Brussels, 31 Oct 2002
The problem of autumn leaves covering railway lines and tram tracks is well known to many Europeans, and can result not only in long delays for passengers, but in serious accidents as well.
Traditional methods of overcoming autumnal debris rely on treatments using cleaning solutions or sand, both of which involve the costly transportation and replenishment of large stocks of sand or water. But collaboration between scientists in the UK and Germany may result in a more efficient method that uses lasers to blast the tracks clear.
The issue of leaves on the line is a particularly topical one in the UK at present, after storms at the end of October resulted in a months worth of falling leaves being stripped from trees in a single day. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that the lead developer on the project, LaserThor, is a British company.
Together with the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology in Munich, LaserThor have already developed a prototype device that can clear a three centimetre wide rail of debris travelling at speeds of 10 kilometres per hour. The team now aim to produce a cost effective model that can be mounted in front of the wheels of a service vehicle.
Despite being able to produce pulses of 400,000 watts (more than enough to blow the rails clean), the laser consumes around the same amount of power as a kitchen stove. With the support of rail authorities in Britain, a working model is planned for next year.
The laser's designers have already identified other applications for the technology. One example is the cleaning of electricity pylons, which are painted to prevent corrosion. When they need repainting it is necessary to strip the old paint from the total surface area of around 500 square metres. The laser method would be able to achieve this far more quickly than the current mechanical process, and a vacuum device to collect the loosened paint would reduce pollution.
For further information, please contact: Dieter Hoffmann
Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology D_Hoffmann@ilt.fraunhofer.de +49 241 8906 206