Friday 3 Nov 2017
VIDEO - Why “leaves on the line” is no joke for Network Rail and Southeastern
- South East
Imagine driving a train with more than 1,000 passengers on board, all relying on you to carry them safely home to their families. You need to know that the train will stop where you want it to, when you want it to, whatever the weather.
Network Rail and Southeastern work very hard to ensure trains run safely through the worst of the weather, with safety systems and special timetables helping to keep the railway run reliably.
When a train wheel runs over autumn leaves, it squashes them into a paste. As the following wheels of the train roll over the mess, it quickly bakes hard into a tough black coating – the black ice of the railway. Add rain into the mix, and there is a serious risk that a train will lose grip, either unable to accelerate or worse, unable to stop. And if the leaf-paste goes unchecked, it can insulate the trains from the tracks, making signalling safety systems fail safely.
By working together, Network Rail and Southeastern can make sure that doesn’t happen and that trains can run on time throughout the autumn and winter.
Network Rail runs special engineering trains around the clock to clear leaves from the line while Southeastern trains equipped with sanders lay a coating of dry sand on the rail, giving the train extra grip. Drivers also spend additional time in train simulators, practising driving in challenging autumn and winter conditions.
Network Rail’s chief operating officer Andy Derbyshire said: “Leaves on the line are not a joke, they are a real risk, never mind the delays they cause, and each year our trains run more than 180,000 miles on a 24/7 programme of rail treatment to keep lines clear.
“Our fleet of 19 special engineering trains run across the South East all day every day, blasting the rails clear with water jets – powerful enough to cut through the contamination left by the leaves on the top of the rail - and laying a sandy gel that helps trains grip better.
“But even with those trains running around the clock, on bad days where we have lots of wind and rain, it can be a challenge to operate as punctually as we would like. That’s where we have to work very closely with Southeastern.”
Ellie Burrows, Train Services Director, Southeastern said: “The complexity of our network and the sheer number of trains we run – more than 2,000 each day – means that small delays of a few seconds along the journey can quickly add up becoming big delays at the destinations.
“To ensure safety and provide reliability, we run an amended timetable in the autumn months. This means that some trains take slightly longer to reach their destinations, we operate a special off-peak only timetable in Metro areas when the weather is particularly bad. This is how we make sure that every train and crew is in the right place to run a reliable service. We also make sure our drivers spend additional time on our training simulators to practice accelerating and breaking when rails are slippery.
“We really appreciate our passengers’ patience and understanding, along with Network Rail, our priority is getting everyone to and from work reliably and safely during these months.”
Passengers / community members
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About Network Rail
Network Rail owns, manages and develops Britain's railway - the 20,000 miles of track, 40,000 bridges and viaducts and the thousands of signals, level crossings and stations (the largest of which we also run). In partnership with train operators we help people take more than 1.65bn journeys by rail every year and move hundreds of millions of tonnes of freight, saving almost 8m lorry journeys. We employ 38,000 people across Britain and work round-the-clock, each and every day, to provide a safe, reliable railway.
About the Railway Upgrade Plan
The Railway Upgrade Plan is Network Rail's investment plan for Britain's railways. It makes up two-thirds of Network Rail's £40bn spending priorities for the five years to 2019 and represents the biggest sustained programme of rail modernisation since the Victoria era. It is designed to provide more capacity, relieve crowding and respond to the tremendous growth Britain's railways continue to experience; passenger numbers have doubled in the past 20 years and are set to double again over the next 25 years - so we need to continue to invest in building a bigger, better railway. For passengers, that means:
- longer, faster more frequent trains;
- better, more reliable infrastructure; and
- better facilities for passengers, especially at stations.