A team of engineers at Sheffield University in the U.K. has devised a rail track cleaning technology that removes dead leaves from tracks, thereby preventing rail delays.

Contamination of rail tracks via leaves lends to a condition dubbed slippery rail (or low railhead adhesion) wherein a train’s ability to grip the tracks can be compromised, thus leading to potentially significant delays, and, in extreme cases, closure.

Source: Sheffield UniversitySource: Sheffield University

As such, the Sheffield team devised an environmentally friendly removal method that combined dry ice pellets with a stream of high-pressure air to freeze the leaves. Once the pellets turned back into a gas during trials of the technology, the leaves were blasted away from the rails.

Current methods for decontaminating rail tracks of leaves and other contaminants involve railhead treatment trains (RHTTs), which are train cars that shoot high-powered water jets at the rails in a bid to disperse leaves.

According to developers, the RHTTs are in short supply and, consequently, cannot be used on an entire rail network. Likewise, RHTTs are also expensive, capable of damaging segments of rail track and need to be turned off whenever the car enters a station so as not to spray nearby passengers.

During testing, the new Sheffield method for decontaminating train tracks was reportedly more effective than RHTTs at removing leaves and accessing branch lines and tracks near station platforms, according to the engineers.

For more information on the rail decontaminating system, watch the accompanying video that appears courtesy of Sheffield University.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com