How to avoid ‘leafgate’ this year

LEAFGATE: Steve Hooker, Jamie Burles, James Cartlidge MP and John Curley at Sudbury train station. ANL-160713-121612001
LEAFGATE: Steve Hooker, Jamie Burles, James Cartlidge MP and John Curley at Sudbury train station. ANL-160713-121612001

Last year’s ‘leafgate’ which caused cancellations on the Sudbury to Marks Tey rail line was discussed last week by senior rail officials and South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge.

Mr Cartlidge met with senior individuals from Abellio Greater Anglia (AGA), Network Rail and the Department of Transport (DfT) to discuss last years ‘leafgate’ when service on the Sudbury branch line was suspended for 13 days due to leaves on the line.

Also in attendance was John Curley, a rail resilience expert who had been commissioned by AGA and Network Rail to produce a report on the disruption caused last year.

The meeting, which was held in the mayor’s parlour in Sudbury Town Hall, focused on what Mr Curley’s report had discovered and what Network Rail and AGA are planning to do to prevent the same chaos occurring this year.

Though it was found there were a number of factors that culminated in the withdrawal of service, Mr Curley pointed to the fact that the weather conditions had been unprecedented, with the main leave fall occurring over a number of weeks rather than months due to the mild conditions.

He added that AGA did not have the capacity to complete the necessary repairs when the trains were damaged.

In response Network Rail outlined that they were committing more resources to the rural lines during the autumn and that by using remote train monitoring they will be able to pinpoint areas that require greater ‘vegetation management’.

AGA outlined plans to install a mobile wheel lathe, necessary for repairing units after leaf damage, in Norwich, so that more trains can be back on the lines as soon as possible.

They also explained that prevention was at the heart of their plans for this autumn.

They will be reviewing their driving training and briefing from other UK operations to make sure that they are doing everything that they can to reduce the chance of the problem occurring again.

They also committed to treat known hotspots of vegetation build up twice rather than once a day.

“I was delighted to host senior personnel in Sudbury to discuss the crisis that afflicted our line last year,” said Mr Cartlidge.

“My priority in doing this was to put pressure on Abellio, Network Rail and the Department of Transport to ensure that this does not happen again.

“I am pleased that both AGA and Network Rail set out a range of steps they will be taking to avoid a repeat. For example, they admitted to me that a key issue was the wheel lathe. Diesels that suffer wheel damage from leaf mulch are repaired using a wheel lathe, usually within about 24 hours.

“However, it transpires that this process took closer to six days during leafgate because the lathe at Ilford was busy as a result of Crossrail and the lathe at Hornsey was affected by work on Thameslink.

“Thus, the fact that AGA will be ensuring we have a mobile lathe in Norwich should be an important step. Above all, I hope that constituents who rely on the Sudbury service were reassured by the presence of such senior representatives of the rail industry in Sudbury to be held to account for what happened.

“For the sake of our long-suffering commuters I hope that the steps outlined avoid a repeat of leafgate this autumn.”

In early October, when work to tackle leaf-related issues commence, Mr Cartlidge will be going out with Network Rail in one of their special railhead treatment trains to view at first hand the work that will be done to ensure there is no repeat of leafgate.