£2.6 million plan to address ‘leaves on the line’ problem

The ScotRail Alliance is to spend around �2.6m keeping tracks clear during autumn.
The ScotRail Alliance is to spend around �2.6m keeping tracks clear during autumn.
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It is the latest battle in the war against Mother Nature, which raises a sigh among commuters whenever it is mentioned over the public address system.

Now, the firms overseeing swaths of Scotland’s rail network have spelled out for the first time the action they are taking to combat leaves on the line.

The issue, officially known as low railhead adhesion, has become a byword for the inefficacy and incompetence of train operators over the years.

However, the problem has led to numerous delays and cancellations in previous years, sparking anger among passengers.

Although efforts to remove the leaves have long been a part of routine maintenance, the ScotRail Alliance has decided to outline its programme of work for the next two months.

The partnership - made of Abellio ScotRail and Network Rail - will spend £2.6m during the autumn in clearing the nation’s tracks of the seasonal scourge.

In all, around 30 staff will divide up into 11 so-called leaf teams, tasked with ensuring the leaves are promptly removed from key locations in and around Aberdeen, the Borders, Edinburgh, Fife, Glasgow, Inverness, and Tayside.

The alliance will also call on a fleet of seven specialist treatment trains designed to clear leaf debris with high powered water jets before spraying the lines with a glue-like coating to help train wheels grip the tracks.

From the middle of October until the end of next month, the alliance said that the seven trains will cover an average of 1,500 miles a day.

The expenditure and scope of the work is no different to any other year, but the decision to detail what work is being carried out is, in part, an exercise in raising public awareness.

David Dickson, infrastructure director for the ScotRail Alliance, said: “We spend about £3m every year specifically to address the issue of leaves on the line. It can sometimes be something that is ridiculed a bit within the media and the press, but in reality huge issue for us, as it comes round every year for autumn.”

Last autumn, ScotRail was roundly criticised for cancelling trains hours in advance because leaf mulch and “excessive moisture” increased the risk of train wheels slipping. After some train drivers were forced to reduce their speed, delays built up on the network, and ScotRail was forced to cancel as many as 15 trains a day.

The alliance said that the slippery layer formed by a build up of falling leaves poses some “real safety risks,” causing trains to skid and overshoot signals and platforms, potentially putting passengers and staff in danger.

Mr Dickson added: “We are working hard to build the best railway Scotland has ever had, and part of that is keeping people moving during autumn when the weather can create major safety risks.

“We know few things annoy customers more than when their train is delayed because of leaves on the line. People are always a bit sceptical, but the reality is that leaves on the line can be dangerous and lead to disruption.

“The ScotRail Alliance is investing millions of pounds and pulling out all the stops to tackle this problem over the coming months.”