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Last updated: 23:36

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Delays explained

Reasons for delays on Southeastern trains, including infrastructure issues and engineering works

Delays explained further

We hate announcing delays as much as you hate hearing them, but sometimes things don’t work out to plan.
If you’re confused by the odd reasons given for delays then read on for what terms like ‘leaves on the line’ really mean. Get insights into the problems caused and how we’re working closely with Network Rail to minimise them.

Leaves on the line

See our latest autumn leaf fall timetables here.

You wouldn’t think the humble leaf could cause so much trouble.

Thousands of tonnes of leaves fall onto wet train tracks every autumn. These can form a smooth and slippery layer of mucky mulch on the rails. 
Our trains then find it harder to grip the track and brake. This also confuses the signals, which rely on electric currents in the track to work out where the trains are.
We don’t want to leave you in the lurch, so we’re working with Network Rail (who manage the infrastructure we run our trains on):
  • Using trains with water jets to clear leaves from the rails
  • Clearing away hundreds of miles of vegetation by the tracks 


Raindrops seem harmless enough, but heavy rain can flood tracks and slow down trains.
Flood waters can damage equipment and cut power to the train. They can also wash away ballast (crushed stone), and weaken the track.
To protect places at risk of flooding, we and Network Rail are doing a number of things:
  • We have flood defence teams and pumping stations at the ready
  • We’re clearing drainage ditches
  • We’re lifting up tracks and signaling equipment

Lightning strikes

Lightning can be frightening. It can also do real damage if it strikes the sensitive signalling systems Network Rail manage to keep our trains running.

If that happens, signals will automatically turn red, stopping trains on our lines.
Together we’re trying to strike out these delays with:
  • Special equipment to protect signals
  • A new system to pinpoint lightning strikes, so we can fix signals quicker

Improvement works

Engineering projects, improvement works, do genuinely make our trains more reliable, and allow us to have more trains and faster services on the network.
Our trains run on 20,000 miles of tracks managed and maintained by Network Rail. Improvement work on our network is carefully planned up to two years in advance, and we do everything we can to minimise disruption. This is why most improvement work is done at night, at weekends and over public holidays. Occasionally, however, they do over-run.

Points failure

A points failure means that one of the sections of track at a junction that lets trains move from one line to another has broken. 
These points can get clogged up with dirt, leaves, branches and other debris. They can also expand when it’s very hot. Network Rail manages the infrastructure our trains run on and is doing a number of things to make the points on our route more reliable including:
  • Monitoring them remotely
  • Introducing new designs for points and their components
  • Painting some points white so they absorb less heat

Fixing things fast and getting compensation

We work with Network Rail to try to reduce disruption, and fix things as quickly as possible when things go wrong. 
But if you have been delayed by more than 30 minutes, you can claim Delay Repay compensation.
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