Low adhesion at the wheel/rail interface is a complex and persistent problem faced by the GB railway. Contamination of the railhead is caused by many biological, chemical and physical factors, some of which cannot be easily monitored or controlled, particularly in a variable outdoor environment. The rail industry is predominately affected by low adhesion during the autumn period, however, the rail network can encounter low adhesion issues throughout the year for instance, caused by moisture, diesel fuel, or grease.

Watch: Neil Ovenden (Rail Delivery Group and Chair of the Adhesion Research Group) introduces the ADHERE programme.


The GB railway invests considerable resources to manage adhesion yet, despite these efforts, low adhesion issues still have a significant financial impact on industry and wider society. Our industry has devoted research to develop a better understanding of the causes of and mitigations for low adhesion. However, there still remain gaps in knowledge where greater clarity could help alleviate the adhesion challenge.

RSSB, in liaison with Adhesion Research Group and Seasonal Challenge Steering Group (previously Adhesion Working Group), has developed a multi-faceted programme of work designed to strategically tackle the adhesion challenge. ADHERE encompasses five core workstreams:

Fundamental science and modelling

  • Advancing the ability to model low-adhesion contaminants and braking; and enhancing knowledge on low adhesion caused delay

Rail cleaning and re-contamination

  • Enhancing knowledge on the effect of rail cleaning activities and treatments

Driver behaviours

  • Improving driver confidence and performance in low adhesion conditions

Changes to train design

  • Exploiting train-borne technologies, including sanders and magnetic track brakes

Forecasting adhesion

  • Achieving better adhesion forecasting and observation capabilities to improve decision making

RSSB works closely with its stakeholders to ensure that ADHERE addresses the key knowledge gaps that would allow industry to make a step change in the management of low adhesion. To find out more about how you can support ADHERE, please contact us.