Thursday, December 02, 2010

Snow chaos: roads understandable, rail fail inexcusable

Snowbound Britain. Well, of course. Regular transport requires friction, and snow is slippery. To get around on snow easily you need Nordic skis.

I cannot quite see the point of snowshoes. Well, I know that the idea is to spread your weight, but my point is that snowshoes have no point. Why plod when you can slide?.

The idiots who whine and complain that they cannot make their beloved motorcars work in the snow are the selfsame idiots who want low taxes. Finland (pop. 5.4 million people) spends twice as much as the UK (pop. >54 million) on coping with snow. So is spends 20x as much per capita. And much of the expenditure is on expensive capital items that Finland uses for say 5 months a year and we would use maybe five days a year.

In short, the demands on and complaints against local authority provision for snow are mainly unreasonable, unless the complainers are willing to pay more taxes. Why, in the wall to wall media coverage, is this question not put to complainers? Is it because journalists are constitutionally unable to think creatively, or is it because they are institutionally unable to question the dogma of small government?

As ever, there are efficient new methods that could be used, such as commissioning farmers to do snow plough work.

So, as far as road travel is concerned, we simply have to grit our teeth if we cannot grit the roads. And stay home and have a national holiday if it snows, and just forget the use of cars except for vitally necessary journeys. As it is, we have less holidays than mainland Europe. Sure, we lose production, but we can catch up. There is a cost implication in crashing cars into one another, which could be avoided if people left the bloody things at home.

Railways though is a different matter. Passengers have been trapped for hours in stranded trains. I experienced a 4 hour wait (in clement weather) a few years ago, and my experience is written up here.

In short, the train operating company (Virgin) had no logical plan to deal with a breakdown. They faffed around, there was no co-ordination, and in the end, the solution was simple and swift: they sent out an engine to pull our train away.

Virgin refused to consider or discuss having a sensible policy for dealing with stranded trains. Privatisation has made this problem worse, because of contradictory incentives for train operating companies and the rail networks.

There is absolutely no excuse for 9 hour isolation of trains. Unlike roads, there is only 4 inches of steel to be kept free of snow. Engines can be fitted with snowploughs, and the rails can be scraped clear, blown free with air jets, which can use waste heat from the engines in the case of diesel (and to a lesser extent, of electric trains). Trains can spray antifreeze as they go. Point can be treated with antifreeze.

In short, there is little or no excuse for trains to fail because of snow, and every excuse for motor cars to fail.  I hope stranded rail travellers sue the companies.



In order to get around the railway issues we have which are primarily based upon profit margins we should join all of the companies up and call it, oh I don't know - something like British Rail.

DocRichard said...

That is a very good idea.

I wish someone would review the effects of privatisation. The student fees trouble is about this. The NHS is in process of salami slicing prior to full privatisation. And the rest. Who welcomes the confusion of the competing electricity and gas providers?

This is not to deny that monolithic state enterprises are perfect. They have their own vices, and are in need of constant reform, but this should be from grassroots up.



Taexalia said...

Whilst I can understand frustration at UK rail companies for many many reasons, I think it's unreasonable to expect rail services operate without fail in the current conditions.

Aside from the logistics of staff getting to work to operate trains (and the supporting services), the trains themselves are not equipped to deal with current temperature drops.

There's more to it than simple, corporate incompetence :)

DocRichard said...


You have a good point about staff getting to work.

I chatted with a rail employee on Monday, and he suggested that the money was not being spent.

We need a review of the problems of rail, to see where the pinch-points are, and what cost-effective solutions there may be. For instance, can de-icing solutions cure frozen points? What snow plough designs do they use in Sweden?

It still seems to me that it is more feasible to keep all the rail open, than all the roads.


Taexalia said...

Ah, I agree - it is more feasible to keep the rails open rather than the roads (although there would still be staffing problems I imagine) - but that is different from saying it is "inexcusable" when there are problems such as the recent, very unusual weather ;)

DocRichard said...

The, you're right _"inexcusable" was inexcusable. An error of emphasis. I hope I am not falling into the overemphasis trap into which Glenda Slagg mainstream journalism has long ago become enmired.