November 13th - As I waited for yet another late train at Blake Street this morning, I gazed at the rails. The train service has been lousy of late - continual staff shortages and equipment failures have made the system terribly unreliable. This particular service hasn’t been on time for a fortnight at least. Normally at this time of year, London Midland, the local train operator, would institute a ‘Leaf fall timetable’. This is a much derided, but little understood thing. Falling leaves lie on the rails and get pulped by the train wheels, creating a slippery, sappy lubricant the causes wheels to slip and brakes to become ineffective. The pulp also forms an insulator which prevents signal detection functioning.
A leaf-fall timetable allows drivers to go more slowly and allows rail cleaning trains to operate in-between passenger services. The cleaning trains spray gelatinous substance on the rails called Sandite, which as it’s name suggests, contains sand to counter the grease. The rails I was looking at had clearly just been treated, and the residue could be seen. This is a huge problem for trains worldwide and not unique to the UK.
I’m unclear why there’s no leaf fall timetable this year, and the services on the Cross City line are woeful. Combined with cancellations due to staff shortages, bad signals and train breakdowns, I bet they’re losing punters hand over fist.