The rail industry has defended itself against the inevitable deluge of criticism after at least three train firms announced that they will be extending journey times this autumn to take account of leaves on the line.
SouthEastern, Chiltern, and South Western Railway (SWR) are making changes to timetables ‘to keep trains running on time’, in the words of Southeastern, which operates services in South East London.
In fact, some Southeastern trains into London will be leaving earlier, while trains from London will simply arrive later.
SWR, which is reported to be running an amended autumn timetable, had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication. In March it was criticised for pre-emptively shutting down its network in anticipation of bad weather.
Leaves on the line
The news follows Transport Network’s disclosure that regulator the Office of Rail and Road is to look at complaints from passengers that rail firms may have extended journey times as part of May’s timetable changes to make it easier to run trains on time.
John Halsall, Network Rail managing director for the South East route, which covers both the Southeastern and Govia Thameslink/Southern franchises, said new timetables reflected an approach where ‘passenger safety has to be at the heart of everything we do’.
He said: ‘Would you ask someone to accelerate over black ice on the roads? Leaves on the line pose the same danger on the railway, so we can’t risk the safety of passengers by driving trains at full speed when conditions are bad.’
Network Rail said that working with Southeastern and Govia Thameslink, it will be clearing 50 million leaves from the line this autumn, as well as jet-washing 183,000 miles of track in the south.
Mr Halsall added: ‘Leaves on the line are no joke. As leaves fall on the rails they can get compacted under the weight of trains and form a smooth and slippery layer, causing trains to lose grip.
‘Therefore, train drivers, much like when we drive in snow on the roads, need more time to start and stop.’
A government review is currently taking place into Network Rail’s approach to tree management, after complaints that it is over-zealous.