Autumn's here – the nights are drawing in, the temperature's dropping and we're preparing to combat leaves on the line.

Millions of trees grow along the railway, dropping thousands of tonnes of leaves onto the tracks throughout the season.

The debris can cause significant disruption to the network. Leaves stick to damp rails and passing trains compress them into a smooth, slippery layer, reducing trains’ grip.

How do leaves cause delays?

To keep passengers safe, train drivers must brake earlier when approaching stations and signals to avoid overshooting their stop. They must also accelerate more gently to avoid wheel spin.

Leaves can make this less accurate by interrupting the connection between the wheel and the track. They prevent our signalling system from receiving the information it needs to work effectively. This means we need to leave longer gaps between trains, causing delays.

How we deal with leaves

We run a huge seasonal track treatment operation from a dedicated depot at Holgate in York. Holgate houses our autumn treatment trains and fleet maintenance facility.

Throughout the autumn and winter, our teams work through the night to clear the tracks and keep them safe for trains.

We combine wagons carrying water jets and adhesion modifier – a gel that contains sand and steel or iron shot – to form trains that clear debris from the tracks. The parts of the trains that make up the wagons depend on the needs of certain parts of the railway.

Find out more about how we prepare for autumn.