Leaves on the line are no joke – here’s how we tackle them

Monday, 8 October 2018
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Autumn is traditionally a difficult time for the railways, bringing wet weather and falling leaves which become compressed and hardened by train wheels into a Teflon-like layer which sticks to the tracks.

This makes them as slippery as black ice, so train wheels lose grip, especially when slowing down, speeding up and braking, and in some cases become damaged.

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. All this can increase journey time and leads to delays for passengers.

Leaves can also interfere with the signalling system, by interrupting the connection between the wheel and the track making it less accurate to detect a trains’ location.

We are acutely aware of the frustration and inconvenience felt by our passengers when things go wrong, so we work closely with Network Rail to prepare for the season and put in place preventative measures that will minimise disruption to rail passengers.

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.

Last year, these efforts saw Greater Anglia record its best ever Autumn punctuality results.

What’s new for 2018?

Trains for London depart five minutes earlier than usual during the morning peak from Monday 8 October to Friday 7 December 2018 to help maintain arrival times into London, as follows:

  • 05.00 Norwich to Liverpool Street Retimed to start at 04.55 (Monday to Friday).

  • 05.30 Norwich to Liverpool Street Retimed to start at 05.25 (Monday to Friday).

  • 06.00 Norwich to Liverpool Street Retimed to start at 05.55 (Monday to Friday).

  • 06.24 Norwich to Liverpool Street Retimed to start at 06.22 (Monday to Friday)

  • 06.48 Norwich to Liverpool Street Retimed to start at 06.45 (Monday to Friday).

  • 07.05 Norwich to Liverpool Street Retimed to start at 07.03 (Monday to Friday).

A number of measures have been put in place by Network Rail to combat the problem of slippery rails, with five specialist Rail Head Treatment Trains – RHTTs - in circulation to clean the tracks and a programme of targeted vegetation removal.

Even the RHTTs’ wheels are not immune to damage from slippery rails. So to repair them more quickly, Network Rail has installed a crane near Whitemoor that will enable them to change the wheels on the RHTTs that treat the West Anglia and Essex Thameside area on location, meaning the trains can be back out in service cleaning the tracks much more quickly, helping passenger trains to run more reliably.

Continuing from last year

Network Rail has again invested in a specially-adapted Land Rover, known as a ‘Sand Rover’, which will clean and treat the track between Marks Tey and Sudbury, which specialist trains cannot reach.

The ‘Sand Rover’ can be driven onto the railway where rail wheels are then lowered onto the rail, turning it into a rail vehicle.

Greater Anglia also continues to invest in a mobile wheel lathe at its Crown Depot in Norwich, in addition to the one at Ilford Depot, to fix some of the train wheels damaged as a result of slippery rails without the need to send trains away to other locations.

Other measures that have been put in place include:

  • All trains are fitted with a monitoring system that reports when and where a train experiences slipping. The data will be used by Network Rail engineers to find and clean the affected track as quickly as possible.

  • Network Rail will continue to clear lineside vegetation, especially at locations where vegetation might compromise signals and level crossings and in other known problematic areas.

  • Specialist teams will visit areas that can’t be accessed by the Rail Head Treatment Train and clean the rail by hand.

  • Additional slots have also been booked at other wheel lathe locations to fix trains quickly if a number of trains were to suffer wheel damage, despite the additional preventative measures.