Managing trees, shrubs and plants alongside the railway is essential for any network company. There are approximately 14 million trees that cover over 20,000 miles of rail track in the UK. The challenge faced by UK rail companies was assessing what the risk of this coverage is, both from an environmental and business perspective.
Autumn leaf fall causes operational problems for the signalling system and reduces trains' grip. Low adhesion caused by poor rail head conditions can affect train performance and punctuality in a number of ways, with passengers facing disruption due to train services being delayed, subjected to last-minute alterations or even cancelled. Overgrown trees and shrubs could cover up signals, if not cut back.
Another reason is to prevent the danger of trees falling onto the tracks due to age, disease or in windy weather. Trees or parts of trees, falling onto the railway don’t just create a safety risk. They can be the cause of thousands of pounds of damage and thousands of minutes of passenger and freight service delays.
There were over 470 incidents involving vegetation on the railway between April 2016 and March 2017 (source: Network Rail). The annual cost of vegetation impacts on train performance to the UK economy is estimated to be in the region of £100 million.
Looking to provide a solution to this, Airbus has developed an advanced vegetation management tool in partnership with FLAC (arboricultural partner) to keep the railways safe and operational; This solution was rolled-out nation-wide in the UK in 2015.