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MPs blame transport operators for lack of snow readiness

Infrastructure owners must do more to ensure transport networks keep working in severe weather, MPs said this week.

Commons Transport Select committee chairman Louise Ellman said that Heathrow airport was “totally unprepared”, as was Network Rail.

She was speaking as the committee published its report into last December’s snow chaos, which disabled many transport systems.

Heathrow airport

“It’s clear that Heathrow airport was totally unprepared to recover from any major incident which necessitated its closure and that its owners underinvested in winter resilience equipment,” said Ellman.

“Every airport operator must now be pushed to plan properly for bad weather so that people are not left stranded and without even basic supplies in airport terminals for days on end”.

On the rail network, the report, Keeping the UK moving: The impact on transport of the winter weather in December 2010, identified vulnerabilities in its anti-icing strategy. This meant that meant it was caught out by the early onset of winter and that equipment was not ready.

Changes to the 4,827km third rail network

It also emphasised the importance of investing in changes to the 4,827km third rail network south of the Thames. This is known to be one of the more vulnerable railways because it runs through rural areas prone to heavy snowfall.

“In our view, improving the resilience of this part of the rail network, which carries thousands of commuters into London each day, should be a priority for investment,” said the report.

On roads, the committee said that strategic salt arrangements introduced in 2010 were a “considerable success”. But it said the government should consider ways of ensuring that strategic salt supply arrangements are more transparent to local authorities and that guidance on salt spreading rates is followed.

“The strategic salt arrangement introduced a year ago clearly kept many main roads open last December,” says the report.

Report recommendations

In its report, Keeping the UK moving: The impact on transport of the winter weather in December 2010, the Transport Committee calls for additional investment and coordination by government to:

  • Ensure the final version of the Department for Transport’s Climate change Adaptation Plan refers to the future risk of severe winter weather
  • Improve resilience of the third rail network south of the Thames, with a long term aim to install a more resilient method of electrification
  • Oversee airport planning for major incidents including snow chaos, particularly at Heathrow and review airport regulations to ensure they take account of this
  • Permit airport operators to reclaim the cost of looking after stranded passengers when airlines fail to discharge their responsibility to do this
  • Provide better online advice for individuals and communities about tackling problems arising from severe winter weather
  • Launch a high profile campaign to increase the proportion of motorists taking precautions for driving in winter weather
  • Develop clearer snow and ice risk travel warnings for freight vehicles   similar to those for strong winds
  • Investigate the case to provide the Met Office with more money to improve its long range forecasting capability sufficient to improve the way transport operators can warn passengers

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