Autumn weather can make it harder to safely run trains on the  railway

There are 10 million trees on and next to the railway in Britain and, every autumn, thousands of tonnes of leaves fall onto the tracks.  

Windy conditions can cause heavy leaf-fall in a short space of time and rain means they are more likely to stick to the rails. 

When trains pass over leaves, the heat and weight of the trains bake them into a thin, slippery layer on the rail. This is the black ice of the railway.  

Sometimes trains need to slow down to keep you safe

Slippery rails make it hard for trains to accelerate and brake effectively. Safety is the key priority, so when this happens, drivers have to pull out of stations more slowly and brake much earlier for stations and signals to make sure they stop in time. This can lead to longer journey times and delays.  

A build-up of leaves on the tracks can also cause delays by forming a barrier between the train wheels and the electrical parts of the track that help to pin-point where trains are.   

How the industry work to reduce delays caused by leaves on the line 

Even with the best preparation, leaves fall onto the lines. The industry work hard throughout the season to minimise delays and get passengers safely to their destinations.

Leaf-busting trains 

  • The industry has a total of 61 leaf-busting trains, which move around the network cleaning the top of the rail by spraying it with a high-pressured water jet to blast away leaf mulch.
  • These trains also apply a gel, containing a mix of sand and steel grains, to help the train wheels run along the tracks as they normally would. 
  • They have 80 two-person leaf-busting teams who are on-hand 24/7 at key locations across the network 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. 

Autumn timetables 

In areas with very heavy leaf-fall some train operators publish special autumn timetables with revised journey timings. These timetables allow extra time for train drivers to drive more cautiously than at other times of the year, so that they can get passengers to where they need to go safely and reliably. So, make sure you check before you travel.     


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