TRAIN operator Northern is testing cutting edge technology to prevent fallen leaves on lines from delaying trains.

Fallen leaves can cause significant disruption to the network. They stick to damp rails and passing trains compress them into a smooth, slippery layer, reducing trains’ grip. This can cause delays to services, which lead to disruption for passengers.

But Northern has partnered with top engineers and experts to trial what they are calling ‘rail head treatment technology’ this autumn that is attached to the undercarriage of passenger trains and could save the rail industry millions of pounds every year.

The technology – called Water-Trak - is based on the discovery that leaf-coated rails only become slippery if damp, noting that trains still stop safely in heavy rain. Water-Trak simply creates rainy-day conditions on the rail surface by spraying a small amount of water from the train onto the track when a slippery rail is detected. This cleans the rail and makes the conditions better for braking.

Five Northern trains fitted with Water-Trak will be operating this autumn on routes between Leeds, Harrogate and York and Liverpool, Wigan and Manchester. The trials with Northern are being run thanks to funding from Network Rail’s Performance Innovation Fund.