Friday, November 20, 1998 Published at 11:39 GMT
No 'releaf' for rail travellers
Watch out for that leaf!
Just when you thought Railtrack had turned over a new leaf comes a new excuse for train delays - giant leaves.
Railtrack, who are responsible for the tracks, stations and platforms, said leaves have been "bigger and juicier" this autumn, which has led to longer delays to services.
The company said the problem had been particularly bad in the Midlands and they issued a joint apology with Central Trains.
'Leaves are just too juicy'
A Railtrack spokeswoman said: "There were 30% to 40% more leaves on trees this season and they were 20% bigger and juicier, which caused delays on tracks."
A Central spokesman said: "Some of the problems have been down to us and some down to Railtrack. We have also suffered very bad flooding."
Railtrack says leaves are swept onto the track by the slipstream of passing trains.
When it rains, wet leaves are crushed under train wheels, which "carbonises" them, leaving a hard, teflon-like coating on the rails.
'Black ice for trains'
This creates the same effect as black ice on roads, creating a danger of trains skidding out of control.
As a result train drivers have to slow down and brake more gently, which naturally causes delays.
Railtrack estimates wet leaves cause £10m worth of damage every year to rolling stock.
The company uses a fleet of 80 special trains which coat the tracks with sandite, a gritty substance which is supposed to prevent train wheels slipping on the leaf mush.
The company is also trialling a new anti-leaf train and has promised to buy 25 of the vehicles if the tests are successful.
Five years ago, British Rail blamed the "wrong kind of snow" for disrupting services.