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Network Rail deploys leaf-clearing trains early

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Network Rail has deployed its autumn leaf-clearning machines early this year, to avoid train delays caused by wet leaves on track.

In the past Network Rail has staggered the deployment of its 61-strong leaf-busting fleet, starting in Scotland and working its way south.  

However, following severe delays last autumn, Network Rail has simultaneously launched its fleet across the whole of the UK.

Network Rail managing director of strategic operations Andy Thomas said: “Every autumn, even with the best preparation, leaves fall onto the line, which can cause the same conditions as black ice on the roads.

“With millions of trees growing alongside the railway, it’s something the rail industry takes seriously. That’s why our ‘leaf-busting’ trains and front-line teams are out there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to make sure we can get passengers from A to B safely and reliably.”

When leaves stick to wet tracks, the passing trains crush them into a thin slippery layer, which has the same effect on trains that black ice has on cars. The loss of traction means divers must slow down much earlier for stations and junctions, and acceleration is also slower.  

The mulch left on the line also makes it hard to detect where trains are on the lines, causing furhter delays. 

In previous years the MPV and RHTT stationed in Scotland began work earlier than ones on southern lines, this year all 61 vehicles are begining work today after heavy leaf fall came early last autumn. 

As such, every autumn, Network Rail deploys its 61-strong fleet of Railhead Treatment Trains (RHTT) and Multi-Purpose Vehicles (MPV) to clear tracks as the leaves begin to fall.  

Network Rail's MPV leaf clearing vehicle is designed for lighter gauge rails and tighter corners than the larger RHTT

Network Rail’s MPV leaf clearing vehicle

Network Rail’s MPV leaf clearing vehicle is designed for lighter gauge rails and tighter corners than the larger RHTT

Each train is equipped with six nozzles, three on each track, blasting water at 22,000 PSI each for a total 66,000 PSI per rail to clear the mulch from the tracks.  

The trains can carry 20,000 litres of water and have a range of 320km of track for the smaller MPV’s and 640km for their big brothers the RHTT. 


The specialised vehicles will run every day until November when they switch to a de-icing role, also lay down a composite mixture of sand and steel shot, suspended in gel, which greatly aids traction.  

Using 24/7 data from a specialist weather forecaster also allows Network Rail to deploy teams to clean rails by hand in known leaf-hotspots.  



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