Session 2010-11
Publications on the internet

1

Written evidence from the Department for Transport (AWC 12)

INTRODUCTION

1. The weather experienced in December 2010 followed two previous severe winters. The Meteorological Office has since confirmed that December 2010 was the coldest December since 1910 and the snowfall encountered was the most widespread in any December since 1981.

2. The experience of the last two winters led the previous Government to invite David Quarmby CBE to chair an Independent Review of Winter Resilience, which reported in October 2010 and made 28 recommendations (Hereafter "the Quarmby Review").

3. When severe weather and attendant disruption was first experienced this winter, the Secretary of State for Transport asked David Quarmby to follow up his Panel’s earlier Review with an urgent Audit of how well highway authorities and transport operators in England had coped with the cold weather between 24th November and 9th December 2010, and whether his earlier recommendations had been implemented (Hereafter "the Quarmby Audit"). This Audit Report was published on 21st December and made a further eight recommendations.

4. All of this evidence is now feeding into consideration by the Department for Transport and by external transport partners about how best to deliver resilience against severe winter weather in the future, and the full set of recommendations from the Review and Audit are included as an annex to this evidence.

Role of DfT and application of lessons to the transport sector

5. For those areas of transport where the Department for Transport is not itself the operator (which is, in effect, the whole of transport system apart from strategic roads) the Department’s role, ahead of a crisis, is to communicate risks to operators and promote preparedness. During periods of crisis, including severe weather, that require a level of coordination between Government Departments and between operators, it seeks to facilitate that coordination through activating its emergency arrangements. In December 2010, in addition to DfT’s own coordination arrangements, the Secretary of State also chaired meetings of a cross-Departmental Winter Resilience Network set up under the auspices of the Cabinet Office.

6. Our rapid follow-up to the Quarmby Review ensured that we were better prepared for the winter weather than in previous years. The Government accepted all the Review’s recommendations and pushed forward progress on them, so that where these apply directly to the Government all have either been completed or are currently being implemented. The Government also encouraged, and continues to encourage, local authorities and other transport operators to implement all the Review’s recommendations where they relate to them. In looking at this area, the Quarmby Audit concluded that "pretty well all the Recommendations we made in our main Review that could have been implemented by now have been, and that others with longer timescales are generally in process."

7. Overall, the transport response this winter was significantly improved by the action that had been taken to implement the Quarmby recommendations. Some disruption from such cold conditions must always be expected, as we saw in other European countries, including those more accustomed to severe winters. However it seems clear that disruption would have been worse without the rapid action taken to implement the recommendations of the Quarmby Review

8. There remains the difficult question of how much investment in transport can be justified, based on reasonable expectation of weather conditions likely to be faced in the UK. I therefore asked for scientific advice as to whether changes in winter weather patterns might merit increased investment in winter resilience from the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir John Beddington, as well as my Chief Scientific Advisor, Brian Collins. This is a complex area where uncertain projections about the precise nature of climate change need to be weighed alongside indefinite calculations of the cost of investment and the long-term costs of severe winters. It also affects many areas of public and private spending, not transport alone. I have therefore asked my officials to consider, along with expert colleagues in other Government Departments, to what extent there is an argument and business case for potential increased investment levels in winter resilience.

9. The impacts of the different spells of severe weather varied by mode of transport as well as by region. In particular, the main impact for Aviation arose after the Quarmby Audit. This evidence has therefore been presented by transport mode so that it is clear in each case what was experienced, what preparations had been made and what actions are being taken forward as a consequence.

AVIATION

10. The first spell of snowfall and freezing conditions between 30 November and 3 December mainly affected airports on the UK’s eastern side, with several (Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Durham Tees Valley, Edinburgh, Humberside, London City, Robin Hood, Southampton) suspending operations temporarily at various times to allow snow and ice clearance. Delays and cancellations were experienced at other airports due to the knock-on effects of disruption at other weather-affected airports in UK and on mainland Europe.

11. However, the main focus was on Gatwick which was forced by heavy snowfall early on 1 December to suspend operations to allow snow clearance operations on its single runway. Subsequent further snowfall meant that Gatwick was unable to resume operations until early on Friday 3 December – almost 48 hours later. London’s other main airports – Heathrow and Stansted – were less severely affected by snow and remained operational throughout, although airlines experienced delays and cancellations caused by disruption elsewhere.

12. The second severe weather spell from 16 December caused repeated disruption to UK airports’ operations, including temporary service suspensions at Aberdeen, Belfast International, Belfast City, and Norwich. Gatwick suspended operations for five hours on 18 December. Most significantly from the public and media perspective, however, Heathrow experienced very heavy snowfall during 18 December followed by over 20 hours of freezing temperatures, forcing the suspension of flight operations. BAA immediately initiated procedures to clear snow and ice from airport runway and taxiway surfaces, but progress to recover flight operations was slowed because more than 200 aircraft had been frozen on to parking stands. The delicate operation of clearing snow and ice from occupied stands caused significant delays, and the airport was only able to restart very limited flight operations from early on Monday 20 December. Thereafter, however, Heathrow saw a progressive build-up of flights and a return to a near-normal operational schedule by the evening of Wednesday 22 December.

13. The resulting suspension of flights at Heathrow and time taken to restore normal operations caused major disruption and distress to passengers. In response airport operators and airlines put in place a number of passenger welfare arrangements, including offering stranded passengers hotel accommodation. However reports suggest that some passengers chose to remain in airport terminals. Airport operators provided those who did so with blankets and beds, distributed hot drinks, water and food, prevailed upon retail concessions to stay open to allow people to buy food, provided free wi-fi facilities to allow passenger to access information, and deployed passenger support teams (from their own staff and from external voluntary organisations) to answer questions and provide information. Airport operators also negotiated with rail and bus service providers to remain open later so passengers could travel home or back into city centres if desired. At Heathrow passenger welfare arrangements remained in place throughout Christmas.

14. Airport operators assessed the primary cause of December’s flight disruptions to be a combination of (i) difficult operational conditions at UK airports due to snow and freezing weather; (ii) severe weather conditions affecting airports across the UK and Europe, and (iii) the impact of the severe weather on flight operations, which meant that some aircraft and crews were in the wrong places. They emphasised that air services operate as a system, and disruption at individual airports was therefore often the consequence of problems elsewhere. Notwithstanding this, airport operators are keenly aware that the disruptions in December caused severe hardship and distress to passengers stranded in terminals, and are looking hard at the issue of passenger welfare as part of their reviews of their contingency response to December’s events.

Extent to which lessons were learned by the aviation sector following winter 2009-10

15. The Review noted that the aviation sector has in place appropriate processes and disciplines to enable lessons to be learned from one winter and adopted for subsequent seasons. However, this current winter has emphasised that this needs to be an ongoing process to which sufficient focus must be given and robust measures implemented in response.

16. Prior to last December BAA had already put in place improvements to Heathrow’s winter resilience, including agreeing a revised snow plan with airlines and contractors and investing £500k on upgrades to the existing snow and ice clearance vehicle fleet. However, following December 2010’s severe weather BAA has commissioned an internal inquiry covering all aspects of its operations including the resilience of its revised snow plan. BAA has also commissioned a separate external review by a team of aviation experts to examine Heathrow’s planning, execution and recovery from the difficult weather conditions, and review lessons to be learnt. It will report in the spring.

17. Similarly, Gatwick’s operator Gatwick Airport Ltd (GAL) had reviewed its winter resilience plans following the 2009 winter’s severe snowfall and low temperatures, including investing over £300,000 in new snow clearance equipment and vehicles. Notwithstanding this, following December 2010’s severe weather GAL has now placed orders for over 30 additional snow clearance vehicles.

Assessment from aviation operators of the quality of the weather forecasts received

18. Airports and airlines commission weather forecast information from various different commercial meteorological information providers (including, but not only, the Meteorological Office and MeteoGroup). The Department for Transport is not aware of the aviation industry having expressed any fundamental concerns about the quality of the weather forecast information that they received , although the Department is aware that BAA indicated that the snowfall of 16 centimetres in just over an hour at Heathrow on 18 December was roughly twice the amount that had been indicated in earlier forecasts. The issue of forecasting accuracy will fall within BAA’s own internal review of Heathrow’s response to December’s severe weather, and the expert review being led by Professor Begg.

Quarmby recommendations on aviation

19. The Winter Resilience Review recommended that "…the Civil Aviation Authority considers how it might develop its currently published performance data to improve the presentation, commentary and interpretation of airline performance information, to inform passengers and the market and encourage improvements across the industry". In response, the CAA has enabled easier access to its website-based statistics for members of the public, and published a simple guide for consumers explaining how they can find out punctuality information on their flights. The CAA is also currently undertaking market research to identify which information passengers find valuable, including aspects of service quality. Additionally, the Government's South East Airports Task Force (with which the CAA is closely involved), has set up a subgroup which will make recommendations on punctuality, delay and resilience. The outputs of these workstreams will inform any further improvements to the presentation of the CAA’s punctuality data. The Government is also considering proposals, under a Bill to reform framework for economic regulation of airports, for a new licensing regime to give the aviation regulator more flexibility, where appropriate, to bolster airports’ resilience to severe weather, thereby reducing the inconvenience and distress to air passengers. The Government plans to bring forward a Bill as soon as Parliamentary time allows.

RAIL

19. In the recent spells of severe weather, many passenger train operators experienced significant damage to and failures of trains due to the operating conditions. Problems arose from a combination of the excessive quantity of snowfall, extreme cold temperatures, ice forming on structures and electrical equipment and damage to rolling stock, including frozen doors, traction motor failures, diesel fuel freezing, frozen air systems and frozen couplers. Passenger information was also inadequate in some areas.

20. These problems were not limited to the UK, as train services across much of Northern Europe were also affected by the same weather. Eurostar, for example, suffered significantly from speed restrictions imposed on the operation of trains during snow, because of the risk of snow ingress into electrical equipment.

Extent to which lessons were learned by the rail sector following winter 2009-10

21. The Quarmby Audit recognised that good progress had been made on implementing a number of lessons from 2009/10, for example around the systems integration to improve the distribution of emergency timetables and experiments in heating the third rail. However, the audit also found "glitches" with the application of new systems, and identified that the severity and spread of this year’s severe weather highlighted new lessons in terms of operational response, so there is clearly more to do.

Quarmby recommendations on rail

22. The Quarmby Review and Audit made a number of recommendations for rail which are being implemented.

· The rail industry should continue the development and improvement of the systems for managing contingency timetables and for supporting, feeding and making more resilient the information given to passengers at stations and on websites, having particular regard to the effectiveness of short-notice changes sometimes needed during service disruption. The winter weather has involved the first major test of the new 'Integrated Train Planning System' (ITPS) in handling widespread short-notice changes. This experience has enabled a number of system improvements and measures to reduce the risk of human error. These are being evaluated to help ensure more effective and up-to-date information can be given at times of disruption.

· The rail industry should continue its development of technical solutions to improve winter resilience, particularly those relating to the maintenance of traction contact on the third rail network south of the Thames. This recommendation has been incorporated into a special National Task Force (NTF) project looking at the viability of various technological solutions. Key activities in this project have been funded and work is progressing on the physical outputs. The Rail Safety and Standards Board is carrying out a research project into the viability of replacing the third rail system with overhead electrification in the longer term.

· The rail industry should conduct a strategic review of technical alternatives to the third rail/top contact system, for the network south of the Thames , and prepare an evaluation and business case for consideration by the Government. The Rail Safety and Standards Board is carrying out research into the economics and technical aspects of alternatives to the present third rail system.

· Individual rail companies and Network Rail should make regular contact with local highway authorities during the winter planning process and season to ensure that the boundaries between public and railway-owned areas regarding the road and footway access to stations, depots and signalling centres are clearly understood between their organisations, and that both are treated in a coordinated way. The industry's National Task Force (NTF) has noted the recommendation, and Individual companies are being encouraged to consider this as part of their early planning process.

· Network Rail and the relevant train companies operating south of the Thames should conduct a thorough review of the actual operational experience of this period of severe winter weather; in particular Network Rail should review the nature and amount of equipment needed to fulfil anti-icing duties (in addition to autumn duties) taking account of risks and operational needs, as well as the availability of winter resilience resources generally (such as snow clearance) across the network. The rail industry will be reviewing all aspects of winter operations, in the light of any further issues arising during the remainder of the winter, but with particular attention to the problems which have most affected running the service during snow and ice, and to the need to keep passengers informed.

Other recommendations are still under consideration as follows:

· Encouraging Network Rail and the train operators to ensure that consistent criteria are developed for decision-making about the use of contingency timetables. The Rail Industry's National Task Force is considering the value of having a set of common criteria to assist in determining what service should be operated, although there is no single national answer because so many variables are involved and conditions are likely to vary widely around the country.

· Provide a new mechanism under which Network Rail can subsequently be held accountable for decisions it makes (in consultation with the train operators) about the implementation of contingency timetables and the levels of service reduction involved.

The practical application of this recommendation is under consideration between DfT and ORR.

· The rail industry should develop and implement resilient and flexible methods of providing pre-journey and real-time information to passengers alongside and largely independent of the main customer information systems, deploying appropriate technologies and resources; Network Rail and the train companies should also embrace the cultural need to ensure such arrangements attract appropriate priority, resourcing and recognition. Work is continuing to strengthen the operation of the timetabling processes to support better information to passengers, particularly with reference to short-notice changes. Work is also in progress to examine improvements to how short-notice information is best given to intending passengers

23. In addition the rail industry is reviewing all aspects of winter operations, but with particular attention to the problems which have most affected running the service during snow and ice, and to the need to keep passengers informed.

24. On a longer time scale, the Rail Safety and Standards Board is carrying out research into the economics and technical aspects of converting existing third rail systems to Alternating Current (AC) overhead systems.

Assessment from the rail sector of the quality of the weather forecasts received

25. MeteoGroup provides Network Rail with a highly-tailored forecast for the specific conditions encountered on the rail infrastructure, as well as longer-period more generalised forecasts. A website accessible to all rail operators gives continually refreshed data, and has proven accurate throughout the recent conditions.

EUROSTAR

26. Infrastructure and operational failures in Northern France from19th December disrupted Eurostar services and led to closed sales and the operation of a modified timetable until 24th December 2010. Significant queues were formed at times outside St. Pancras International during this period and there were a number of customer complaints about poor information.

27. Although the delays and cancellations were considerable over these two days the disruption to Eurostar's services was different in precise cause from that experienced last year, as the fleet modifications implemented since last year had worked to avoid a repeat of the previous year’s widespread loss of rolling stock units. There was a short-term problem with queues, but these had dispersed by 18.00hrs on Tuesday 21 and the following day Eurostar had reverted to a near normal service.

Extent to which lessons were learned by Eurostar following winter 2009-10

28. An independent review conducted by Christopher Garnett and Claude Gressier looked at how effectively the recommendations made following Eurostar break downs in November 2009 had been implemented. The review was positive about the work carried out to date but acknowledged that work remained to be done in order to: modify the remaining trains in the fleet; make further communications improvements; and look at whether new approaches could be taken to minimise the length of queues.

Assessment from Eurostar of the quality of the weather forecasts received

29. Eurostar use two sources for weather forecasts: the Meteogroup service provided to Network Rail and a weather forecast from French Meteo that fed into the Operations Centre in Lille. Both were considered very reliable.

Quarmby recommendations on Eurostar

30. As there had already been an independent review, there were no Quarmby recommendations directed specifically to Eurostar.

LONDON

31 . Although there was significant snowfall in the London area, the impact of snow on the T ransport for London (T fL ) network was kept to a minimum thanks to use of well established adverse weather plans. For example, on the wors t day (Saturday 18 Dec 2010), LU was able to run 95% of its normal service and out of a total of over 700 bus routes and only 6 routes were suspended for a period (plus weather-related diversions/curtailments affecting local sections of 39 routes which were not on the pan-London gritting network). TfL deployed its fleet of 38 gritters and was able to keep the London Strategic Road network accessible most of the time. Good services were also maintained on the Croydon Tram network.

Extent to which lessons were learned by the London transport network

following winter 2009-10

3 2 . The main learning point from 09/10 concerned the need to revise gritting plans for the resilience road network, to ensure that bus routes, stations and routes to hospitals etc were gritted. However, due to TfL’s procurement of a strategic stock pile of salt and the limited extent of snow falls, these did not need to be implemented, other than for short periods in a handful of Boroughs. Mutual aid between boroughs was applied on a number of occasions but did not require access to the TfL strategic stock pile in East London .

Assessment from Transport for London of the quality of the weather forecasts received

3 3 . Weather forecasts from both the Met eorological Office and Meteo Group were used by TfL and found to be reasonably accur ate, although TfL have indicated that they felt that the Met Office appeared to be more risk adverse. There is an appetite for London - onl y forecasts, rather than the combined London and Southeast, and also for a more numeric basis for forecasting, e.g. there is a Y% chance of Xcm of snow.

Quarmby recommendations on the London transport network

3 4 . There were no Quarmby recommendations directed specifically to London , though the Final Report noted that its resilience arrangements were a model example for others to consider . In addition the Review highlighted the need for the Rail Industry proactively to provide other transport providers with detailed information where there is disruption to networks, including technical descriptions of problems and assessment of service recovery. This can be used by agencies like TfL to provide passenger information and plan their service.

STRATEGIC ROAD NETWORK

35. The Highways Agency (HA) maintains and operates the strategic motorway and trunk road network in England on behalf of the Secretary of State for Transport, providing a robust winter service to treat the network to keep it open and safe for use as far as is reasonably practicable to meet its duties under the Highways Act 1980.

36. It is important to recognise that every winter, instances of severe weather will have some impact on the strategic road network, however careful the planning and delivery of the winter service. In heavy snowfall, traffic will slow and in many cases poor conditions on other roads will cause traffic to queue onto the strategic road network and the congestion can make it difficult for salt spreaders and ploughs to reach parts of the network affected. In addition, on one or two isolated parts of the network, such as the A66 over the Pennines, temporary closure due to snowfall can be a regular feature in the winter months.

37. The HA’s National Traffic Control Centre (NTCC) and 7 Regional Control Centres (RCCs) support the on-road traffic officers by setting strategic and tactical signs and signals to ensure the safety of responders from all agencies at the scene of an incident and to inform road users within the vicinity and on the approach of the impact to their journey.

38. Messages to road users routinely take account of local conditions, and where severe weather covers a wide area it is normal to advise motorists to think carefully before travelling and to ensure that their vehicle is appropriately prepared. This is the context within which to consider the particular challenges posed this year.

39. Despite the severity and early onset of winter weather this season, the HA was well prepared and has managed to keep the whole of its network safe and available for use almost continuously throughout the winter. Parts of the network during both cold spells experienced exceptionally severe conditions with heavy snowfall and very low road surface temperatures being recorded: as low as -15ºC in some instances.

40. A small number of closures or restrictions, generally arising from either HGV (particularly jack-knifed vehicles) or other traffic related incidents, did have a significant impact on limited lengths of trunk roads and motorway this winter. The resulting traffic congestion did result in a number of motorists experiencing difficult journeys which were substantially longer than usual. Due to the increased journey time a number of HGV drivers also encountered issues with driver hour restrictions and as a result many took the decision to park overnight on the hard shoulder (eg sections of the M25), rather than continuing their journey. Incidents that caused a particular impact on the strategic network (such as the M25 Junction 3 on 30th November 2010 and the M5 Junction 4, and the M40 in the vicinity of Junction 9, on 18th December 2010) have been assessed through the HA’s standard debrief process. The process is designed to ensure that causes and potential mitigation measures are identified and action taken where appropriate. The Highways Agency continues to investigate the detail of these incidents of severe delay.

Extent to which lessons were learnt by the Highways Agency following winter 2009-10

41. After every winter season, the HA carries out a detailed review to identify key lessons learned and enable it to implement improvements. The main issue highlighted in the review of the 2009/10 season was the lack of resilience in the domestic salt market and the difficulties experienced by local authorities in getting supplies, which in turn impacted on the ability of HA contractors to maintain salt stocks at a sufficient level for the Strategic Road Network. The key improvements made by the HA for this winter focused on improving its salt stock resilience and included -

· Implementation of guidance for more efficient salt spreading for precautionary and snow treatments. This was issued to its contractors to use salt more efficiently whilst also maintaining a suitable standard of treatment. Use of the more efficient rates is now possible across the network following the completion of the HA’s new winter fleet roll-out, providing 437 new, "state of the art" winter service vehicles.

· Increased operational salt stocks - prior to the start of the severe weather this year, the HA held 260k tonnes of salt compared with 227k tonnes last season.

· Implementation of a HA reserve salt stock. Prior to the start of this winter season, the HA ordered 60k tonnes of imported salt to act as a reserve stock later in the season.

42. In addition, lessons learned had highlighted the importance of ensuring that there are adequate numbers of traffic officers in affected areas to work with service providers and other agencies to keep the network open. Their role includes dealing with large numbers of incidents, supporting winter service crews in getting to where they were needed and keeping customers informed about conditions across the network. Contingency staffing plans were quickly activated when severe weather was experienced to ensure that appropriate resource levels could be maintained.

43. Also, following the experience of the 2009-10 winter, the HA now endeavours at times of heavy snowfall to deploy recovery vehicles at key locations where maintaining and restoring traffic flow is likely to be a challenge in severe weather, for example to assist large goods vehicles near gradients.

44. Although it is premature to predict the outcome of the Highways Agency’s annual winter continuous improvement / lessons learned exercise, it is already investigating what further steps could be taken to help further mitigate the impact of localised intense snowfall on people’s journeys. Such measures may include wider resource deployment prior to and during severe weather, as well as more focused road user communications during localised intense snowfalls where disruption to traffic is likely.

Assessment from the HA of the quality of the weather forecasts received

45. The HA contracts the Met Office to provide regular forecasts throughout the year, and in the winter months Met Office representatives are located in the HA’s National Traffic Control Centre (NTCC): to provide detailed forecasts. The HA also has approximately 200 weather stations at strategic spots which supplement the forecast information.

46. In addition, the HA’s contractors procure their own specialist weather forecasts, which along with detailed weather and road surface information from the HA’s weather stations, are used to identify the optimum time and scope of winter treatments.

47. While the various weather forecasts have been generally accurate, conditions can be unpredictable and locally very severe in specific locations and an element of operational judgement is always required.

LOCAL ROADS

48. There are over 150 local highway authorities who are responsible for 98 per cent of the road network which carries around 70 per cent of traffic. These authorities have a duty under section 41 of the Highways Act 1980

to ‘ensure, so far as is reasonably practical, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow and ice’. They meet this duty through their own winter service plans, which include details of which roads will receive precautionary salt treatment and be cleared of snow.

49. The severe weather in November & December 2010 had a significant impact on local highway authorities and their networks, putting their winter resources under acute pressure. Dealing with snow conditions can quickly use large quantities of road salt with little effect unless best practice is followed, since salt alone does not disperse snow and the snow itself will dilute any salt applied. The corner stones of efficient good practice in winter service include the pre-treatment of roads with salt, and following any snow fall it is necessary to plough the road before any further salt applications.

50. In the December snow events, most major routes would have been treated with salt beforehand, and authorities were able to recover their key networks relatively quickly. But minor routes often remained closed for a number of days after the initial snow fall, and became icy in the pro-longed cold spells that the country experienced. Compacted ice on such roads can be very difficult to remove, since traditional methods (predominantly using plain rock salt) needs the action of traffic to assist in dispersing the ice, and moreover the salt ceases to be effective at around -7oC or below.

Footways

51. Footways were a problem during the recent severe weather. It is mainly the high use footways in the busier urban areas that will receive any preventative treatment, but this is not practical for most footways prior to snowfall or the formation of frost and ice. Compacted ice can be very treacherous to walk on, and treatment by salt either before or after snow fall can have limited impact.

52. Following concerns in 2009-10 that people were discouraged from clearing public areas because they might be liable for any injuries if someone fell, the Government published on 22nd October a "Snow Code" which provides common sense advice on how to clear snow and ice from public areas. This is available at:

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Nl1/Newsroom/DG_191868

Extent to which lessons were learned by the highway authorities following winter 2009-10

53. The Department for Transport has been informed that almost all local authorities undertook reviews of their winter service plans following the winter of 2009-10, and were better placed to deal with the winter weather experienced in December. The Quarmby Audit concluded that most local authorities were in a good state of readiness and that their operational response was well managed during the first spell of severe weather in December.

Assessment from highways authorities of the quality of the weather forecasts received

54. Local Authorities receive their weather forecasts from different sources, including the Meteorological Office and private suppliers. These vary in scope, format and detail, based on the authority’s own requirements. Generally these forecasts, particularly in the short term range of 1 – 5 days, are accurate, but this accuracy reduces with the longer range predictions. Forecasts on temperature, and the likelihood of snow fall, are also usually accurate over the short term, but the level of snow fall can be extremely difficult to predict as this can have large variations over relatively small distances. This caused problems for a number of authorities who experienced unexpectedly heavy snow fall in their area, or parts of it, during December.

Quarmby Recommendations Relating to Strategic and Local Roads

55. The onset of early severe winter weather did place pressure on the salt supply chain, and the stocks held by local highway authorities. However, the country entered this winter season much better placed than last year in terms of salt stocks, and together held over 1¼ million tonnes of salt at the start of winter, independent of the new national strategic reserve.

56. The Winter Resilience Review and Audit made eleven recommendations regarding the supply and utilisation of salt. Where these fell to the Department for Transport or to HA they have now been completed, or are currently being implemented. The actions taken by the Department on the basis of these recommendations include:

· HA carried out assessments to investigate and confirm arrangements for sourcing and storing the salt. It also worked with its contractors, utilising existing contracts, to place orders with salt suppliers to import salt – where imported salt was required for the strategic reserve to supplement the normal domestically mined salt restocking process.

· A national strategic salt reserve of 600,000 tonnes has been set up. 289,551 tonnes of salt has already been delivered, and so far this winter nearly 89,000 tonnes has been allocated to English highway authorities in the first 5 releases of strategic salt;

· A year-round monitoring salt system has been established and is being used by the Department to allocate stock from the strategic salt reserve;

· The Review recommended that wherever possible a benchmark of holding salt stock that allows 12 days / 48 runs of usage is adopted. This has been highlighted to all local authorities by the Department.

· On the 3rd November an update to existing guidance on winter service was published. The Government wrote to Chief Executives of all local highway authorities in England to alert them of this revision.

· On 12th November the Government wrote to all English authorities to emphasise the importance of working together to keep our transport network moving this winter, including taking forward the actions from the independent Winter Review.

· On the 24th December new guidance on salt spreading rates was published on the UK Roads Liaison Group website. The Government again alerted all English authorities to this new advice.

PORTS

57. Extreme weather disrupted activity at several significant ports during both cold spells. Following the first heavy snowfall, operations in ports (and their associated supply chains) were generally slowed but not stopped in the worst affected areas (Tees, Humber, Felixstowe, Thames). This led to short term dislocation and additional costs to ports, particularly through de-icing of equipment, snow clearance and employment of hauliers. These factors resulted in extended journey times for the delivery of goods.

58. Some ports were inaccessible for part of a day due to blocked or untreated access roads. Several ran low on supplies of salt; some critically so until the Department intervened and facilitated resupply through HA or the local authorities.

Extent to which lessons were learned by the ports sector following winter 2009-10

59. A significant number of ports experienced problems very similar to last year. There are a number of possible causes including:

· Undue reliance on contracts with suppliers that only "endeavour" to ensure salt resupply.

· Undue reliance on the intervention of local authorities

· A lack of investment in adequate on-site stockpiles (this may be through financial or space constraints rather than an indication of a lack of forward planning).

60. Discussions with the sector are continuing to confirm the source of problems and identify possible solutions by the end of February 2011.

Assessment from the ports sector of the quality of the weather forecasts received

61. Weather forecasting in the maritime sector is mainly focused on conditions at sea. Ports generally use the public forecasts in terms of conditions on land

Quarmby recommendations relating to ports and the Maritime Sector

62. The Quarmby Review and Audit make no specific remarks on the maritime sector. The Quarmby Review noted that;

· virtually all rock salt users outside the highway authorities – ports, industrial estates, hospitals – had difficulty obtaining salt from UK producers, and many had to import.

· Local authorities were inconsistent and the access to key sites such as ports, rail terminals etc was a problem;

· ports experienced serious problems obtaining salt for their own premises, particularly when Salt Cell was in operation;

· many contractual commitments by salt producers were in abeyance for the duration of the emergency.

6 3 . On this basis the Quarmby Final Report did briefly consider the issue of access to ports and other key installations. It concluded that these facilities can require levels of salt that are relatively small and inexpensive so they should increase their pre-season stock holdings rather than rely on in-season re-stocking. They should also engage with the relevant highway authority(s) to ensure that there is clear understanding on responsibilities and that the relevant access roads feature on the highway authorities’ priority gritting network.

64 . Th e situation experienced by many ports in December 2010 matched that in the previous severe winters . Although there was a greater general availability of salt compared with winter 2009/10 , a number of ports lacked sufficient salt for their facilities or for their access roads. The Department for Transport sometimes had to intercede on their behalf to ensure mutual aid from local authorities or HA stock to enable them to continue operations.

RELAXATION OF DRIVERS' HOURS RULES

65. Relaxation of the EU driver’s hour rules1 can be made by a Government for up to 30 days in times of emergency or in exceptional circumstances (e.g. severe winter conditions), provided the European Commission (EC) is immediately informed. The Department for Transport has in place clear procedures for assessing the case for relaxing the EU rules and issues guidance to external stakeholders on a quarterly basis which includes the criteria that we use.

66. In all cases the Department needs to be satisfied that a relaxation is necessary to deal with the serious disruption to the supply chain and the relaxation period is strictly limited, as the working hours rules are there to maintain road safety. It would not be appropriate to allow drivers to drive for very long periods - particularly in difficult driving conditions - without clear evidence that relaxing the rules will make a real difference to the delivery of critical supplies.

67. During the recent severe weather the Department granted a number of temporary and limited relaxations to assist with deliveries of a number of essential supplies; including heating oil, solid fuel, airport de-icer and animal feed. More general relaxations for hauliers suffering supply chain problems caused by the heavy snowfalls and icy weather were also granted, applying initially to the whole of Great Britain but for a longer period in Scotland.

68. Immediate notification of the relaxations were sent to stakeholders, including VOSA, the Police, the companies involved, their trade associations and contacts in Industry.

WINTER TYRES

69. During the recent severe winter weather a number of enquiries were made about the need for legislation to require the use of winter tyres. The Department does not believe there is a strong case for legislation requiring winter tyres to be fitted but it is for consumers to fit them should they choose to do so. Their decisions should depend upon driving conditions and types of journeys undertaken (e.g. motorists who expect to drive in areas where conditions are persistently cold or where snow and ice is present for long periods may find it helpful to change their tyres in the winter).

70. However under the provisions of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, tyres should not be used unless they are fit for the use to which the vehicle is being put and not where there is a danger that they might damage the road surface.

71. Typically motorists in the UK will find that that the standard tyres fitted to their vehicle have a tread pattern and tyre compound that ensures good performance in a wide range of conditions and they can be used throughout the year.

February 2011


[1] EU Driving hours are normally capped to 9 hours a day (extendable to 10 hours twice a week) and 90 hours every fortnight (but no more than 56 hours in any single week). Breaks need to be taken for 45 minutes for every 4.5 hours driving and at least 11 hours of daily rest need to be taken each day. Regular weekly rest of 45 hours is also required.

[1]