How we deal with ‘leaves on the line’

Starting around this time every year, trees near the railway start to shed their leaves, causing delays and give rise to the infamous phrase 'leaves on the line...'

But what does that mean? Surely a few handfuls of lovely, crunchy leaves can’t stop a train?

When leaves fall, they stick to damp rails and passing trains - weighing hundreds of tonnes - compress them into a smooth, slippery, layer that reduces the trains’ grip. Akin to ‘black ice’ on roads, it creates a ‘Teflon-like’ layer on the rail that’s really bad news for trains.


Leaf fall is carefully monitored so we can minimise the disruption it causes as much as possible.

To keep passengers safe, train drivers have to drive slower, brake earlier and accelerate more gently – just as a car would on the road in icy conditions.

But there’s lots we do to tackle leaves on the line.

There are 20,000 miles of railway across the country, home to around 10 million trees – that’s thousands of tonnes of leaves to deal with every autumn, and we work hard to minimise the disruption they cause for passengers.

So please bear with us. We’re tracking the leaf fall of all the trees by the railway which helps us know where to deploy specialist teams, vehicles and kit.

Watch a video of our leaf-busting train

Find out how we tackle leaves on the line