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  • Trees and plants

    How we manage vegetation

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    Video: How trackside vegetation can cause problems for trains

  • Trees and plants can cause serious safety and performance problems for the railway.

    With over 20,000 miles of track and an estimated 2.5 million trees growing on the line-side we have to focus our resources on keeping the railway safe and running as smoothly as possible. Our climate, variety of trees and train frequency mean that Britain's railway faces more serious challenges than the networks in most other countries.

    In 2013, vegetation management and incidents caused by vegetation cost the railway £100m and storms, rain and wind resulted in approximately 1,500 incidents in 2013/14 where trees caused disruption to the network.

    More information is available in our publication Vegetation management explained:
    Vegetation management explained
    Recommended planting species (2015 Tree Council Update)

    Focus on safety

    Unmanaged trees and plants can cause serious safety problems for the railway by covering up signals or falling on to tracks and overhead power lines. In 2013 around 600 trains collided with a fallen tree or large branch. Luckily no-one was seriously hurt but it could have been a very different story.

    Overgrown trees and plants can also get in the way of our workers finding safe refuge when trains are passing and hamper their ability to see trains approaching.

    Visibility at level and footpath crossings is a major part of our risk measurement and focus on public safety, so managing the vegetation around crossings is a key area for us.

    We are very aware of the impact that removing trees and vegetation can have on local communities. We know that it can come as a shock for people who have become accustomed to lines of trees or hedges near their homes or workplaces. But for the safety of our passengers and employees we have no option but to take action to reduce this threat.


    Autumn leaves on the tracks are hazardous for trains and can result in serious performance issues.

    Leaves are crushed at 20 tons per square inch forming a hard, Teflon-like coating which reduces trains' ability to grip the track, affecting acceleration and braking and leading to delays.

    If a tree or large branch falls onto the tracks the line has to be closed until it has been cleared.

    In 2013 leaves caused 4.5 million hours of delays to passengers.

    Find out how we're reducing delays caused by leaves.

    Effective management of trees and plants

    We target areas that pose the biggest safety and performance risk to the railway. This includes the area between the track, which is kept completely clear, and in high risk areas we may need to clear to the boundary line although in general we only clear to five metres from the track.

    Over the coming months, our people will be removing potentially dangerous lineside vegetation, prioritising areas that pose a significant safety or performance risk. This will be assessed on a case-by-case basis but will see at least a clear five metre wide corridor created to either side of the track, and possibly wider areas in places where trains commonly accelerate and brake.

    We will do everything we can to let people know what we are proposing to do and why.

    We aim to discuss our plans in advance with the local authority to make sure we are carefully managing the effect on birds. We also aim to let our neighbours know before work starts as we appreciate the visual impact that it can have, particularly if the vegetation has built up over many years.

    When lineside neighbours ask us to remove vegetation from our property, we will assess the site to see what action is needed. If the vegetation is not causing a safety risk or performance issue, as maybe the case for issues such as light or television reception, we are unlikely to remove it.

    When will the work take place?

    We avoid work at times that will cause harm to, or disturb, nesting birds unless there is a significant and immediate threat to passenger or resident safety.

    We tend to carry out work on plants and trees during the day between Monday and Friday but sometimes we have to work at night or over weekends when trains are not running to make sure our people can work safely and to minimise disruption to train services.

    If we need to do work at night then we will notify neighbours who may be affected, unless it is an emergency and there is no time to do so. In such cases our national helpline is available for advice and assistance.

    Fences and litter

    If the work by our vegetation teams reveals any problems with fencing or litter we will be addressing these problems as well.

    If you notice anything in your area, please report any issues to us as a priority. We always welcome feedback from our lineside neighbours on areas where we can improve the railway.

  • Contact us

    If you have a concern or question about trees or plants along the railway, call our 24-hour helpline:

    03457 11 41 41

    or contact us online

  • Train delays explained

    Delays explained 190x90 The common causes of delays - and what we're doing to reduce their frequency and impact.

  • Our performance

    Around 60% of passenger delays are attributed to us. As well as infrastructure faults, this includes delays caused by vandalism, cable theft, weather, trespass etc which account for approximately 20% of the total.

    Every four weeks we publish passenger train performance figures: