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Call over winter transport issues

More must be done to enable transport systems to cope with bad winter weather, a report by MPs said today.

Recent floods and gales showed that disruption was not just caused by snow, the report by the House of Commons Transport Committee said.

Aviation regulators had to "get to the bottom of what went wrong" last week at Gatwick airport where passengers complained of chaotic conditions just before Christmas, the committee's chairman, Louise Ellman, said.

Transport's winter resilience had improved but there was a risk that a few years of mild winter weather "could lead to a false sense of security and reduce the sector's preparedness over the longer term", the report said.

The committee said:

:: It is vital that passengers receive up-to-date information of changes and disruption whenever possible;

:: More needs to be done to keep pavements clear of snow and ice;

:: A national advertising campaign should highlight that the public can clear snow and ice from outside their homes without fear of legal action and should consider doing so;

:: The transport sector must work closely with the Met Office and other forecasters to understand the challenges posed by different types of severe weather;

:: The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) should set out how it will evaluate the impact of the new airport licence conditions on passenger welfare, by spring 2015. The CAA must also ensure that best practice on the provision of information and on passenger welfare is shared across all UK airports;

:: The Highways Agency should review the barriers to providing comprehensive real-time information to drivers, identify technological and other solutions for doing so, particularly during periods of disruption, and develop a strategy to implement these solutions across England's major road network;

:: The Office of Rail Regulation should ensure that train operating companies develop more robust procedures to identify how long a period of disruption is likely to last and to communicate this clearly to passengers.

Launching the report today, Mrs Ellman said: "Disruption to transport is not just caused by snow. We saw recently the impact of severe storms and flooding on transport services.

"At Gatwick, thousands of passengers were stranded over the Christmas period due to a power failure during stormy weather. The CAA must get to the bottom of what went wrong and how airports across the country can avoid similar situations in the future."

She went on: "We recognise that some progress has been made by Government and transport providers to improve public information and passenger welfare during severe weather. In particular, pro-active decision-making by rail and aviation operators to reduce or cancel services ahead of a major event has reduced disruption."

"Nevertheless, we believe there remains considerable scope for further improvement across the transport sector."

Bob Crow, leader of the RMT transport union, said: " We have now had three major rail shut-downs in Scotland and other parts of Britain in the past few months due to adverse weather, with the prospect of more on the way in the next few days, and that is unprecedented.

"As a matter of urgency, the cuts to staffing on our tracks must be stopped and reversed and the massive backlog of maintenance and renewals addressed.

"There is an estimated half a billion pounds of backlogged works on drainage and embankments alone, while the train companies are ripping off hundreds of millions in profits and that truly exposes the travesty of privatisation."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "We welcome the committee's report and we will consider its findings.

"Transport operators have been working hard to keep the public informed during the recent severe weather, but they should not be complacent and must continue to explore how best to keep the country moving during bad weather."

An Office of Rail Regulation spokesman said: "Network Rail and train operators must provide accurate and timely information to passengers so they can plan journeys and make informed decisions, especially when rail services are disrupted by extreme weather.

"We continue to closely monitor how the industry responds to significant events such as the recent floods. Over the coming year, we will be reviewing the rail industry's code of practice on providing passenger information to identify further improvements that can be made to benefit rail users."

Peter Box, the chairman of the Local Government Association's economy and transport board, said councils were " as prepared as ever if the cold weather arrives with 1.4 million tonnes of salt stockpiled".

He went on: "Councils will treat as many roads as possible and have also filled thousands of community grit bins and recruited volunteers to help people clear pavements, paths and side streets when needed.

"It is pleasing that this report acknowledges the need to raise awareness that there is no law against people clearing pavements or public spaces."

Mr Box added that there was " real concern about the damage another harsh winter or continued extreme flooding could have on our road network".

This was "coupled with the Government's own traffic projections predicting an increase in local traffic of more than 40% by 2040".

He went on: "Such an increase would mean there is an even greater need for increased and consistent funding to invest in the widespread resurfacing projects which our dilapidated network desperately needs if we're to see a long-term improvement and to avoid large-scale disruptions becoming unavoidable."


From Belfast Telegraph