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How do we prevent leaves from causing train delays?

With thousands of tonnes of leaves set to fall on the railway this autumn, we’re working hard to reduce delays and keep you moving.

Leaves on the line – an annual cause of delays for rail passengers – pose problems for the railway. They stick to damp rails and passing trains compress them into a thin, black layer on the rail which. They’re a lot like black ice on the roads because they can affect train braking and acceleration.

This means train drivers must slow down earlier for stations and signals to avoid overshooting them. They must also accelerate more gently to avoid wheel spin. All this can increase journey time and lead to delays for passengers.

Watch this video to find out more:

How do we try to keep the railway clear during autumn?

Our seasonal preparation programme includes multiple measures:

  • A total of 61 leaf-busting trains, which move around the railway cleaning the top of the rail by spraying it with a high-pressured water jet to blast away leaf mulch.
  • These trains apply a gel, containing a mix of sand and steel grains, to help the train wheels run along the tracks as they ordinarily would.
  • We have 80 two-person leaf-busting teams on-hand 24/7 at crucial locations across Britain to scrub the top of the rails by hand with a sand-based treatment, so that trains can run safely and reliably on the tracks.
  • Management and replacement of lineside vegetation with species less likely to shed leaves on to the tracks.
  • Between 1 October and 13 December, we receive adhesion forecasts twice a day from a specialist weather forecaster, highlighting locations that require action. This allows us to plan resources more effectively.
  • As an industry, we work together to run a safe and reliable service. In areas with heavy leaf-fall, some operators publish special autumn timetables with revised journey timings to allow train drivers to drive more cautiously than usual.

Read more:

Delays explained

Leaves on the line

Seasonal track treatment and weather support vehicles

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