Getting a grip on the issue of slippery rails this autumn

Published on: Tuesday, 8 October 2019
Last updated: Tuesday, 8 October 2019

  • Your journey

Falling leaves, damp autumn weather and heavy train wheels can be a recipe for problems on the region’s railways.

As thousands of leaves fall onto the tracks, they stick to damp rails and passing trains compress them into a thin, slippery layer on the rail which – much like black ice on the roads – can affect braking distance, and reduce grip 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, which can damage the trains’ wheels. All this can increase journey time and lead to delays for passengers.

Build-up of leaf mulch can also make it harder for signallers to detect a train’s location, causing delays when subsequent trains are unable to proceed until the train in front moves further up the line.

How are Greater Anglia’s trains equipped to deal with this?

This autumn will be the first full year that every train on our network is fitted with Wheel Slide Protection’ (WSP) – which is like ABS in cars.

WSP helps the trains’ wheels to brake more evenly, preventing wheel damage and wear that could lead to trains being taken out of service for repair.

Last year, thanks to WSP, none of Greater Anglia’s trains wheels needed repairs, helping to maintain the reliability of the service.

Our brand-new trains are also fitted with the most up to date Wheel Slide Protection technology, and this is built into them, unlike some of our older trains where the system has been added on later - so the system should work very efficiently, making their wheels even more resilient to the effects of slippery rails.

All trains are also fitted with automatic sanders which deposit a layer of grit onto the rail, and as the train passes over it, the heavy wheels compress the grit which then cleans off the slippery leaf mulch, helping to improve grip.

What’s new for 2019?

We implement a slight timetable change every year, to help maintain arrival times into London, for days when train drivers are braking and accelerating more slowly.

Therefore, from Monday 7 October until Friday 13 December, intercity trains leaving Norwich, Diss, Stowmarket, Ipswich, and Manningtree before 7.30am will depart up to five minutes earlier, Monday to Friday only.

To help keep tracks clear of slippery leaf mulch, Network Rail will operate six leaf busting ‘Rail Head Treatment Trains’ (RHTT) this year, which will operate 24/7.

They have analysed data to identify several problem hotspots across the Anglia route – particularly where trees and vegetation grow close to the line - where RHTTs will operate.

The specialist trains will travel around 80,000 kilometres from October until 13 December across Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, East London and Essex which is the equivalent travelling around the world twice.

The trains blast leaves off the track using high pressure water jets, then coat the rail with a gel which provides more grip to the train to prevent delays caused by slippery rails.

We will be doing all we can to keep you moving

Since 2016, when Greater Anglia invested in fitting every train with WSP, our trains’ ability to cope with slippery rails has improved significantly, leading to improvements in performance over the autumn period.

We understand the frustration and inconvenience felt by our passengers if things go wrong, so we continue to work closely with Network Rail to prepare for the season and put in place preventative measures that will minimise disruption.

These include using additional track-cleaning equipment, clearing overhanging trees and other vegetation from the lineside and targeting known problem areas, to try to keep delays and disruption to a minimum.

Find out more about how autumn affects the railway