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Network Rail responds to Channel 4 news item on tree felling

Network Rail responds to Channel 4 news item on tree felling

Trees and plants can cause serious safety and performance problems for the railway.

With over 20,000 miles of track and an estimated 2.5 million trees growing on the line-side Network Rail has to focus its resources on keeping the railway safe and running as smoothly as possible.

Last winter, there were well over a thousand incidents where trees or substantial branches were blown onto the railway. Not only did this cause widespread disruption, each of these incidents posed a potential safety risk to passengers, the worst being a train derailment. Excessive growth of trees and plants by the railway can obscure signals, damage overhead power lines or make our employees workspaces unsafe. Autumn leaves on the tracks are hazardous for trains affecting their ability to accelerate and brake, leading to delays.

We aim to effectively manage this threat by targeting areas that pose the biggest safety and performance risk to the railway and removing potentially dangerous lineside vegetation. However, in doing so, we also try to work closely with communities as a responsible neighbour. We appreciate that trees and plants on our property shield our neighbours from the railway and provide refuges for birds and animals.

We aim to establish a clear corridor on either side of the track. Typically this is around six metres from the track although the width of this corridor will vary according to presence of overhead power lines and signals. We will also remove trees beyond this zone if they pose a threat; normally because they are dead or diseased, of a particular leaf-fall species, or are within falling distance of the track.


Ecological assessments take place prior to vegetation works starting. During bird nesting season, we undertake daily assessments, placing exclusion zones around any areas where there is evidence of nesting. Work does not recommence until all that evidence has gone. We do try to avoid significant tree cutting during this period.

It is a delicate balance of our obligations to keep passengers safe and our responsibilities to our neighbours and the wildlife living trackside.

With particular regard to Sonning Cutting, the main work was completed on 2nd April. The team have been on site this week, tidying up to make the area safe for the spring/summer season.