Leaf-busting trains help boost ScotRail punctuality

Record use of leaf-busting trains has helped Scotland's Railway cut delays during the tricky autumn season, new figures have shown.

Network Rail's leaf-buster trains travelled further than ever in Scotland this autumn. Picture: Scotland's Railway
Network Rail's leaf-buster trains travelled further than ever in Scotland this autumn. Picture: Scotland's Railway

Partners ScotRail and Network Rail Scotland saw punctuality improve by 4 percentage points last month compared to a year ago after upping the fight against slippery rails caused by fallen leaves.

A total of 84.7 per cent of trains were on time - arriving within five minutes of schedule - between 13 October and 9 November.

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That compared to 80.5 per cent in the same period in 2018, and 83 per cent the previous year.

ScotRail's target is for 92.5 per cent of trains to arrive within five minutes of time. Picture: John Devlin

in addition, the annual punctuality figure, on which ScotRail is officially measured, increased by 0.3 points compared to September to 88.3 per cent, in the second consecutive monthly rise.

However, this "moving annual average" remains nearly 4 points below the target of 92.5 per cent, which ScotRail does not now expect to hit until 2022.

A ScotRail spokesperson said: “Everyone across Scotland’s Railway worked tirelessly to deliver a more stable, reliable, and robust service during the challenging autumn period, and these new figures show that work has paid off.”

It said its joint "robust plan" with Network Rail Scotland had included running specialist treatment trains for longer and further than ever.

This fleet washes leaf debris off the rails and sprays them with a glue-like coating to help train wheels grip the tracks.

It covered more than 74,000 miles, more than one third more than the 54,000 miles last year.

"Leaf-buster" teams also cleared leaves before they had a chance to stick to rails, with rapid response crews based at key points across the network being deployed quickly to clean troublespots reported by drivers.

Instantly frozen

New technology used included microwaves to blast the slippery leaf mulch from the rails and cryogenic (dry ice) pellets to instantly freeze and disperse debris.

ScotRail said it had also made "small tweaks" to timetables "to make the train service even more reliable".

Jamie Greene, transport spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, the largest opposition party at Holyrood, said: “Whilst any improvement in punctuality is no doubt welcome, there is no escaping the fact that these performance figures are still nearly 4 per cent below ScotRail’s contractual obligations.

“Passengers will be happy when scheduled services depart and arrive at the scheduled time, on trains where they can get a seat and on services which stop at every scheduled stop.

"Until that happens, no-one should be resting on their laurels.

“The SNP government has a fundamental duty to ensure the franchise holder meets its contractual commitments, and if those targets aren’t met, it must stand up for passengers and take decisive action.”

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The Scottish Government's Transport Scotland agency, which is in charge of the ScotRail franchise, said the autumn preparations appeared to have cut delays.

Its spokesperson said: “We are encouraged these latest performance figures show improvements compared with the same period last year and would indicate that detailed preparations made in advance of autumn weather have helped to improve performance.

“We praise the staff who have worked tirelessly to deliver this set of results.

"However, there is no room for complacency and we look forward to working with the ScotRail Alliance to help build on this progress in the months ahead.”