to describe it is like trying to drive your car up a icy hill and stop on the way down.

    Premier Icon I_did_dab
    Subscriber

    1998 I got stuck on a train to Sutton because of wet leaves. Every time the signal went green the train’s wheel span on the slight incline as it tried to accelerate and it missed the signal and had to wait for the next opportunity. It was a nightmare for a few years before they brought in the track scrubbers. Network rail also cut down a lot of trees in the meantime.

    So it’s not a new problem.

    could you not just fly down them spraying Agent Orange?

    BR used to use 245T herbicide which was pretty much the same as Agent Orange.  Fortunately they were stopped from doing that.

    globalti
    Member

    A quick look at old photos of railways even as recently as in BR days will tell you that railway cuttings and embankments are now thickly wooded with mature deciduous trees, which they weren’t even in the 60s.

    Premier Icon scc999
    Subscriber

    Got told by a long serving train driver friend that the new Networker trains (SE) had a few issues.  They were far lighter than the old slam door units they replaced, the ‘abs ‘ meant stopping distances actually increased massively on slippery surfaces and lastly the sand previously mentioned was now a one shot deal, on the older units they had enough for a lot more applications of sand.

    No idea how much of that is true, but he had no reason to lie!

    Premier Icon timbog160
    Subscriber

    Never been the same since the abolition of the Prize Length *snigger*

    dpfr
    Member

    Our timetable (Buxton-Manchester) changes from early October to January to allow for leaf fall, with trains running 5 minutes earlier towards Manchester. If they get on OK, they then stop for a while at Hazel Grove so they don’t run early into Manchester

    Premier Icon dove1
    Member

    Good old British Rail used to employ maintenance teams to regularly cut back vegetation and prune trees to stop leaves dropping and building up on the rails. Privatisation and cut backs put paid to that activity, or severely curtailed it so now we get trees growing much closer to and overhanging the tracks and leaves drop on the rails every Autumn.

    Premier Icon lunge
    Subscriber

    All the above plus a lot tighter timetables. There’s very little margin to make up time now as the railways are so busy. Hence even a slight delay on one service can impact many more going back down the line.

    CountZero
    Member

    A quick look at old photos of railways even as recently as in BR days will tell you that railway cuttings and embankments are now thickly wooded with mature deciduous trees, which they weren’t even in the 60s.

    This is very true, I can remember crews cutting back trees and doing regular controlled burning of scrub and bramble, etc., to avoid fires alongside the lines, especially during long dry periods like we’ve had recently. I can also remember fires being caused by steam locos when I was a kid, and the fire brigade being called to put them out. Same with the sound of steam locos pulling away from the station when grip was a bit iffy, you could hear the ‘chuff chuff chuff chuffchuffchuffchuff chuff chuff chuff’ as the wheels spun  Another factories likely the size of the driving wheels on modern electric/diesel drive units and old steam locos as well, pretty much the difference between a Moulton and a 29er. The main London-Bristol line runs alongside the bottom of my road, and wasn’t all that far from where I grew up, I could hear trains all the time even if I couldn’t see them, and my second junior school was right next to it, one of my best mates dad was a shunter driver and we used to get footplate rides, so the railway has been ever-present in my life.

    Railway man of 26 years here.

    1.  Modern trains are lighter and cause less wear to the rail head so are not able to grind off the leaf deposits.

    2.  Leaf mulch turns into an insulator on the railhead for signalling track circuits meaning in worst case scenarios the train dissappears from the signalling system and the protecting signal can give a proceed aspect (as we move to axle counters this is less of a problem).  We have to introduce special working if this happens.

    3.  Lighter trains sitting on the leaf deposits can spin up and slide easier than the heavy trains of old causing flat spots on wheels or burn marks in the rail. Old trains also used brakes that cleaned the wheel surface but again newer trains are disk brakes (as well as regen).

    4.  Weed killer trains are not as effective as old as we could use the BR equivalent of agent orange in the past.

    The pneumatic rubber tyre on your car is at a pressure of 30psi. So when a car drives over a leaf it turns it to mush and the mush gets washed away.

    The pressure under a metal wheel on a metal rail is massive (~20,000lb on a theoretically infinitely small area, the yield strength is ~36,000psi so it will flatten out slightly to that pressure) so it turns it into a very hard, slippery material.

    Premier Icon muddy@rseguy
    Subscriber

    Leaves on lines has been an issue for as long as I can remember. Having witnessed a large steam locomotive spinning its wheels on wet/greasy track I can testify that this isn’t just an issue for modern trains.

    The black ice analogy is pretty accurate: its only cold water isn’t it? 🙂

    mrjmt
    Member

    The more recent provision of condition monitoring on the track circuits that are used to detect the trains (well, actually used to prove the absence of trains) is being used to identify areas of rail head contamination. Where before a train might dissapear due to the insulating properties of contamination, the condition monitoring data is now used to look for trains ‘nearly’ dissapearing and guide the decision on where to send the cleaning train.

    I visited the York ROC last week, it’s a real shame that the public can’t see all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to keep things running during perturbation, and to prevent the perturbation happening in the first place.

    Premier Icon bikebouy
    Subscriber

    I’m not sure that we really care about what goes on behind the scenes TBH.

    The rail network as a “hole” is run in a sporadic shambolic way as is.

    Leaves on the line just adds to our nonchalant attitude towards what you do, and how you do it.

    We hear stories of Japanese and Swiss trains running like clockwork, yet they don’t seem to suffer leaves on the line nor flooding nor snow nor strikes like we do here … oh hang on…

    In today’s environment, it’s quite odd that you still utilise 18C technology by adding sand to train wheels to aid grip. But I guess all those drawn out meetings and presentations about delivering new solutions to simple problems ends up in an hour of chat, 5hours of drinking tea and eating a third world countries supply of biscuits.

    Premier Icon pocpoc
    Subscriber

    I’m sure I read an article that someone had invented lasers that could blast the leaves infront of the wheels as the train sped along and effectively burn them away.
    It may have been a dream though. CBA to try and find evidence.

    Premier Icon wonny j
    Subscriber

    OP is it because it’s now autumn and you have a very short memory?

    Premier Icon Flaperon
    Subscriber

    Leaf fall residue can also stop trains being detected by the track circuits with the potential for a signal to show green with a train ahead.

    Always admire the way railway signalling seems to go for the shittest solution to any problem.

    Premier Icon BlobOnAStick
    Subscriber

    it’s quite odd that you still utilise 18C technology by adding sand to train wheels to aid grip

    The word ‘sand’ here is a misnomer – what is actually applied is something that looks a bit like swarfega and is a potent but environmentally friendly(ish) mixture of citric acid, grit and various other grip and cleaning-enhancing substances. Again, as mrjmt says, the effort that goes into solving these issues is enormous due to the vast sums of money that delays rack up.

    bigyinn
    Member

    bikebuoy is quite right, it is just plain dry sand on the trains to aid in getting traction normally, but also braking (those tend to be a one shot deal though to try and prevent sliding)

    Sandite is what you are referring to BlobOnAStick

    Houns
    Member

    Won’t be an issue much longer as Network Rail are decimating the entire rail network of trees. Having trains run on time is more important than wildlife

    Premier Icon darkcove
    Subscriber

    It still amuses the inner Max Power reading yobbo part of me when I get wheelslip at 125mph.

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