Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Transport call amid weather worries

Local highway authorities should pinpoint 'a resilient network' to which they would give priority in the event of very bad weather, a report says
Local highway authorities should pinpoint 'a resilient network' to which they would give priority in the event of very bad weather, a report says

Protecting all parts of the transport network against all extreme weather "would be unaffordable", a Government-commissioned report has said.

Instead, Whitehall must identify a "critical network" comprising routes of national economic significance, the report says.

For example, local highway authorities should pinpoint "a resilient network" to which they would give priority in the event of very bad weather.

From former Eurostar boss Richard Brown, the report says major ports and airports should review their flood-protection systems and airlines should adjust capacity on a pre-emptive basis "rather than waiting for the weather to hit".

Mr Brown, who is now a non-executive director at the Department for Transport, produced his report after being asked by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin in March 2014 to lead a review into the resilience of transport in England following the storms of winter 2013/14.

Aided by experts, Mr Brown said in his report: "In the main, we consider that our various transport networks rose to the challenges presented by last winter's weather well.

"There was clear evidence of lessons learned from the experience of previous weather disruptions being applied."

But he went on: "But we also believe there are a considerable number of lessons that can be learned, to better anticipate the impact of extreme weather events, reduce the vulnerability of our transport networks to them and speed up the restoration of normal services."

Among recommendations in the report were:

:: All major ports and airports should review the location and flood-protection of their power, communications and IT infrastructure (Gatwick airport was hit by flooding which led to flight chaos on Christmas Eve 2013);

:: Given the importance of drainage to resilience, the Highways Agency should complete its drainage asset inventory;

:: Prominence on websites should be given to the latest service information during periods of disruption, ensuring that promotional information is relegated to the background;

:: In bad weather, operators should plan for the best service which can reasonably be delivered, offering a high degree of certainty to passengers.

In a foreword to the report, Mr Brown said: "There is no silver bullet or instant solution to make our transport systems more resilient. Instead it is a task of attending to one hundred and one details.

"But by prioritising our efforts, applying already good practices much more widely and ensuring that transport operators and authorities learn continuously from other's experience as well as their own, there is much that can be achieved."

Mr McLoughlin said: As today's report notes, transport operators on the whole responded well to last winter's series of extreme weather events, but there were clear areas of weakness. I therefore welcome the practical measures identified to improve the transport network's performance further at times of disruption.

"Given the comprehensive nature of Richard Brown's report, I propose to consider his recommendations in more detail and to publish a full response in due course."

RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister said: "The implication of this report is clear. A growing number of roads will be sacrificed as the incidents of bad weather increase and funds to keep them clear decline."

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