Fallen leaves halt trains for second year

THOUSANDS of rail commuters suffered delays yesterday when fallen leaves brought trains to a halt across the south of England, despite British Rail claims that new anti-leaf measures were in place.

Delays of up to 30 minutes were caused by the annual problem of foliage preventing trains from braking and affecting their ability to grip rails and to move out of stations.

Network SouthEast, the area worst affected, said last night that its new measures had reduced the problem but it warned that leaves were likely to cause delays until they had all been shed by trackside trees.

'This is not a problem unique to us,' Andrew Hibberd, a Network SouthEast spokesman, said. 'Most of Western Europe, North America and Canada suffer from falling leaves. No one has yet come up with an ideal solution.'

Trains are adversely affected when large leaves fall from trees in wet weather, gripping tracks and forming a slippery paste as they are compressed by passing locomotives. Eventually, drivers have difficulty braking effectively and moving out of stations because of the mulch created.

Last week, Network SouthEast suggested that conditions would be much improved this autumn thanks to Sandite, a paste impregnated with sand for electrified tracks, and iron filings for non- electrified sections of line, which breaks down the mulch, giving trains a better grip.

Twenty-seven trains have been treating the network's 4,500 miles of track with Sandite, but they can cover only 500 miles each night. 'If we knew which 500 miles were going to be worst affected, we could stamp on the problem,' Mr Hibberd said. 'Unfortunately, trees don't carry signs saying: 'I am going to shed my leaves.' '

British Rail and Network SouthEast have been experimenting unsuccessfully with a number of measures imported from abroad, including the 'Swedish scrubber' - rotating metal brushes intended to sweep leaves from tracks. Unfortunately, trains using it must move very slowly.

The Austrian 'snake grinder' attracted interest briefly, but its hydraulically controlled abrasive blocks slung between wheels have also failed to solve the problem. Other remedies include high-pressure water jets and deflector skirts.

Commuters in sections worst affected yesterday, between Fareham and Swanwick in Hampshire, Swanwick and Hamble in Hampshire, Whitchurch (Hampshire) and Warminster in Wiltshire, areas around Edenbridge, Kent, and Meopham and Longfield in Kent, could take small comfort from the fact that Danish, Swiss, French and German railways have all reported leaf problems and have been liaising with British Rail.

In the meantime, it is likely that BR and Network SouthEast will resort to old measures to solve the problem. In the days of steam, trees were cut back to avoid the risk of fire; now they are being cut back heavily again but, with 75,000 acres of trackside vegetation to go, it is unlikely commuters will feel the benefit this autumn.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?