First employer-led project with Network Rail launches

On Wednesday 18 April, Network Rail and UTC Oxfordshire launched its first six-week employer-led project together, called ‘Leaves On The Line’.

The programme, designed for Years 10 and 12, tasks students with finding a cost effective, innovative solution to the problem of having leaves on the railway line; which has been an issue for as long as the railways have been around.

In the morning briefing by Network Rail, representatives Steve Melanophy and Dan Smith talked to students about why this is such a serious issue. The two year groups were shown a video which demonstrated the damage it can cause and why the current solutions adopted are manual and expensive.

The issue with leaves on the line is that when they fall, they stick to damp rails. Passing trains then compress them into a smooth, slippery layer that reduces the grip. Train drivers have to brake earlier when approaching stations, to avoid overshooting, and accelerate more gently to avoid wheel spin.

They explained further that the signalling system uses electric currents in the track to locate trains, but leaves can make this system less accurate by interrupting the connection; to maintain safety they need to leave longer gaps between trains, which in turn cause delays on the railway. This costs just under £2 million a year for just the Western Route and approximately £50 million a year to the rail industry overall.

Students have been set the challenge to find a solution.

Over six weeks, teams will research, brainstorm, discuss ideas and then design their solution. Teams must take into account that their solution should be: cost effective to build and run, cheap to maintain, environmentally friendly and operated by one person.

They will then need to assign roles to all members of the team and work together to prepare for the final presentation to Network Rail on 23rd May 2018.

“I’m excited to get going with the project. There’s a huge motivation there to come up with the solution as no one else has cracked it yet.” Jack, Year 12

“I am fascinated by this industry and so am really excited about this project. It’s going to be a challenge!” Shawn, Year 12


We wish our students all the best in this exciting challenge and thank Network Rail for their participation.


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