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Dublin: 14 °C Thursday 23 October, 2014

‘We know eyes are going to roll’: Irish Rail in annual ‘leaves on line’ apology

They say it’s the “railway’s least favourite season”.

Image: autumn leaves via Shutterstock

IRISH RAIL IS apologising for delays on DART and Northern Commuter routes this morning. But it says it’s a problem faced by rail companies worldwide during autumn time.

Customers were Tweeting the company throughout rush hour to express their dismay that something apparently so trivial as ‘leaves on the line’ could cause such problems.

In a message posted on the Irish Rail website this morning, the company admits “it’s the announcement that causes eyes to roll, and heads to shake in disbelief”.

The communications department had evidently been anticipating the complaints: they’ve compiled this handy informative article to explain just how ‘leaf fall’ can causes complications:

The leaf fall in autumn often causes poor rail head conditions and can affect performance in a number of ways.  When leaves fall on to the line, particularly in damp or wet weather, the rolling action of passing wheels compresses them, causing a greasy ‘mulch’ to cover the rail.

This mulch is to rails what ice is to roads. It reduces the adhesion, or ‘co-efficient of friction’ to use the technical term, between wheel and rail. Acceleration must be reduced to prevent slipping, and braking distances extended. If you’re a regular customer, you can probably sense the wheel “slipping” on a train if you’re travelling through an area that’s affected. This is why minor delays are more prevalent at this time of year, particularly in the early morning and early evening.

The leaf mulch can also affect the operation of track circuits. Iarnród Éireann has machinery to address this problem, which operates overnight on key sections of the network, spreading “Sandite” on the line. However, this can only reduce the impact of leaf mulch rather than eliminate it. The mulch is Teflon-like, and even hand-scrubbing could not remove it.

Iarnród Éireann have also invested in Traction Gel Applicators – 70 of these units are installed across the network in known areas of low rail adhesion.  When a train passes over the unit, it dispenses traction gel which improves the friction between the wheel and rail interface.  Hand held applicators are also stored in strategic locations to provide a rapid response to other areas of slipping.  Iarnród Éireann has also equipped its passenger trains with on board sanding systems which will dispense sand when wheel slip is detected.

The number of weeks this can continue for varies from year to year, depending on weather conditions. However, we will continue to work throughout the period affected to minimise delays on services, and apologise for the inconvenience caused.

Irish Rail say they “thought it would be helpful for customers to explain how exactly ‘a few leaves’ can cause hundreds of tonnes of train to be delayed”.

So. Something to read while you stand at the station, anyway. Hopefully it killed a few minutes.

Read: Northside DARTs and other services to be curtailed this weekend

Read: ‘Severe turbulence’ caused loss of altitude on United Airlines flight to Dublin


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