Flower growing by rail track could delay trains

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You have heard of "leaves on the line". Well, the next excuse for train delays could be "flowers beside the track".

You have heard of "leaves on the line". Well, the next excuse for train delays could be "flowers beside the track".

One of Britain's rarest plants, the exquisite Deptford pink ( Dianthus armeria) has appeared on the 13-mile test track used by the manufacturer Alsthom to try out many of the new trains desperately needed to improve reliability.

In particular, the flower could pose a major problem for Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Rail group. Alsthom wants to build a second line on the track near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, so it can carry out tests on Virgin's new tilting trains. However, English Nature is objecting to the plans.

A new line would disrupt the Deptford pink colony, which is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Conservationists hope to encourage the plant to grow further up the embankment, but meanwhile work to upgrade the track is being delayed.

While acknowledging its responsibilities to the environment, Alsthom is furious over suggestions that there might have to be a 10- month delay to test the rolling stock destined for the flagship west coast main line between London and Glasgow. Virgin believes there should be a "place for both tracks and flowers" and is optimistic that the company will deliver on time.

Over the next three months about 300 new vehicles should be delivered, but 250 of them are more than a year late. The Association of Train Operating Companies says one-quarter of delays are caused by failures to rolling stock and most of it in stock which should have been consigned to the scrap yard.

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