The wrong sort of snow?

21 January 2013

If you were attempting a car journey at this time of year you would probably leave some extra time and expect a bit of a delay on the way. So, do we unreasonably expect the trains to runs like Swiss clockwork when snow comes? Now is, however, a moment of truth. Millions of extra pounds have been spent on snow preparation, lessons learnt from previous winters, information upgraded and good practice spread around the industry.

Thinking about the subject for more than a minute gives you some clues on why trains might be disrupted. Staff have to get through the snow to get to the trains and stations. Trains often are parked overnight at the extremities of the network in the snowiest places. Icy rails call for some more cautious driving – steel on steel not being a particularly sticky combination. Yes, I know too much.

So, should the network be ready for this every year? The famous BR era “wrong sort of snow” comment turned out to be very true. The snow that fell that year was of an unusual size and temperature and clogged the inlets and vents on trains. Ha, ha, but serious. Being able to repel that type of snow would have cost millions more for a very unusual event. Fares would go up. Also it is nonsense to think everywhere else copes. Sweden had terrible problems following severe snow last year as did trains in the Czech Republic.

However, given flooding and snow there is a very serious debate about how resilient the rail network should be. As the Government and industry make spending plans for 2014-19 – the next big spending period – should this factor perhaps figure more prominently?

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