Failing to weather the storm

This has been the worst weather related transport chaos in living memory. Admittedly, it was the heaviest snowfall for a couple of decades and fell on a Sunday night when traffic is light, allowing it to settle. 


However, it is still pretty inexcusable that the system fell apart so completely on Monday morning. There had been warnings for several days that blizzards were on the way and Transport for London assures us that it has well-established contingency plans. And yet every London Underground line, apart from the Waterloo & City and Victoria which run completely in tunnel, were affected and, worst, there were no buses at all on Monday morning.


It is right that there is no point spending tens of millions on snow ploughs and other equipment that will be used once in a generation. But that is no excuse for lack of preparation. The excuse for not running buses is particularly thin. We are told that they could not get out of depots because the local roads were iced up and were the responsibility of local boroughs.


But if there are contingency plans, surely they should take this fact into account? Cooperation between TfL and the councils should have ensured that link roads to depots were given priority by gritters and snowploughs. After all, the main roads along which buses run for the most part were clear. Routes could have been curtailed to ensure that at least some service was offered.


In fact, in the complex transport structure in London, it was the private operators who decided not to risk putting their buses on the roads. One can detect the heavy hand of the Health and Safety mafia here. Even Boris seems to have been taken in as he said on TV how dangerous it is to have a 12 tonne bus on icy roads. Yes Boris, but they do it elsewhere in the world.


On the trains, while again it is understandable that there were difficulties, especially as staff could not get in on the roads to drive trains or operate signal boxes .However, at times like this people need information and the National Rail website foundered in the first snow drift. It is not good enough for the Association of Train Operating Companies to say there was unprecedented demand. Accidents, bad weather, floods and sudden increases demand should be factored into the software systems as they are bound to happen at some time. Sure it will cost a few bob, but the train operators have been happily coining it over the past few years as passengers have flocked to the railways. It is the sort of investment that any responsible company would have made.


There has been a total absence of the ‘the show must go on’ Windmill spirit and the reason is clear. The trains and buses are run by private companies more concerned with not getting sued by a passengers who has slipped on an icy platform or fallen when a bus has skidded, rather than making sure that London keeps moving.

  • “Even Boris seems to have been taken in as he said on TV how dangerous it is to have a 12 tonne bus on icy roads. Yes Boris, but they do it elsewhere in the world. ”

    Er… yes, even in Stuttgart with steep hills and narrow streets. We’ve had snow and ice and sub-zero temperatures. I’ve not heard of any problems.

  • Paul O

    A ride on Bowers 58 service between Macclesfield & Buxton via the Cat & Fiddle is a must at this time of year, It can be raining when you leave Macclesfield, sleeting at Walker Barn and gridlock at the Cat & Fiddle with artic lorries skidding all over the place but good old Bowers usually try to keep the show on the road.

    I’d recommend a ride on this route at anytime of year, its a demanding road thats got scenery and serious weather conditions most of the year and Macclesfield is under two hours from Euston. Buses run every houry early to morning to six in the evening.

    Details here ( Yes that picture at the bottom of the page is a red bus braving snow at the Cat & Fiddle one of the most dangerous roads in the UK at anytime of year, You can keep Boris thank you )

    Paul O

  • Dan

    Yes, and you see the front page of the website is time chnages to imporve rail connections – not many bus companies bother with that!

  • It’s been a cold winter all across Europe, not just in the UK. However, the headlines about transport infrastructure not working, hospitals full of cyclists and pedestrians who have slipped on un-gritted pavements and roads and people not going to work and school because of it seem to come almost entirely from the UK.

  • When I were a lad, just after WW2, we had a “can do” attitude. Now it seems to be a “can’t risk it” mentality. We had proper winters then, and the buses kept on running come snow or pea-souper, even if the conductor had to walk in front to guide the driver. Maybe with a big engine over the front wheels instead of hanging off the back, the buses were a bit more surefooted than today’s flimsy leviathans. Southern Electric ran ghost trains through the night to keep the conductor rails clear, and there was still a bit of steam traction around if they got stuck. Where there’s a will… (but it was a public service, not a profit centre).