In order for a train to reach its destination on time, a complex machinery is set in motion to ensure that everything runs perfectly. This mechanism involves everything from engine drivers and track operators to control and safety systems, among many other elements. For everything to work, it is also necessary for the railroad tracks to be clean and in good condition. There must be no faulty elements that could affect safety or railway signaling.
Almost a decade ago, we saw in the control, cleaning and maintenance of railway infrastructure a way to innovate and add value to the railway sector. From this work came our vegetation control train, which we patented in 2016 and which is now part of the Ferrovial Invention Factory.
We invite you aboard the vegetation control train to find out what it is, how it works, and what benefits it brings to the railroad industry.
What is a vegetation control train?
As its name suggests, a vegetation control train serves to control and limit vegetation growing around railway infrastructure. That is, in areas where trains run and on the edges of tracks, in stations or substations, for example.
All tracks on which trains run, both on the conventional network, which includes meter-gauge lines, and on the high-speed network, carrying both passengers and freight, must be kept in perfect condition to ensure their proper operation and safety. Keeping vegetation under control can prevent fires from starting or spreading, prevent infrastructure from being damaged by inclement weather, and prevent safety problems due to the concealment of railway signals that regulate it.
If, on the other hand, vegetation is allowed to grow without any kind of control, it can affect train ballast, block the drainage of ditches or cover signals, making them difficult or impossible to see. If we imagine a railway signal completely covered by vegetation, we can perfectly understand the importance of controlling vegetation around the railway infrastructure. Vegetation control trains thus contribute to making the rail network safer and to increasing the comfort and well-being of passengers.
An optimized route
Work on a vegetation control train begins long before it leaves the station. Treatment products are chosen and mixed in appropriate doses to use where necessary on the railway network.
Once the journey begins, the PLC system (an industrial computer that facilitates the automation of processes) and the spraying method software we have designed are used to apply the product to points in the network where it is needed.
In this way, the train sprays those places where vegetation must be controlled. We can spray the track bed, the sides of the track, the ditches and even adjacent tracks in the stations through which the railroad passes.
When the train arrives at its destination, we need to take stock of what has been achieved and wait to see and analyze the results. Ferrovial currently has four vegetation control trains, which can be used on both the high-speed and conventional networks.
Innovation, technology and creativity
The idea of creating our own vegetation control train began to emerge in 2015. At that time, we were looking for opportunities and new business ideas in the railway sector. The fact that Adif only issued one vegetation treatment contract for the entire high-speed network motivated us to create a train that would meet all the requirements and would also add value to the sector.
In the railroad machinery department we always have ideas to patent, and this project encouraged us to bring out our more innovative side. Thanks to our work and the opportunities provided by technology, we created the system and won our first contract.
Inventions such as these ensure the safety of rail operations, help maintain infrastructure conditions, and, as a result, contribute to the smooth operation of trains and to passenger comfort and confidence.
In the past, vegetation around railroad tracks was cleared manually. Mechanization has been around for many decades and, over time, control methods have been optimized. Today, as with many other technological innovations, the vegetation control train goes unnoticed by most. However, its work is truly important.