Network Rail has hit back against claims it has a new programme to cut down large swathes of trackside trees.
The claim, made by the Guardian, said the rail operator had an £800M programme over control period 6 (CP6 – from 2019 to 2024) to cut down as many as 10M poplars, sycamores, limes, ash trees and horse chestnuts.
But Network Rail has now reacted to the claims saying its lineside policy had not changed since 2004 and it would not be changing in CP6 – with the exception of an additional 1.5m added on to the standard 5m boundary in the vicinity of overhead electric wires.
It said the document, referred to by the Guardian, was part of a suite of around 80 provided to the Office of Road and Rail (ORR) as part of the CP6 review which included some modelling data as part of the it.
A Network Rail spokesperson said: “Network Rail is constantly balancing the needs of the environment and its line side neighbours with the needs and safety of the 4.6M people who use and rely on our railway every day.
“As a result, [of the incidents] we have well thought out standards and policies in place that have been developed over many years with the help of expert that we believe strike the right balance and maintains a safe and biodiverse line side.
“Most of the time when putting those standards and policies into action we get it right, but sometimes we don’t. To help us improve we have formed close partnerships with the Tree Council, the Woodland Trust and others experts in the field.”
Last year Network Rail recorded over 400 incidents of trains colliding with fallen trees and a further 1,000 which caused delays to services, costing the industry over £100M.
On Wednesday this week, rail minister Jo Johnson waded into the debate by commissioning a review into Network Rail’s vegetation management.
The review, he said, would look at issues such as whether Network Rail had the capacity and capability to control vegetation in a way that minimised harm to wildlife, and if more training was needed to help with tree identification and identifying approaches to avoid the felling of trees.
He also asked Network Rail to suspend all felling until August, except where it was safety critical.
The suspension was made in response to calls from wildlife organisations such as the RSPB, that the carrying out of lineside management during the nesting season could have a detrimental impact on local wildlife.
Network Rail replied to the move saying it welcomed the review and “the opportunity to further improve”.