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Fallen leaves stick to damp rails and passing trains compress them into a slippery layer that reduces grip
Video: why leaves cause problems for the railway and what we're doing to prevent it
Britain’s 30,000 hectares of railway land are home to millions of trees, bushes and other plants. A mature tree has between 10,000 and 50,000 leaves and each autumn thousands of tonnes of leaves fall onto railway lines across the country.
Compressed by passing trains, the leaves create a thin, Teflon-like layer on the rails, so train drivers have to brake earlier when approaching stations and signals to avoid overshooting and accelerate more gently to avoid wheel spin.
Leaf mulch can also insulate trains from the rails with the result that our signalling system, which uses electric currents in the track to locate trains, becomes less accurate. To maintain safety, longer gaps must be left between trains, leading to delays.
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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: