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Weather France Britain rail Transport Autumn SNCF

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Leaves on the line delay French trains

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Railtracks at Charenton-le-Pont, near Paris Reuters/Charles Platiau

British rail travellers who have snorted in exasperation on being told that "leaves on the line" have caused their train to be late will feel a pang of sympathy with passengers in the French region of Normandy who have been tweeting angrily about the same reason being given for delays there.


"Traffic paralysed on Paris-Granville this weekend // cancelled and delayed because of a heavy fall ... of dead leaves in autumn", "My train delayed because of leaves on the rails ...", "Ah, at last the return of the autumn leaves excuses ...", furious passengers tweeted recently as seasonal conditions brought seasonal delays.

The surge of discontent has moved regional council president and former defence minister Hervé Morin to demand that the SNCF rail company provide "decent conditions of transport" for passengers of the Paris-Granville line, which has suffered particularly badly from leaf-induced delays.

International phenomenon

Disruption by fallen leaves is an international phenomenon, hitting North America, the Netherlands and the UK.

In Britain the phrase "leaves on the line" is a standing joke along with similar phrases such as "the wrong kind of snow", regarded as spurious excuses for poor service.

In fact the problem is genuine.

Wet leaves on railtracks can lead to a reduction in friction between a train's wheels and the rails leading to slipping when a train accelerates and sliding when it brakes, slowing the train down and sometimes rendering the track too dangerous to use.

The train can even briefly lose contact with the rail, which can lead to technical problems such as signal failure.

French rail company reequips

"It's the same phenomenon as for a car on a wet road," SNCF maintenance chief André Fauve-Piot told the AFP news agency.

The SNCF adapts some maintenance wagons to brush leaves off the track in autumn and has recently bought 16 wagons that blast leafy tracks with high-pressure jets of water.

The most recently built trains have systems designed to deal with the problem and 40 million euros have been spent on adapting Paris region trains that are less than 30 years old.