Dutch trains may use lasers to zap leaves from the line

10 Dec 2014

Researchers at University of Twente (TU) in Enschede, Netherlands, are investigating whether the use of on-board lasers is an effective way of removing leaves from train tracks.

The lasers, mounted at the font of the train, are hoped to not only remove leaves that are squashed into the line, but also dry the tracks and delay subsequent blockages from building up.

The idea of lasers clearing the tracks is actually quite old, with LaserThor in the UK trying it out in 1999. “This worked really well in the lab,” said a Network Rail spokesman.

But when fitted to moving trains, the vibrations made it hard to keep the laser focused on the rails, he said. Network Rail eventually opted for high-powered water jets instead, according to an article in New Scientist.

“Lots of methods have been tried to clean the organic layer from the rails,” said Rolf Dollevoet, TU railway professor. “Brushing, grinding, ice jets, water jets. You name it. And most recently: laser pulses.”

The issue of vibrations is something the researchers are looking at, with the lasers shutting down momentarily when the vibrations get too heavy.

“The question is not so much whether the laser system works, but for how long the rails will remain clean,” Dollevoet said.

“We’ll measure the remaining friction over time during rain, drizzle, frost and snowfall. From these measurements (we) can derive at what frequency the 6,000 kilometres of track need to be lasered and how many trains have to be equipped with lasers to achieve that.”

Leaves on a traintrack image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic