Vegetation Control on Railway Tracks

The purpose of railroad vegetation management is to protect people and infrastructure, as well as preserve a happy balance with the environment and surrounding natural resources. Uncontrolled vegetation can harm railroad tracks, damage railroad equipment, cause scheduling delays and endanger people who come in contact with them at crossings and other places. It can disrupt drainage pathways, cause wheel slippage, accidents and fire hazards.

Vegetation Control on Railway Tracks
Vegetation Control on Railway Tracks

Vegetation must be completely eliminated within the ballast prism, since its presence contaminates the ballast and reduces its drainage properties, contributes to an increase in moisture, which in turn causes rotting and destruction of wooden sleepers.

The vegetation also obstructs track maintenance and makes for the accumulation of snow in winter. On the right-of-way, a different task is set – the removal of tall weeds and shrubs and the cultivation of useful grasses to prevent soil erosion, followed by herbal care.

Now on the railways the most popular methods of vegetation control are mechanical and chemical. Mechanical control of vegetation on the railway is carried out using special machines for the maintenance of the ballast prism, equipped with devices that cut, scrape, loosen and aim at the complete destruction of vegetation. But on the right-of-way, only grass mowing and shrubs are cut using special machines or hand tools.

In addition to the mechanical method of destroying plants, chemical means of controlling vegetation are widely used on the railways. Chemical processing machines spray plants with chemicals that dissolve in water, various chemical mixtures or oils that are absorbed by the plants and die.

To destroy vegetation within the ballast prism, non-selective continuous-action herbicides are used, created specifically for use on non-agricultural lands. Such herbicides can have a different composition and application characteristics, but they are all aimed at the complete destruction of all vegetation and at the same time are safe for the environment, do not migrate in the soil and are low-toxic to animals, birds, insects and other living organisms. After treatment with some chemicals, the soil becomes sterile. Soil infertility can be temporary and last for a year or less, or calculated for longer periods; it is then viewed as permanent soil sterilization. Sterilizers include compounds of arsenic, boron, urea, etc.

Vegetation Control on Railway Tracks
Vegetation Control on Railway Tracks

To treat the right-of-way, chemical agents are used that act selectively, affecting only certain species and without causing noticeable damage to other plants.

To control the growth of shrubby vegetation, a combination of mechanical and chemical methods of struggle. Simple mechanical cutting only stimulates plant growth, but further chemical treatment of these trunks and stems prevents their development and the emergence of new shoots along the tracks.

Such a “double blow” makes it possible to minimize costs, shorten the duration of the time required to carry out the corresponding measures, and cut the shoots no more than five years or more.

For spraying chemical solutions, various machines are used – from special trains to small detachable units that move on rails. Small hand-held or portable sprayers are also used for local spraying.

The type of chemical, the application and the amount of treatments required should be determined taking into account the climatic conditions and the type of vegetation. On some railways, the first mass treatment is carried out in early spring with herbicides that prevent the emergence of seedlings, and at the beginning of summer, only where necessary, they are treated with a herbicide that kills the shoots that have nevertheless appeared. Local treatment of individual areas, if necessary, can be carried out at any time in order to prevent a greater spread of vegetation.

Weeds are able to adapt and become resistant to the herbicides used, so rotation is an important element of a vegetation control program, as this helps to interrupt the plant’s resistance cycle.

Railway magazine “Railway Supply”

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