RAIL passengers who use the Cross City Line are being warned about closures being carried out next month on the stretch between Barnt Green and Redditch.
The line between the two stations will be shut every Sunday – on October 6, 13, 20 and 27 – so special trains can try out new ways of braking in a bid to reduce delays caused by ‘leaves on the line’.
Network Rail will partner with the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) and West Midlands Trains for the pilot on the main line rail network for the first time and if successful it could be rolled out across the country, benefiting millions of passengers.
Train performance can be affected during autumn because compressed leaves on the tracks cause a ‘Teflon-like’ effect which leads to train wheels slipping and skidding.
It means drivers have to go more slowly in certain areas to prevent it happening which causes timetable disruption.
A temporary ‘leaf-fall’ timetable is normally put in place by West Midlands Railway and other operators to account for the extra minutes needed for services to run safely.
Martin Colmey, head of operations delivery for Network Rail’s Central route, said: “We are always looking at innovative ways to improve the railway for our passengers, so we’re excited to be working with West Midlands Trains and the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) on a project which could see delays by dreaded ‘leaves on the line’ become a thing of the past.”
The braking experiments will see targeted jets of sand sprayed directly in front of individual train wheels before they pass over rails which have been made artificially slippery, as if leaves had fallen on them.
It is a development of a similar method which already exists but these trials aim to target specific wheels when they start to slip, applying sand as and when it is needed, to see if it reduces the need to brake or decrease a train’s speed.
Luisa Moisio, research and development programme director from the RSSB, said: “Poor rail adhesion affects millions of passengers each year, preventing the reliable service they rightly expect.
“This new sanding technique halves train stopping distances during times of low adhesion and provides the biggest improvement in 20 years.
“RSSB is very grateful to West Midlands Trains and Network Rail for their leading role in this testing which will unlock the ability to use it widely across the network, improving performance and reliability, particularly during autumn time.”
During the closures, replacement bus services will operate between Barnt Green and Redditch.
Passengers are being urged to check at www.nationalrail.co.uk to see if their journey will be affected.
Neil Bamford, West Midlands Railway’s engineering director, added: “It might seem like an old problem but with millions of trees in Birmingham alone, leaves falling on the line cause very real issues on our network.
“We are fully committed to improving the experience for our passengers and once perfected this innovative system could boost reliability in the autumn months.