Leaves on the line are ‘no joke’ and can pose the same danger to trains as cars accelerating over black ice on the roads, according to Network Rail.
The organisation is launching its annual autumn campaign to reduce the impact on services and challenge the long-standing misconception that leaves on the line is just a rail industry excuse.
Working with train operators Southeastern and Govia Thameslink Railway, Network Rail will be clearing 50 million leaves from the line this autumn, as well as jet-washing 183,000 miles of track in the South East – the equivalent of seven times around Earth.
John Halsall, Network Rail’s managing director for the South East, said: “Leaves on the line are no joke. As leaves fall on the rails they can get compacted under the weight of trains and form a smooth and slippery layer, causing trains to lose grip.
“Therefore, train drivers, much like when we drive in snow on the roads, need more time to start and stop. So in some areas we have a special autumn timetable which builds extra time into journeys because passenger safety has to be at the heart of everything we do.”
AUTUMN TREATMENT TRAINS RUNNING AROUND THE CLOCK
Network Rail has a 19-strong fleet of autumn treatment trains which run around-the-clock to clear leaves from the line, while Southeastern drivers practice driving in challenging conditions in train simulators.
This year, the trains will travel the equivalent of seven times around the Earth washing the rails with jets so powerful they can cut through steel.
The treatment trains will also cover 40,000 miles of track with a special gel, mixed with sand, to help trains grip the rail better.
Crews also work year round to clear trees and other hedgerows to ensure leaf fall on the rail is minimised. In the past year, they have cleared 1,878,399 square metres of vegetation across Kent, Sussex and South London, the equivalent of 264 football pitches.
AUTUMN A ‘CHALLENGING TIME’
Patrick Verwer, chief executive of Govia Thameslink Railway, said: “Autumn can be a challenging time for rail operators as we seek to keep the lines clear of leaves. This season we will again be working with our industry partners to keep disruption due to leaf fall to a minimum for the benefit of passengers.”
David Statham, Southeastern’s managing director, added: “Our trains run in all sorts of challenging weather conditions and we’re on the case when it comes to dealing with them. We’re just as prepared for an early leaf fall this autumn as much as we were for the very warm summer – the hottest on record.
“We don’t take risks when it comes to ensuring the safety of our passengers which is why we have to change the times of some trains during the daytime in order to keep peak time trains running punctually.”