Following up on my post from yesterday, which highlighted a simple system for keeping rails free of leaves, known as the "Sand Rover", in which wire brushes sweep the rail and a citrus-based treatment is applied to help break up any remaining leaves, while sand is then deposited to help trains to grip the rails in the wetter autumnal weather, I was entertained to read about this more space-age solution.

As reported by Rail UK, Network Rail has been trialling laser beams and superheated plasma jets on their multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs) to see whether they are as effective at cleaning the rails as the current predominant method of using high pressure water. As such solutions would not need a large reservoir of water, or chemicals in that water, they have the potential to be a more sustainable way of removing or treating the slippery coating that can form on the rails at this time of year.

I always used to think that it was simply the slimy leaves themselves that caused the problem, but it is actually worse than that. The leaves and other detritus get pressed onto the rails by the wheels of the trains to form a hard-pressed coating, which hard-pressed coating is difficult to remove, and it is that hard-pressed coating that limits a train's ability to brake or accelerate.

There is clearly quite a challenge to keep our railways safe. Network Rail - best of luck with these trials!

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