Unveiled: a weapon to clear the wrong sort of leaves off the line

RAIL chiefs yesterday rolled out the latest device to tackle that bane of passengers' lives - leaves on the line. Railtrack's new pounds 1m multi-purpose track machine will deal not only with leaves but ice, weeds and fire.

The new machine, displayed at Waterloo Station in London and then demonstrated at nearby Clapham Junction, has high-pressure water jets to clear lines. Once the jets have gone into action, it puts sandite - a sticky gel-like substance - on the line to stop wheels sliding. The first of 25 models will come into service in August 1999, with others being gradually introduced until the end of 2000.

"Leaves will always fall on the line, but the new machines will help us keep the tracks clear and make autumn train travel more punctual," said Brian Mellitt, Railtrack's engineering and production director.

The concept vehicle was developed by Amec Rail of Croydon, Surrey, which is part of the consortium building the new fleet. The production model will be built by Windhoff of Germany.