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Tuesday, October 5, 1999 Published at 04:39 GMT 05:39 UK


War on 'leaves on the line'

Leaves on the line infuriate commuters when they cause delays

Satellite technology, dawn patrols and water cannon are among the weapons to be used to fight this year's battle against autumn leaves on railway lines.

Last year, an estimated 3,000 hours of delays was caused by leaves falling onto the tracks.

The BBC's John Heap : "The industry can't afford such problem"
Railtrack and the train operating companies are determined to cut that amount this year, as the industry comes under severe pressure to improve performance.

At the centre of the arsenal is a new satellite global positioning system to pinpoint leaf "blackspots", where falling leaves have compacted into a slippery coating on the rails.

Wheel-grip monitoring equipment on trains beam a signal to Railtrack's offices giving the location of the problem. Staff are then sent to the area to deal with it.

[ image: Leaf damage costs an estimated £10m a year]
Leaf damage costs an estimated £10m a year
The system is on trial this autumn on some trains running on the Central, Chiltern, Connex and Thameslink routes and, if successful, will be extended to cover the entire network.

Railtrack has also spent £40m on a fleet of special trains which blast a high-pressure water cannon to clear the lines, and apply gritty sandite to the track to improve grip.

Two of these models will be in action this autumn, with the rest of the 23-strong fleet being delivered by summer 2000.

Chris Leah, Railtrack's director of operations, said: "For years, leaves have been the butt of railway jokes, but they do cause serious problems for trains.

"This year sees a more focused effort than ever before to help to minimise the problems that autumn brings to operating a punctual and reliable railway."

Other weapons in the autumn 1999 battle include dawn patrols, strategically-placed sand bins, and motorway-style signs which warn drivers if they are approaching a problem area.

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