Northern Demonstrates New Technology to Clear Leaves on the Line

Northern and the University of Sheffield have developed and demonstrated a new ‘supersonic-cryogenic’ autumn leaf blower that can be fitted on to passenger trains to clear leaves from the line.

The new solution was recently demonstrated at the Wensleydale Railway in North Yorkshire using two retired Pacer trains.

With this technology, Northern aims to prevent autumn disruptions caused by fallen leaves, which stick to damp rails and compress into a slippery layer that reduces a train’s grip.

Northern Leaves
The dry ice technology being demonstrated at Wensleydale Railway

Currently, railway lines are cleared using railhead treatment trains (RHTTs), but these are expensive to run and in short supply.

Northern’s new solution therefore has the potential to provide improved treatment at a lower cost.

Rob Cummings, Seasonal Improvement Manager at Northern, said:

“This is a gamechanger for the industry – the next step in finding a solution to tricky autumn conditions.

“One of the biggest risks to our performance during October and November is 'leaves on the line', but by helping to develop new innovative technology we aim to deliver the very best service for our passengers.”

The new treatment technology is small enough to be attached to passenger trains. It works by firing dry ice pellets in a stream of air at supersonic speed to freeze any leaves on the line. The frozen leaves are then blasted away as the dry ice pellets turn back to gas.

These dry ice pellets are made from waste carbon dioxide from other industries.

Professor Roger Lewis, who has led the team at the university developing the technology, said:

“This is a great example of a University testing and proving an idea in a lab-based experiment and then scaling it up to be trialled and implemented in the field to make impact. This can only be done though good teamwork and having champions in the railway industry such as Rob and his team at Northern.”

The trials for this technology are supported by funding from Network Rail’s Performance Innovation Fund.

The researchers now plan to develop a strategy to fit the technology across Northern’s fleet next year.

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