Network Rail to trial laser cleaning technology

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The ‘Lasertrain’ will vapourise the oily film left by crushed leaves on the line at speeds up to 60mph (Image: LPS)

This Autumn, the UK’s Network Rail is trialling a new laser technology designed to clear the residue of fallen leaves from train lines at speeds up to 60mph.

When leaves are crushed onto train lines, they form into an oily film which creates driving conditions similar to black ice: reducing grip while impacting the safety and performance of services – causing trains to reduce speed, accelerate slower and brake earlier.

To address this, Network Rail is looking to trial the ‘Lasertrain’, a technology developed by Amsterdam-based Laser Precision Solutions (LPS), which fires laser beams at the rails to vaporise any oily contamination left on the line.

The technology will be trialled on stretches of East Lancashire railway in the northwest of England this October, as part of a UK-wide initiative to bring new technology onto the railways to make them cleaner, greener and safer. The UK trial will be the first time the laser technology is used to clean at high speeds of 60mph.

To test the technology, Network Rail will first measure the friction levels on a contaminated piece of track. The LaserTrain will then pass over, and then the friction levels will be measured again. This process will be repeated multiple times at varying speeds up to 60mph across several weeks.

LPS CEO, Harm Medendorp said: ‘’We are very excited Network Rail has chosen our technology for future consideration, and to have the opportunity to showcase how our smart and sustainable rail cleaning solution can create a more reliable and efficient service for UK passengers during the tough Autumn months. Leveraging the power of laser light, we have increased our cleaning speed from 25mph to 60mph‘’

The LaserTrain has been operating with the MTA Long Island Railroad in New York City since 2018, so far demonstrating positive results. 

In the first year alone, 65% less late trains due to weather were noted on lines where the LaserTrain operated, in addition to 48% fewer train cancellations and 32% less car shortening (reducing the number of carriages on the train).

Similar to other laser cleaning technologies, the LaserTrain requires no consumables and produces zero by-products. According to LPS, it is a one-of-a-kind patented design.

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