Leaves on railway tracks caused 3,000 hours of delays over the past four years

Train operators have blamed leaves on the line for more than 3,000 hours of delays in the past four years, figures show.

In that same time, the excuse hated by commuters was trotted out nearly 2,500 times, affecting 35,000 journeys.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of lobby group Transport Focus, said: “Passengers tell us punctual trains are what they want most.

“It is vital Network Rail and train companies continue to reduce the impact of leaves on the line to help build trust in their services.

“Leaf-fall timetables can provide passengers with a more realistic timetable on which to plan journeys. However, it is essential they are well publicised and information given to passengers is accurate.”

Network Rail – which is responsible for all tracks and stations in the UK – has been battling the autumn issue of “leaves on the line” for years and regularly sends out special services to wipe the rails clear and fell trackside trees.

It claims leaves on the line are the rail equivalent of “black ice” and trigger a chain of safety issues.

Experts say leaves also cause the company a serious financial headache as it has to compensate train operators who then need to issue refunds to travellers. Since 2018, delays due to leaves amounted to 3,450 hours and affected 34,673 trains, 2,453 of which were cancelled either before they started or partway along their route, the Delay Attribution Board found.

Network Rail says it works “tirelessly” to deal with the problem. But ‘leaves on the line’ is just one excuse used to explain away late trains.

In 1991, following freak weather, the phrase “wrong type of snow” was coined. Other excuses given to commuters have included wasps on board, llamas on the track and the sun shining too brightly.