Session 2010-11
Publications on the internet

Written evidence from London TravelWatch (AWC 11)

1 Introduction:


London TravelWatch is the official body set up by Parliament to provide a voice for London’s travelling public, including the users of all forms of public transport. Our role is to:

· Speak up for transport users in discussions with policy-makers and the media;

· Consult with the transport industry, its regulators and funders on matters affecting users;

· Investigate complaints users have been unable to resolve with service providers, and;

· Monitor trends in service quality.

Our aim is to press in all that we do for a better travel experience all those living, working or visiting London and its surrounding region.

2 The Inquiry


London TravelWatch welcomes the House of Commons Transport Committee’s further inquiry, which will build on its previous work, and will consider:

· Impacts the road and rail networks in England and Wales

· Impact on the UK’s airports, including the extent to which lessons were learnt from winter 2009-10

· The provision of accurate weather forecasts to transport providers in advance of the bad weather

· The recommendations of the Quarmby reviews into the resilience of England’s transport systems in 2010.

London TravelWatch’s board received a report on the impact of the adverse weather in November and December 2010 at its board meeting on the 1st February 2011.

This report covered the broad areas that the committee are seeking to investigate with the exception of air travel which is outside the remit of London TravelWatch. The contents are reproduced below.

3 Background


This paper builds on the previous reports to the London Travelwatch board (10 February 2009 and 26 January 2010), and on the scrutiny report of the London Assembly Transport Committee of March 2009. The Department for Transport commissioned an independent audit of the resilience of English transport systems from David Quarmby to which London TravelWatch contributed. This is referred to as the Winter Resilience Review.

It should be noted that through the period of weather disruption London TravelWatch staff undertook constant monitoring of the situation on a day to day basis, by observation, by responding to phone calls and emails from passengers and also by conversations on face to face, telephone and email with operators and authorities. This enabled London TravelWatch to respond immediately to the Winter Resilience Review, contributing directly to some of that review’s detailed recommendations.

Severe disruption has occurred, principally to the rail network, as a result of snow and cold weather that began on 30 November 2010. This paper seeks to explore whether recommendations regarding previous weather events in 2009 and 2010 have been implemented or were successful. Previously it has been stated that as London and the south east is not used to such extended periods of cold weather it is not clear that the railway network could have done substantially more to avoid service disruption.

London TravelWatch’s concerns therefore focus on the communication of information to rail users and the speed of service recovery by specific train operators.

4 Buses


This year’s snowfall started at the beginning of a working day in London. Snow had been well forecast. This was unlike February 2009 when snow fell overnight. Clearly traffic movements, particularly bus services, contributed to maintaining the roads in a passable state this year. This year, unlike in 2009, the TfL website was able to handle the increased volumes of enquiries to the transport information. However, where diversions or curtailments of services were put in place, especially at short or no notice, the information contained on the website seemed to be dependent on the efficiency of operators reporting such service perturbations to TfL.

Unlike in 2009 there were no reports of buses being unable to leave their garages.

5 Streets


Again we observed side streets and footways were the last to be cleared. However, there was some evidence to suggest that local authorities and others were better prepared than in previous years.

6 Croydon Tramlink

Croydon Tramlink was able to keep itself operational throughout the period of adverse weather and carried substantial numbers of passengers displaced from other disrupted modes of transport.

7 London Underground

London Underground faced relatively little disruption to services in its core area of zones 1 to 6 in comparison to the National Rail network. Disruption did occur but it did not result in wide scale closures of the network and while some delays were experienced, most journeys remained possible.

In the following hours and days, London Underground’s network recovered from the disruption caused by the snow fall.

8 Network Rail

The performance of Network Rail in a number of key areas of operation gives serious cause for concern. These were:

· Failure of the Integrated Train Planning System (ITPS) to cope with the need to update and implement contingency timetables. This system feeds all other Customer and Passenger Information Systems (CIS and PIS) as well as websites operated by National Rail Enquiries (NRES) and individual train operators.

· Failure to have in place sufficient resources to de-ice tracks and conductor rails and to clear snow and other line blockages.

· Failure of Uninterrupted Power Supply back up equipment to deploy at least one location.

The performance of individual train operators was largely dependent on the ability of Network Rail to deliver a railway on which their trains could operate. However, there were a number of individual areas where performance could have been substantially improved such as:

· The ability to switch easily to a contingency timetable

· To fit pre-heating devices to fuel lines on diesel trains

· To clear snow and ice from stations, not just from platform edges and approach roads but also from the centre of platforms to allow easy passenger circulation

· To have in place emergency arrangements with local authorities in the entirety of the operation area of each train operator, including contact with smaller local authorities

· Management of crowds and queuing at major terminals

Examples of failures by the rail industry included the following:-

· Failure of train operators to successfully upload their contingency timetables to ITPS.

· Train operators succeeded in uploading a contingency timetable to ITPS but the normal timetable was not removed by Network Rail and so information systems showed both contingency and normal timetables running together.

· Insufficient de-icing units and clearance trains being available for deployment at the appropriate times and locations.

· A new passenger train fleet that included a ‘de-icing’ capability, but was not able to be deployed for a number of days as the ‘de-icer’ fluid had not had regulatory approval to be used.

· Incomplete installation of heated conductor rails and points. The former are a new innovation since 2009, and the ones that had been installed worked very well, but often led to displacement of disruption to other locations.

· Failure of Network Rail to de-ice parts of the network which had been subject to an engineering possession prior to handing back for operational use.

· Failure of alternative power supply units at a Service Delivery Centre (Signal box/Control) when a power cut occurred on the main supply

· Some operators had difficulty in running their contingency timetables because their staff live in places served by other train operators who were experiencing greater operational difficulties

· Failure of some diesel units when temperatures fell below freezing, and so trains became either trapped or were unable to leave stabling points

· Inconsistency of clearance of platforms between train operators at stations e.g. in some instances only platform edges were cleared and piles of snow remained extant for some weeks afterwards in the centre of some platforms at major stations.

· Failure to have in place contact arrangements with local authorities in the event of trains and passengers being stranded in particular locations – in this case the London boroughs.

Following the disruption to transport in London from heavy snow in 2009 and 2010 we made a number of recommendations for dealing with incidents such as this in future.

The main conclusion of these reports was the key vulnerability of the rail system in London is the direct current third rail power system which is found predominantly south of the Thames. When the conductor rail is covered with snow, it causes poor contact between the conductor shoe and the rail itself. This can result in the train becoming immobilised or suffering damage to its electrical systems. In February 2009 this was the key reason why most disruption was faced south of the river whereas on the overhead electrified AC lines more services were able to operate. Since then a number of locations have been fitted with heated conductor rails and more point heaters have been installed. These installations worked in keeping the rails concerned free of snow and ice. However, as noted above this often transferred problems to other locations. So it is recommended that the installation of such heated equipment is adopted as a standard feature of third rail systems. The Winter Resilience Review has recommended an industry wide review of the technical alternatives to the third rail system.

The 2009 and 2010 reports recommended that a reduced service that operates was far preferable to a full scale cancellation of all trains. This recommendation was largely adopted by most train operators in the London TravelWatch area, and this appeared to work very well when adopted – except as noted above where the ITPS system failed. Southeastern adapted their previous emergency timetable to run a much later evening service on their London metro services following previous feedback from passengers and stakeholders.

9 Eurostar services


Following previous problems in 2009 and 2010 Eurostar had implemented a major review of its preparedness and although they did have some major difficulties, particularly following on from another operators train blocking a high speed route in France, the disruption was on a much smaller scale than previously.

10 Compensation arrangements


One additional item that has been raised with us through casework is that compensation arrangements vary between individual train companies depending on when their franchise was let, and whether they think they can afford any compensation. This related to the arrangements in place with Southeastern, who compensated only those passengers who were trapped on trains overnight, as required by their 2004 franchise, and not others who otherwise had their journeys disrupted. Other operators whose franchises were let later than 2004 had much more generous compensation conditions and obviously put those into effect. In the case of network wide events it would seem not unreasonable on the grounds of equity that there is a case for a central direction by the government to make such arrangements more uniform.

11 Our conclusions


The transport system in London and the south east has faced the most sustained period of cold weather and snow since the early 1980s. The system has not been tested with a sustained period of cold weather for at least twenty years, on a repeated basis. The impact has been mainly felt on the railways with most operators facing considerable disruption.

Given the scale of the cold weather and snow, it is not surprising that train services suffered disruption as London and the south east are not used to such conditions. Most operators had to put in place emergency timetables and this considerably disrupted passenger journeys. However, for most companies the disruption was relatively quickly brought under control and localised, but as concluded by the Winter Resilience Review there are a number of key areas where the rail industry in particular needs to perform at a much higher level.

The area of information is the most important as far as passengers are concerned and it is regrettable that the ITPS failed on a number of counts at the critical moment. The Winter Resilience Review agreed with our overall conclusion that in many cases the transport industry has become over dependent on electronic information systems controlled from a central point, and that a thorough review of technologies and processes is required. Given the consistency between our submission and the eventual conclusion of the Winter Resilience Review it is fair to say that the review attached significant weight to our submission.

Passenger compensation regimes also need to be modernised and made more consistent. London TravelWatch, in-conjunction with Passenger Focus and First Group, is currently undertaking research into passenger expectations on compensation arrangements. The results will be reported at a later date.

The rail industry needs to have a concerted technical drive to improve standards in the event of such weather emergencies in future. In particular the ITPS system – a failure in which can result from a variety of causes not just snow and ice, needs to be much more capable of being able to cope with the need to introduce emergency timetables at short notice.

12 Recommendations to the committee

London TravelWatch believes that whilst undoubtedly there was a considerable improvement in late 2010 in the response to the adverse weather conditions compared to earlier in 2009 and 2010 there are areas where transport operators, infrastructure providers and transport authorities could still improve their response to adverse weather conditions. In particular the issue of information flow needs to be addressed, as this is one areas of principle concern to transport users, especially relating to the electronic information that is governed by and routed by Network Rail’s ITPS train planning system. It is also recommended that there should be a review of emergency planning arrangements, including whether smaller local authorities could combine nor coordinate their resources and responses to such weather events.

February 2011