Transport disruption in severe weather report

29 May 2009

MPs have concluded that co-ordination, prioritisation and visible leadership are more important than extra resources to speed up recovery from transport disruption caused by severe weather.

They call for better co-ordination between local authorities and bus and train operators in their areas to minimise disruption to public transport in the event of heavy snowfall.

Launching the Transport Committee’s fourth report of the 2008-09 Session, Committee Chairman Louise Ellman MP said:

"The travel disruption at the beginning of February was unsatisfactory. While the unusually heavy snow fall meant that some disruption was inevitable, it is vital that all those involved ensure that winter maintenance plans and crisis responses are reconsidered so as to minimise disruption in the future."

The Committee welcomes the setting up of the UK Roads Liaison Group. In addition it urges any local authorities or agencies that have not already done so, to evaluate lessons from the events of 1-2 February and identify weakness in their emergency plans. It also recommends that every local authority ‘severe weather response plan’ should assign a high priority to clearing access routes for emergency services (such as ambulance station driveways and hospital ramps).

The report calls on train, underground and bus operators to work closely with local authorities to identify which routes could be kept open as a priority to maintain (or restore) public transport following snowfall.

The Committee records concern about the closure of the London bus network and welcomes the report from the GLA transport committee, titled ' Slipping Up?' (PDF 397 KB). This identifies lack of co-ordination between different Boroughs and between the Boroughs and TfL.

MPs express disappointment at the Mayor of London’s apparent disregard for scrutiny and record his lack of leadership in the report. Committee Chair Louise Gellman added:

"Strong co-ordination, clear priorities and visible leadership are all vital to the success and speed with which any public authority can respond to severe weather. Many factors made disruption unavoidable in early February. Whilst operational decisions must be taken by the professionals, more active strategic leadership from Mayor Johnson and more practical effort on his part to oversee preparations for a rare but forecast event, could have given the public far more confidence and might have ensured public transport services were restored much more quickly."

Background to inquiry

Heavy snowfall in London and the South East during the early hours of 2 February 2009 had a drastic impact on transport in the capital. Disruption to services also affected other parts of the country and continued in some areas for several days. On 12 March the Secretary of State for Transport gave a written statement to the House of Commons on the response to severe weather, highlighting problems and announcing that the UK Roads Liaison Group (UKRLG), a partnership of Central Government, devolved administrations, trunk road authorities and local authorities, would review the events of the beginning of February and make recommendations for improvements by July 2009.

Due to the seriousness of the disruption caused by snow in early February, particularly though not exclusively in the capital, the Transport Select Committee undertook an inquiry to examine problems at a national level and to report earlier than the summer deadline of the UKRLG review. This asked why public transport was disrupted, whether this was handled better or worse by different authorities, whether planning and preparation by local authorities and the Highways Agency was sufficient, and whether co-ordination between the bodies involved was adequate.

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