Think of leaves on rails as black ice on roads and you'll begin to understand the nature of the problem. We're not talking about piles of dead leaves, but a hard slippery layer that coats the rails and is very difficult to remove.
Briefly, this is what happens:
Therefore, trains have to operate at slower speeds to ensure safety and to reduce the potential for wheel slip and spin.
This means that drivers have to brake earlier for stations and signals and move off again more slowly. Consequently, train services can be delayed.
If a train can't move because its wheels can't grip the rails, often there is no alternative route, therefore following trains are delayed or have to be cancelled.
In addition to causing severe disruption to customers, the damage inflicted on train wheels during sliding and spinning on rails is considerable and means some trains have to be taken out of service for expensive repair. The rails too can be damaged costing many thousands of pounds to repair each year.
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