NIR adopts leaf fall predictor tool
Northern Ireland Railways (NIR) has adopted a new system to improve punctuality by predicting the amount of leaves falling on to lines.
Leaf fall in autumn can disrupt services because it makes the track slippery in the same way as black ice affects cars on roads. A tool forecasting the amount of foliage on the rails each day has been developed by the Met Office and is used by NIR to help decide when to treat lines and warn drivers.
Gary Cooley, from rail operations at the company, said: "We have been treating our lines by water jetting and with Sandite (adhesive) for the past month since leaf fall began and we are pleased with how the leaf fall predictor service from the Met Office has helped us to effectively plan and manage rail head maintenance and driving conditions and to raise driver awareness.
"To date this autumn we have experienced no delays caused by leaves on the line resulting in wheel slip, which is an excellent result for us and our passengers."
In 2011, Translink NIR partnered with the Met Office for the first time to receive regular updates and forecasts on leaf fall. This allowed the organisation to predict where and when leaf fall on tracks would be greatest and to make preparations which would avoid train services being adversely impacted.
This year, the service has been fully embraced as part of NIR preparations for managing the potential impact of leaf fall.
The predictor tool was developed in the late 1990s by the Met Office to help transport organisations manage their services between early autumn and winter.
It is based on average leaf fall for a particular time of year and calculated on a daily basis, taking into account the previous and current day's weather. It also examines previous weather patterns and calculates how this may affect future fall.
A prediction based on a red, amber and green system is issued to the NIR operations team by the Met Office every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. During peak season, which began this year on October 22, reports are issued every day.
This allows the operations team to publish a forecast to train drivers so they are forewarned of the likelihood of experiencing slippery conditions. Drivers can adjust their driving technique to avoid wheel slippage, in combination with water jetting and applying adhesive at troublespots.