Transport companies must prepare for winter, warns LGA

2 Nov 09
The Local Government Association has warned that a repeat of last winter’s severe weather could grind the country to a halt
By Helen Mooney

2 November 2009

The Local Government Association has warned that a repeat of last winter’s severe weather could grind the country to a halt.

A report published on October 30 criticises the train and bus operators that failed to keep services running last February when Britain suffered the worst snowfalls for 20 years.

The LGA urged Network Rail and train companies to install equipment to ensure trains keep running. The report also said that too few businesses had contingency plans so that employees know what to do when bad weather strikes.

In February, councils came under fire for perceived delays and shortfalls in gritting icy roads. But the LGA report found that the UK was almost entirely reliant on just two companies for supplying salt and grit. It criticised these suppliers for failing to admit that they were struggling to meet demand during last year’s crisis.

David Sparks, chair of the LGA transport and regeneration board, said: ‘In a time of crisis, salt suppliers need to be upfront with councils and the Highways Agency about what they can deliver and when. If they are to keep people moving, councils need to make sure there is enough slack in the system for supplying salt.

‘When we get bad weather, this country should not grind to a halt. It is high time Network Rail and the train companies tackled problems like freezing points and ice on overhead wires that often occur on our railways during winter.’

He said councils had been reviewing how they coped with winter weather and now had better systems to ensure that salt supplies would not run out in extreme weather.

But Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies, said: ‘Some people might uncharitably think councils are trying to steer attention away from their own failings last February. The reason that many trains did not run that day was because drivers and other railway staff could not get into work, as the roads had not been gritted by the local authorities.’

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport told Public Finance that the government would ‘monitor the situation this winter closely’.

She added: ‘At the beginning of this year the UK experienced the coldest weather and heaviest snowfall for almost 20 years. These were exceptional circumstances and although they caused significant problems to transport services, the hard work of many people ensured that the impact was less than it would otherwise have been. But we are not complacent.’

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