Network Rail and Transport for Wales have been working together for over a year to keep passengers and customers moving this autumn.

Why do autumn conditions impact rail services?

  • Extreme weather events including storms
  • Steel rails get cold overnight, causing dew to form
  • Slippery rails caused by compressed leaves and debris, atmospheric conditions and a range of other factors
  • When rails are slippery trains may need to brake for longer or pull away more slowly than usual
  • With more trains than ever running on the Wales and Borders network, a small delay can have a huge knock on effect on passengers

What is the rail industry doing to prepare for autumn?

Fitting Wheel Slip Protection to the fleet

When rails are slippery, train wheels can ‘lock up’, causing them to slide on the track and resulting in a ‘flat’. Wheel slip protection works in a similar way to ABS in cars – preventing wheels from sliding. All class 150 units (which accounted for 45% of all wheel flats in 2018) are being fitted with wheel slip protection. A new sanding system is also being fitted to to improve wheel/ rail traction when a slide is detected.

Increased vegetation Management

Investment in vegetation management has more than doubled in the last five years. In the run-up to Autumn 2019, Network Rail is set to deliver in excess of 3.7m sqm of targeted vegetation management. This is an increase on 2018 when we delivered a record amount of vegetation management ahead of the autumn season.

Increased wheel maintenance

Wheel lathes are essential for repairing damaged wheels and maximising the availability of trains throughout autumn. The main wheel lathe is based at the Canton depot in Cardiff. It has received an investment of £120,000 for a complete overhaul ahead of this autumn – its first for 35-years.

A comprehensive railhead treatment programme

We have doubled railhead treatment overall since 2016 and are treating more sites in 2019 than 2018. Railhead treatment trains use high-pressure water to clear debris from the track and can lay adhesion enhancing compounds where appropriate. 65 strategically located traction gel applicators also help to mitigate low adhesion. 18 older traction gel applicators have been upgraded to improve reliability and effectiveness.

Frontline autumn response teams

We are increasing our frontline response capabilities by putting in place dedicated autumn response teams. They will carry out proactive railhead inspections at high risk sites and other strategic locations. They will be the primary frontline response for autumn related incidents, supporting recovery from incidents. They will also capture data including railhead swabs so that we can better understand the root causes of low adhesion.