In the second decade of the 21st century, Britain’s railways are still using diesel locomotives older than some steam engines to keep the rails clear of leaves.
The rail head treatment season has now come to a close as leaf fall and associated slippery rails are no longer a threat to train punctuality.
This season however has seen something of a wonderful railway nostalgia being rekindled by DB Schenker, the largest operator of the leaf clearing trains.
For many years, the English Electric built Class 20s, many in the liveries of Hunslet Barclay, operated such trains. This year however, weight restrictions on some lines meant that the class made a glorious and noisy return to the metals of the North East to keep timetabled trains running smoothly.
The trains, based at York, operated over lines such as Barnsley to Huddersfield, Shipley to Ilkley, Selby to Hull and Worksop to Sheffield.
Crewed mainly by drivers at Healey Mills, with Network Rail on-board operatives to work the water cannons, the “Choppers” (as class 20s are nicknamed) ran 24 hours a day, for at least 5 days a week.
Other heritage traction operating across the British Network this year included Class 37s and Class 57s from Direct Rail Services, and even a Class 82 from DB Schenker on the Midland Main Line.
The class 37s and 57s were designed in the early 1960s and are likely to be around for at least another decade because of their versitality.