This article first appeared in the Railway-News Magazine Issue 3 2023.
Lineside vegetation can become a substantial safety hazard if not proactively managed, and for a number of reasons. Firstly, overgrown vegetation can reduce visibility at rail crossings and obstruct signals, increasing the potential risk of a collision. This was sadly the cause of several train crashes at the Rosedale railroad crossing in the US, including one that triggered a chemical explosion, as well as a collision between a train and rubbish collection truck in Kawerau, New Zealand, in 2017, which led to the death of the truck’s driver.
Then there’s the issue of dry vegetation near tracks, which has a higher risk of igniting from wheel sparks or maintenance works. This is more of an issue than ever before due to the rise in heatwave temperatures and regularity, which has led to an exponential growth in wildfires.
We also can’t overlook the problems caused by leaves accumulating on tracks, which affects train traction. Considered a joke by many passengers, the reality is that leaves on the track can lead to incidents such as the Salisbury Tunnel Junction collision, which injured 14 people and caused substantial damage to the train and railway infrastructure.
The list of risks from overgrown vegetation goes on; overhanging branches can weaken or damage rail infrastructure, unhealthy trees could fall on tracks during storms, roots can damage ballast and trackbeds, and vegetation can interfere with proper drainage of track beds, leading to premature decaying of materials.
These issues are all real, as shown by Network Rail, which reported that 400 trains – 34% of rolling stock – were damaged in vegetation-related incidents in 2018, and that these types of occurrence cost the railway upwards of 100 million GBP a year.
Railway-News magazine Issue 3, September 2022: LiveEO - World Premiere at InnoTrans: Lightning-Fast Storm Damage Assessment.
Railway-News magazine Issue 3, August 2021: LiveEO GmbH - Better from Above: How Satellites Revolutionize Track Maintenance.
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LiveEO explores the key limitations of LiDAR in vegetation monitoring for railway networks, and what alternatives are available.
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