Netherland trains to be equipped with track-clearing lasers

Laser-equipped trains. It may sound like science fiction, but it's about to become a reality, in the Netherlands at least. Oh, and they aren't cool, weapon-based lasers either. But they will help prevent your train from being delayed, so that's pretty cool if you're a commuter!

In all seriousness, the lasers are part of a revamped effort to allow trains to clear track debris while traveling. The number one menace to tracks in Northern Europe and the UK? Believe it or not, it's leaves, which, when ground up under wheels, can turn into a Teflon-like coating that causes rail cars to lose their grip, according to New Scientist. The magazine adds that autumn leaves on the track were responsible for 4.5 million hours of passenger delays in 2013 on the UK's Network Rail.

New experiments from Dutch Railways sees lasers attached just in front of the train's wheels. They can work at speeds of up to 50 mph (80 km/h), helping the train to main grip by destroying the leaves on the track just ahead. The lasers are angled downwards and only affect organic matter like leaves and oil. Researchers behind the project say they have little doubt about their track-clearing ability, but the real question is for how long the rails will remain clean of leaves.

The other main focus is that the lasers don't damage the rails themselves, as existing methods of clearing debris include jets that shoot water or a mixture of sand and gel, which actually erode the tracks over time. The lasers are said to work at a wavelength of 1,064 nanometers, which allows them to absorbed by leaves, but bounce off the actual rails.

SOURCE New Scientist