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The expensive disruption that autumn “leaf fall” spells for Britain’s railways could be a thing of the past if government-funded trials prove an inventor’s theory: that adding more water will make the tracks less slippy.
The project to fit trains with devices to spray tracks is one of 24 innovative schemes backed with almost £8m of Department for Transport (DfT) funding to make the rail industry more efficient, greener and cleaner.
Falling leaves can mean slower running trains and delays, despite expensive equipment deployed in annual operations by Network Rail to clear the lines. More than £50m a year is spent by the rail industry to tackle slippery tracks.
However, according to CoCatalyst, a consultancy founded by a former food industry engineer, the problem of leaves on the line does not occur on days of heavy rainfall. Its solution is to recreate rainy day conditions on the track by spraying water when a train detects a slippery rail.
It claims that its idea has been shown to work well in early tests, and with more than £250,000 of funding from the DfT it will now attempt to prove the system could work on passenger trains.
Other winning schemes could also contribute to minimising the problem, with one project, Hubble, harnessing artificial intelligence to map trackside vegetation and identify trees liable to shed leaves. A camera in the train cab will collate images that will be analysed by computer to guide Network Rail’s annual, and sometimes controversial, tree-cutting programme.
Projects to introduce hydrogen trains, inspect tracks by drone, and design walls to deflect sound and reduce noise have also received a share of the £7.8m government funding from the First of a Kind competition, run by Innovate UK and funded by the DfT to transform rail travel.
This article first appeared on www.theguardian.com
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