Vegetation management

Our work to manage trees and other vegetation by the railway helps to keep trains running safely and on time.

Two Network Rail engineers in full PPE looking at a mobile phone
Engineer cutting vegetation next to the railway

What does vegetation management mean to us?

Managing the trees and plants alongside our railway for the safety of passengers and railway workers and achieving a respectful balance to protect our lineside habitats is essential, and it’s something we plan carefully and with consideration.

It’s a coordinated effort between different professionals within our teams: maintenance teams regularly cut back plants that are growing too close to the trains, whereas teams including specialist tree workers will carry out larger scale felling work.

Why is vegetation management important?

With 20,000 miles of track and millions of trees growing along the railway, managing vegetation is hugely important to us. If not managed well, trees and fallen leaves can pose a risk to the safe running of the railway and cause delays to trains.

We might be managing trees and plants to restore or enhance a preferred habitat or undertake work to manage undesirable conditions where vegetation pose a risk to the safe operation of the railway or to neighbouring property.

Where is vegetation management done?

We routinely clear vegetation from the area immediately next to the track. Where trains run at higher speeds, in cuttings or embankments, or where there are level crossings or overhead line equipment, we may need to clear vegetation further back.

We remove trees that are, or could be, dangerous or negatively affect the reliability of services that millions of passengers rely on every day. As well as maintenance of our railway, there are times when we need to clear areas of vegetation to help our trackside teams examine or repair earthworks and structures or as part of larger programmes of work, such as to prepare for overhead line electrification.

To reduce the problems caused by leaves falling on the railway in the autumn, we target the maintenance or removal of certain broadleaf tree species such as poplar and sycamore. By proactively managing the trees along the railway, we are able to keep people safe and prevent unnecessary delays.

Aerial view of vegetation next to the railway line with a train coming down the track

How we manage our trees and plants next to the railway 

We use a combination of remote survey methods such as aerial surveys and our historical data records to create our inventory of trees and vegetation.

We use this information to assist our tree and vegetation management professionals to undertake inspections of the lineside and to carry out on site risk assessments.

Our inspections help us to understand the extent and diversity of our trees and woodland habitats, identify important trees and protected areas and identify conditions that could threaten tree health such as Ash Die Back.

Where work is required we carefully select the appropriate method of working that takes into account the type and extent of trees and vegetation to be managed and how this will impact on communities and the environment.

Our local teams will be on hand to provide key information to our neighbours and stakeholders in advance of the works taking place.

Evaluating important railway trees

Our methods

  • We use wide range of hand held and mechanical  equipment to maintain, restore or improve preferred habitats and protected areas.
  • We undertake tree management including tree surgery and felling operations to remove trees that have been identified as a risk.
  • We use mechanical and hand held equipment to manage vegetation so that it is clear of safety zones to prevent contact with our overhead power lines, trees falling and hitting trains or surrounding property or block the visibility at signals, signs or our level crossings and potentially cause an accident.
  • We use train borne and mechanical or hand held herbicide applications to control weed growth where our staff have to walk and to avoid key parts of the track and trains systems being covered by vegetation.
Engineer standing on a platform in full PPE uniform holding an iPad
  • In some places we manage vegetation to help our trackside teams examine or repair earthworks and structures.
  • To reduce the problems caused by leaves falling on the railway in the autumn, we will target certain sites where the leaf fall density is predicted to be high during autumn and where trains might be affected
  • We use approved herbicides to prevent the spread of injurious and invasive non native plants and to prevent weeds spreading into safety zones where vegetation growth can problems.

We leave the area tidy and either remove the logs and branches or chip smaller branches to spread them evenly as chippings.

On sites where there is enough room and it is safe to do so, some of these smaller branches may be left in a small pile as habitat for wildlife.

Our teams will often carry out additional improvements while on site, such as clearing away litter and mending fences.

Your trees next to the railway

We can help with tree safety concerns where your trees might pose a risk to the railway and guide you through the planning and safe execution of tree work that you are proposing to undertake.

Visit our Living by the Railway page to find out more. 

If one of your trees has already fallen onto our land or is at imminent risk of falling, please contact our emergency 24 hour helpline on 03457 11 41 41

Charity and government partners

When planning our vegetation management work – whether we’re removing trees or planting new ones away from the railway – our experts look to our charity and governmental partners for advice on best practice.

Some of the organisations we work with include;

  • Natural England
  • NatureScot
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • Defra
  • The Tree Council
  • Woodland Trust
  • The Wildlife Trusts
  • Forestry Commission.

Frequently asked questions

Get in touch 

If you’d like to get in touch with us about vegetation on the railway, visit our contact us page.

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