On the way home today I noticed a lot of brown things on the road that once were green things and stuck to trees. It seems the wind is stronger than a flatulant on beans today!
Anyway, seeing these means it’ll soon be the time of the year that train drivers hate and the public like to take the piss so I’ll explain a few things to hopefully clear a few misunderstandings in people who really don’t know what happens.
Why are leaves on the line so bad? Well it’s not the leaves as such but the first train to run over the leaves puts a bit of weight on them and crushes them to a pulp. A very slippery oily pulp at that. Now the next train that comes along and needs to brake or accelerate over this pulp finds that all contact between the metal wheels and metal rails is broken and almost frictionless, and there’s only one way to go.
If this happens while accelerating the the train just doesn’t move, unless it’s on a hill, but if it’s braking then it won’t stop, or even slow down. Now imagine there’s a station ahead or, worse, a red light protecting a junction where another train is crossing.
Now some might ask “Why is it this bad?” or “Why can’t they spend some money trying to avoid this?” Well the simple answer is: they do! Millions every year go into preventitive measures like cutting back the trees, research and development of new methods of cleaning the lines and actual cleaning of the lines during the leaf fall period itself, but remember those cleaning trains have to go along the lines between service trains and at much lower speeds to be effective. Also, mankind can’t actually win against nature, we can only do our best to keep it at bay. It’s constantly working against us in this matter but we can only struggle to keep up. We’re getting better but it’s a hard and expensive battle.
In the end, a lot also comes down to the skill of the driver. Recognising hazardous regions and adjusting driving techique by way of earlier, lighter braking (amongst other advanced methods) and more gentle acceleration. Some trains are fitted with sanders, which help but aren’t totally effective so it’s still down to driver skill. This inevitably means delays, of course, but since when was that a new thing? 😉
I hope this has gone some way to explain the problems we face. It probably won’t stop you taking the piss but at least you’ll know what you’re taking the piss out of in future 😉