The end of ‘leaves on the line’: innovation to watch out for in autumn 2019

This autumn, the GB rail industry is trialling a host of new solutions to reduce the impact of low adhesion.

The GB rail industry conducts research to improve understanding of the science behind low adhesion and to discover, test and implement new solutions. 

Improvements to sanding technologies

Taking up solutions developed by the RSSB’s ADHERE research programme, West Midlands Trains has fitted two Class 323s passenger trains with Double Variable Rate Sanders (DVRS) running over the Birmingham Cross-City line. Previous testing of DVRS showed  a marked improvement in the train’s braking predictability compared with current fixed-rate sanders. Significant volumes of data will be collected for analysis, and the results will be published in Spring 2020, to inform wider roll out of DVRS across the GB rail network.

Double Variable Rate Sander system fitted to West Midlands Trains Class 323

Leaves on the line is a big problem for the railway including West Midlands Trains. It causes low adhesion which disrupts services and inconveniences passengers every year. Double Variable Rate Sanders halves train stopping distances in low adhesion compared to current sander configurations used today. With the help of RSSB, West Midland Trains working together with Network Rail are pioneering this technology which I believe can radically improve the service we can deliver to our customers in autumn.’

Neil Bamford, Engineering Director, West Midlands Trains

Detecting railhead moisture

Also as part of the ADHERE programme, over the same period data will be collected from moisture sensors deployed by Network Rail over the Cross-City line, to detect the presence of railhead moisture. The sensors will provide a real-time environmental monitoring system to enhance autumn resilience. Following an earlier successful trial, the moisture sensors have been recalibrated to improve their accuracy and data-gathering capabilities. 


Moisture sensors fitted to dummy rails

Alternatives to sand

South Western Railway is trialling a hydroscopic sand alternative on its Class 444 fleet this autumn.

At South Western Railway we suffer from the low adhesion effect of the wet rail phenomenon every autumn, with around 60 per cent of all low adhesion incidents attributed to this each season. Over the past four years we have worked closely with our industry and supply chain partners to develop and test a new type of traction sand that has hygroscopic properties that dry the rail as it is crushed under the wheel. This provides the predictable and reliable braking performance associated with dry rail conditions.

We are now ready for in-service trials and are confident of seeing a reduction in low adhesion incidents involving the trial units.’

Marcus Carmichael, Innovation Manager, South Western Railway

New approaches to railhead cleaning

Network Rail is making use of cryogenic pellets on several of its Road Rail Vehicles as an alternative method to cleaning the railhead. Cryogenic pellets are frozen material produced by liquid CO2 and a pelletiser to remove the contaminated coating on railheads. The technology builds upon RSSB funded research in this area and has attracted considerable interest across industry. Trials are planned on five Network Rail routes, with the first to take place on the West Highlands route in October 2019.

MultiCar Road Rail Vehicle fitted with cryogenic system, testing at Sheffield Supertram Depot, December 2018

As part of Network Rail Scotland Route’s autumn arrangements, ‘Citrusol’ (a neutral-PH active cleaning solution that safely removes contaminants such as diesel oil) will be applied to rolling stock wheelsets across several locations. Data will be collected on railhead contamination and the Public Performance Measure (PPM) to assess the impact of Citrusol treatment. 

Is your company using or trialling other innovative solutions to low adhesion? Please let us know.

Haven’t found what you’re looking for?
Get in touch with our adhesion expert for further information
Ben Altman
Tel: 020 3142 5420
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