Spy-in-the-sky spots leaves on the line

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The Independent Online
SOME OF the most sophisticated space technology available is being used to tackle rail commuters' most irritating problem - leaves on the line.

Railtrack is investing pounds 430,000 in computer systems capable of pinpointing from miles above Earth the location of any errant vegetation on Britain's rail lines.

One of the devices, known as the Low Adhesion Warning System (Laws), can give early notice of slippery conditions, such as a build-up of leaf film, that can cause train wheels to slide. Computers near the tracks detect a problem and use signals sent by Global Positioning Satellites to give 24-hour control rooms its location to within a few feet. Maintenance crews are then directed to the location to sort it out before it causes serious delays.

Railtrack said slippery tracks caused 2,000 hours' worth of train delays last autumn in southern England alone.

Andy Doherty, Railtrack's asset management director, said: "This move to the space age demonstrates Railtrack's commitment to the use of new technology to enhance the performance of the railway."

Railtrack is also installing a system called RideMon on five passenger trains to record excessive bumpiness.

The company is under pressure from rail regulator Chris Bolt to cut the number of train delays for which it is responsible. It had promised a 7.5 per cent cut in the year to April, but is understood to have achieved closer to 3 per cent.