Session 2010-11
Publications on the internet

Written evidence from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) (AWC 35)

1. The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) is a UK-based international organisation with over 75,000 members ranging from professional civil engineers to students. It is an educational and qualifying body and has charitable status under UK law. Founded in 1818, the ICE has become recognised worldwide for its excellence as a centre of learning, as a qualifying body and as a public voice for the profession.


2. Transport infrastructure is vital to the nation and its economic well-being. This complex system of infrastructure is fragile and affects the nation’s resilience, as demonstrated in recent times by the impact of the severe winters of 2009 and 2010. The economic performance of the UK depends to a great extent on the movement of goods and people around the country.

3. This was highlighted when the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported a 0.5 per cent contraction in the economy in the fourth quarter of 2010, with the severe weather conditions attributed by many to be the main cause of this setback to the UK’s economic stability.

4. The ICE consulted with its Regional departments located in England and Wales, to obtain a regional perspective on how the recent spell of adverse weather impacted upon transport networks.

Impacts on the road and rail networks in England and Wales


5. The biggest risks to road condition are freezing weather and limited winter salt supply. The UK Roads Group, in their Winter Service Guidance for Local Authority Practitioners, stated that it was usually impractical to spread sufficient salt to melt freezing rain or more than a few millimetres of snow. Therefore, in advance of forecast snow or freezing rain, salt is spread to provide a de-bonding layer so that:

· Compacted snow and ice are more easily dispersed by traffic.

· Snow is more readily removed by ploughing.

It is very difficult to remove a layer of compacted snow or ice that is bonded to the road surface, so precautionary treatments are essential before heavy snowfall (UK Roads, 2009).

6. The majority of winter service treatments (and salt spread) in the UK are precautionary treatments in response to predicted frost conditions. In these, commonly marginal conditions, significant salt savings can be achieved using the rates given in this guidance when using salt which has been stored in good conditions, and using good equipment which has been properly calibrated (UK Roads 2009).

7. One of the key messages to emerge from the ICE’s 2010 State of the Nation (SoN) report on UK Infrastructure, was the need to improve the condition of the local road network through good asset management and adequate funding (ICE, 2010). The SoN report highlighted that local roads were generally in poor condition and there was a huge backlog of maintenance work.

8. In 2009, the harshest winter in a generation created a 40% increase in the number of potholes, but there was also an underlying funding problem. Local authorities estimated then that it would take £11.6 billion to bring local roads up to a reasonable condition (ICE, 2010).

Movement on the road network

9. The road network in England and Wales, in many parts, was quite badly affected by the adverse weather. Conditions worsened quickly causing gridlock on roads up and down the country.

10. In Wales, the M4 and other Trunk roads were badly affected by the severe weather. This winter, a tanker caught fire, which caused the M4 to be blocked in both directions for many hours and severely compounding the delays to travellers. This was a clear example of how Wales suffers from having just one motorway route in and out of England across the Severn Bridge – an example of critical infrastructure.

11. In the North East, the longest disruption was clearly on the lower classified routes, rural areas and housing estates. There was severe disruption to bus services which were suspended at times (mainly on the worst affected routes in rural areas but also in a more widespread manner through early close down of services in the evenings) and timetables were severely affected by delays. The general disruption affected people’s ability to attend work, education and other services and reduced retail activity.

12. The North East region reported that all available plant and labour, including private sector contractors, appeared to be utilised. Therefore in terms of significant future mitigation of disruption for a similar event it would appear that there would need to be increased investment in plant and equipment and the trained staff resources to utilise it. The costs of this would need to be balanced against the likelihood of similar events recurring, which is always the imponderable with winter maintenance.

13. In the West Midlands, a principle problem was that bus routes were suspended ‘ad-hoc’ by drivers finding that they couldn’t access steep routes or gain safe access in narrow streets. The result was that passengers were often stranded without notice. This information was not collated or circulated; only the local radio appeared to be able to keep tabs on the situation.

14. There could also be some further contribution to the effectiveness of the response through further improvement in co-ordination of resources and training of front line staff on different scenarios and operations, but it is not easy to really replicate these emergency situations on a desk top basis. Perhaps further work on competency standards for decision makers and operatives was needed here

15. What was apparent was that Local Authorities and the Highways Agency needed to consider how they could accommodate for adequate recovery times on the road network. When bad weather was approaching, people’s natural reaction was to attempt to get home, which impacted greatly upon congestion on the road network and its ability to recover, as everyone was attempting to travel at the same time. Therefore, consideration should be given as to how these situations could be managed.

Salt stocks and supply

16. Throughout England and Wales, there was reference made to the use of the national salt reserves, where the DfT stockpiled 500,000 tonnes of salt and offered this to Local Authority bids at a price more than double the normal rate. This came at a time when the Salt Union were not fulfilling call off order obligations and were about to start their Christmas shutdown.

17. The resulting effect of limited salt stocks, and increased costs to access the reserve supply meant that some authorities reduced their normal salting network and operational response. Some local authorities cut back on the amount of salt that was being used in an effort to preserve stock for the remainder of the winter.

18. The availability and use of strategic stock piles of salt still appears to be a work in progress, with local authorities having the choice of either paying excessive amounts for additional salt supply, or not applying the correct operational response.

19. In Wales, the severe winter in early 2010 reported a real lack of road resilience was in relation to freezing weather and limited winter salt supply whilst there was an ongoing concern about the M4. These problems continued, and its ability to cope with poor weather seemed to worsen. Gritting and ploughing appeared to be sporadic, which was alleged to be either a conscious decision to retain stock or a result of mis-management. Whatever the reason, it subsequently caused many areas to be cut-off for days.

20. In the North East, in November 2010, it may have been felt that salt supplies were more than adequate to deal with the conditions and it appears with hindsight that at that time salt was in some places being used in a more generous manner than was prudent given the potential for a long period of winter weather. Once it became apparent that salt was being used excessively, the amount of salt reserves and capacity of the manufacturers led to an inability to obtain further supplies. Again, this meant that some authorities had to reduce their normal salting network and operational response.

21. In the East Midlands, treatment of the unclassified road network was in places less effective due to light traffic loads and very low temperatures. Many drivers were discouraged from using these routes due to inexperience of driving in snow conditions. This led to criticism of the routes not being treated when they had been.

Public expectations

22. If it were not possible to grit and plough the entire road network, which it is not, the ICE would like to see messages sent to the public, informing them that they could not expect to continue their journey as normal, and needed to revise their expectations and adjust their travel patterns during periods of severe adverse weather to accommodate and adapt to the situation.

23. Many media reports were unhelpful and misleading to the public. Often citing that other countries were far better at dealing with these conditions, which is not entirely the case. The local authorities and Highways Agency cannot clear roads of snow if there is nose to tail traffic sat on them.

24. The ICE would like to see an increase in the public taking greater responsibility to use their own initiative to clear frontages and paths, rather than expecting Local Authorities to do it for them. It was noted in some areas that salt from salt bins provided on the public highway had been available, but there was little evidence of it being used to clear the adjacent public highway.

25. There were some reports of bins being emptied into containers and taken away on vehicles. Some national publicity around the responsible use of salt bins would be helpful.

26. Leicestershire County Council collaborated with their District Councils to provide an effective treatment of town centre footways at no additional cost except for salt used, which was widely supported by the local media (District Councils made available at no extra cost their staff and contractors who were not able to undertake their street cleaning or parks operations in the conditions, County provided salt for use of public footways). They operated snow warden schemes with local Parish Councils to clear footways in village centres.

Flexible travel and reducing the need to travel

27. The ICE would like to stress the importance of the preparedness to adjust its 9 – 5 work routine, especially during poor weather conditions. Most employers will have business continuity plans in place, but they can often only refer to situations that affect the work-place. These plans should include home working, changes to shift patterns, alterations to Distribution Centres and ultimately reducing the need to travel.

28. A good example of travel pattern adjustments we received from the East Midlands, was that Schools were advised and many of them used a late start to the day (typically 9.30) rather than complete closure for the day. This was very effective and reduced the impact on other services and employers from the transport disruption.

Premature deterioration of the Road network

29. Successive years of severe weather conditions have exacerbated damage to the road infrastructure, and reduced its structural life. To adequately maintain the UK’s road network, improved resources are urgently required to get the UK’s roads back up to the appropriate standard and reduce the severe backlog of required works.

30. Somerset County Council reported to us that the severe winter weather experienced in the County during February 2009 caused premature deterioration of the network and loss of structural life. They predicted this deterioration to be valued at £11.5 million of loss of structural life due to the sever winter of 2008/09.

31. In Wales, trunk roads are the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly Government; these are managed via the three Trunk Road Agencies. The vast majority of roads in Wales are the responsibility of the twenty two Unitary Councils. Welsh drivers rely more heavily on the local roads maintained by local authorities and the number of potholes on Welsh roads has been exacerbated by the snow and ice in 2010. This is compounded by the very large backlog of work required to address the poor condition of the roads in the first place.


Movement of Rail

32. Throughout England and Wales, rail services were impacted upon by the severe weather conditions. It should be pointed out that many rail services were able to operate on a reduced timetable, but there were some rail services that faced severe delays and cancellations.

33. In the South East, South Eastern trains failed to run trains on some lines for over three and possibly four days. The combination of the third rail combined with over-sensitive computer controlled trains is a major problem. Apparently the computer control disables the train if certain faults materialise, and the driver is unable to override this.

34. For the South West region, cold weather certainly impacted on trains as much as other travel. Particular fragility and limited options in the South West is an issue. The Cornwall floods also impacted upon the region with road and rail links severed before the snow in December 2010.

35. Drivers and conductor rostering was the cause of some cancellations. The absence of a driver acquainted with the route, means the absence of the train. Some need a fully functioning road network to be able to get to the depot.

Third rail power supply

36. When there is significant snowfall it is often the parts of the network with third rail power supply rather than overhead electrical supply that suffer the most. The current Multi-purpose Vehicles (MPV) used was not sufficiently robust. The responsibility for operating and maintaining the de-icing vehicles could be passed to the Train Operating Company, so that a single organisation is responsible for clearing the way for its rolling stock. In addition some redundant vehicles could be converted so that conductor rails are scraped as well as sprayed with de-icer. Apparently the MPVs only spray de-icer.

37. Older electro-mechanical units, while they could be defeated by the snow, were not nearly so sensitive. With ice able to form on conductor rails within minutes, it would seem necessary for ordinary rolling stock to be able either to cope with arcing and interrupted power supplies, or to have some add-on device so that they can deal with snow and ice, just as they have sanding gear to address poor adhesion.

February 2011