Britain ground to a halt this morning as the transport systems lack of operational competence and depth was once again cruelly exposed. Speaking at a press conference in Downing Street, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: “We are doing everything in our power to ensure services, road, rail and airports are open as quickly as possible, and we are continuing to monitor this throughout the day.” No doubt these words will ring as true as his meaningless “British Jobs for British workers” boast. The Highways Agency said the organisation was well prepared to deal with snowfall over roads after criticism over its reaction to severe weather in 2003 but for the long suffering commuters this morning there was no sign that lessons have been learnt and all these organisations which insist on fining commuters in cash if they don’t have the correct fare were not offering them cash refunds for this transport disaster.
LONDON was overwhelmed by six inches of snow today with the threat of at least as much again to come in the next 24 hours. Forecasters warned that the big freeze could last until the weekend. Every bus was withdrawn from service for the first time in living memory because of fears for passenger safety – not even the Blitz stopped the capital’s buses running.
All but two Tube lines were either totally or partially suspended. Many mainline trains in and out of the capital were cancelled with Southeastern and Southern services completely shut. Roads were either impassable or treacherous after the heaviest London snowfall in 18 years.
Dozens of motorists on the M25 gave up trying to drive in treacherous conditions and stayed in their cars on the hard shoulder. The AA warned motorists they risked hypothermia if their cars broke down. Both runways at Heathrow airport were closed and passengers were advised to check with their airline before leaving for the airport.
A spokesman for the worst World Class airport operator BAA (http://daithaic.blogspot.com/2008/04/up-up-and-away-with-baa-no-2.html)said while Gatwick was open, there were significant delays and cancellations. Stansted, London City and Luton airports were shut. Hundreds of thousands of commuters were forced to stay at home, hitting businesses already suffering from the credit crunch. Most schools were shut.
Network Rail said it had been unable to cope with the sheer volume of snow. An NR spokesman said: “We knew the snow was coming. We had teams of track workers at key junctions. We had people out all night clearing the tracks but the snow was so heavy that once the tracks had been cleared the conductor rails were covered with snow and ice again.”
Many of London’s best known sights were blanketed, affording spectacular views of Parliament and other landmarks. Up to six inches of snow fell in London overnight with the same again expected over the next 24 hours. The snow, brought in on winds from Siberia, is the heaviest since 1991 when six inches fell in London and 20 inches in Yorkshire.
While the whole of the UK was affected, London and the South-East bore the brunt. The standstill angered workers who asked why London was unable to cope with conditions that had been predicted several days ago. “London looks beautiful but I’m really angry the transport system has collapsed,” said Michael Topper, 24, as he walked from his home in Kensington to offices in Soho. “They’ve known about the snow since yesterday. The later I get into work the more money we will lose and it’s a really worrying time.”
Transport for London announced on its website that all London buses, which carry five million passengers a day, had been “withdrawn from service due to adverse weather and dangerous road conditions”. The Highways Agency said 500 Lorries had worked through the night spreading grit. A spokesman said: “Our real problem is HGVs which skid, jack-knife and block the roads which mean our gritting Lorries can’t get through.” The National Rail Enquiries phone line crashed at 7.30am – normally the height of the rush-hour – because so many people were trying to get through.
David Brown of Transport for London said the situation was “exceptional”. He added: “We haven’t had a circumstance like this for over two decades. We were prepared in the sense that all our cold weather plans on the underground were put into place. But I think that actually the volume of the snow falling during the middle of the night was very difficult for us.”
At midday the Mayor of London Boris Johnson announced the £8.00 Central London Congestion charge was being suspended for the day – an empty gesture for the empty streets. ( http://daithaic.blogspot.com/2008/08/london-congestion-charge.html) Disruption caused by the heavy snowfall could cost UK businesses about £1bn, business groups have estimated. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said that 20% of the UK’s working population, or 6.4 million
Trading on the London Stock Exchange was thinner than normal. Stephen Alambritis from the FSB said its estimate of £1.2bn was a cautious one and the actual cost was likely to be higher. “There is also the knock-on effect of passing trade going down as people won’t be buying their sandwiches for lunch or picking up a coffee or newspaper,” he said.
Questions have been asked about whether authorities were sufficiently prepared for the snowfall, given that it was widely forecast. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, admitted that the capital was not equipped to deal with such an unusually heavy snow fall. “This is the kind of snow we haven’t seen in London in decades. We don’t have the snow-ploughs that we would otherwise need to be sure of getting the roads free,” he said. But Mr Johnson said it did not necessarily make sense to make a major investment in snow-ploughs if they were only used once every two decades.
This may be so but taking today’s almost total wipe out of transport systems serious questions need to be asked about how the lack of resilience is hitting the economic viability of Britain and how London can claim to be a World Class City if it and its economy grinds to a halt under six inches of strange fluffy stuff? Has the limits of outsourced Britain been ( http://daithaic.blogspot.com/2007/10/outsourcing-or-ouch-sourcing.html ) discovered as the superficial consequences of the outsourcing, franchising and the tendency to concentrate on short term solutions at the expense of longer term and more robust responses to problems? Is this a country powered by an economy and transport system which only works in fair weather? Is this Fair Weather Britain?