Network Rail Scotland is trialling a new approach to maintaining rail tracks which will hopefully see faults fixed, and speed restrictions removed, faster.

Rail lines have to be ‘tamped’ to tightly pack the stones beneath the sleepers and make sure the track is correctly aligned and level. This work, which is usually carried out at night, helps reduce the risk of trains derailing and ensures smoother journeys for passengers.

Currently tamping machines work 200m sections of the track at a time rather than targeting specific faults within each section. Network Rail’s new ‘Sprinter tamping’ process works over just a few metres at a time – isolating and targeting specific faults.

Computer systems on the tamping machine are used to monitor the track condition to identify the location of faults. Engineers then ‘box-in’ the fault and work the worst part of the site in order to maximise the number of faults fixed in each shift and minimise the disturbance of the track.

Tamping machines are programmed with geometrical data that shows where the track should be and compare the data with the actual track position using on-board measuring equipment. The machine then calculates the required movements to re-position the track according to the data.

The trial is taking place between Dalmally and Taynuilt and it’s the first time this new method has been used in Scotland.

Lindsay Saddler, Head of Maintenance delivery for Network Rail Scotland, said “On Scotland’s railway, particularly the more rural lines, the track is prone to wear and tear and the impacts of winter and wet weather all year round mean that faults develop. When this happens, it leads to more uncomfortable journeys for passengers but also more late trains because they have to run at reduced speeds.

“Early signs are that the trial of Sprinter tamping has been very positive enabling us to target an average of 15 sites and remove 20 faults per night which means we can restore line speeds faster.  Removing speed restrictions makes a huge difference to journey times which makes a huge difference to our passengers.”