Train delays down as Network Rail conquers leaves on the line

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The Independent Online

Train Delays caused by the perennial problem of leaves on the line fell by almost a half last autumn, Network Rail announced yesterday.

Train Delays caused by the perennial problem of leaves on the line fell by almost a half last autumn, Network Rail announced yesterday.

The owner of Britain's tracks and stations said that an unprecedented "leaf-busting" campaign between October and December had cut delays attributable to the company by 42 per cent compared with the same period in 2003.

As a result, the proportion of trains running on time over the period was about 80 per cent compared with 76 per cent in 2003 and 72 per cent the year before that.

Network Rail spent £50m over a 10-week period tackling the scourge of leaf mulch on the tracks - the rail industry's equivalent of black ice. This involved sending out a special fleet of "leaf-busting" trains overnight to clear the lines backed up by two-man hit squads using hand-held kit to deal with the worst-affected track.

A spokesman said that apart from reducing delays, the campaign had also improved safety with a 70 per cent reduction in incidents of trains passing red signals or overshooting station platforms.

Iain Coucher, Network Rail's deputy chief executive, said: "Through good, detailed planning and preparation Network Rail delivered an outstanding autumn which continues a trend that has seen some 16 months of continuous performance improvements."

The actual number of delay minutes caused by Network Rail over the 10 week period was 275,000 - the best performance in five years. The figure was 473,000 for the previous year and 519,000 for the year before that.

The special leaf cleaning trains cost £25m while the 80 "hot-spot" teams cost £5m. A further £10m was spent on "vegetation management" - mainly pollarding trees - while damage to trains and tracks caused by leaf mulch was a further £10m.

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