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Last updated: 12:18

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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 

Again? It’s no joke, but we’re on the case. 

You wouldn’t think the humble leaf could cause so much trouble. 50 million leaves fall onto our train tracks every autumn. When mixed with rain and squashed by train wheels, they form a slippery layer on the rails like black ice. Our drivers need more time to stop and start the trains as the wheels have less grip on the tracks. 

We're on the case 

  • Clearing hundreds of miles of trackside vegetation throughout the year
  • Running special leaf-busting trains throughout autumn that clean the rails using water jets and apply a sand-based gel to help trains grip the rails
  • Adding a few minutes to journey times to give drivers more time to stop and start

Find out more about Autumn 

Ice ice maybe

When the mercury plummets, even the lightest shower of rain or dusting of snow can freeze and become compacted on the rails, insulating the electric rail and preventing trains from drawing power or being able to move with any speed. And in the worst cases, it prevents them from being able to move at all.

Snow and ice also causes points - which allow trains to move between tracks - to freeze solid, or get jammed with compacted snow. When this happens, trains can’t safely run over them. The couplers that join carriages together can also become iced up, making it difficult to join them together, or split them apart, and reducing the number of trains we have available.

We’re on the case

  • Running ice and snow-busting trains round the clock when winter weather strikes which are fitted with anti-icing fluid to stop the electric rail freezing up, adhesion gel for the rails for wheel grip, and snow ploughs when weather is severe
  • Fitting points which are most likely to freeze with heaters and NASA-grade insulation to prevent ice forming and them sticking in place
  • Applying heating strips on those electric rails most likely to freeze
  • Running empty ‘ghost trains’ overnight to keep tracks and overhead cables free of snow and ice
  • Changing to a Winter Weather or Severe Winter Weather Timetable to keep trains running
  • And station teams are ready to go with gritting and snow-clearing

Find out more about Winter



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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