Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow way back

Excuse the rant, but really - why oh why oh why does the transport system in this country seize up at the first suggestion of cold weather? It's not as though coldness is a rarity in the UK, and yet every time the temperature plummets the railways and roads collapse.

On Friday it took me five hours to get from London to Portsmouth - I left on the 6.02pm from Victoria , which was then cancelled mid-journey as the whole Southern Trains network collapsed around me. I had to double back to Gatwick to wait for another service, which then terminated early at Havant, after a mildly alarming interlude when the guard kept announcing he didn't actually know where it was going - Portsmouth, Bognor, both or neither. A forty minute wait on a freezing platform for another train rounded off the epic experience. All accompanied by grave announcements about the 'extreme weather conditions'.

Returning to London yesterday was a similarly fun-filled expedition, with all the direct services cancelled, meaning I had to go via East Sussex, changing at Barnham (lovely quaint tea shop on the platform, by the way) and arriving several hours late for a friend's birthday.

Tonight gave me my hat-trick: An uneventful tube journey from Westminister to London Bridge, at which point the 'adverse weather conditions' again led to transport meltdown. Platforms and concourse were rammed with people, whilst the word "delayed" spread down the destination boards like a stock market crash. With no trains leaving we were shouted at to leave and the station was closed, at which point I retreated to a coffee shop for an hour. I then finally managed to get a train to Woolwich Arsenal, where General Gordon Square was crowded with frosted people waiting for buses which were failing to arrive through gridlocked traffic.

I took refuge in the Town Hall (thankfully open), and passed a bit of time doing some work in the Conservative Group room. The traffic was still barely moving an hour later, as I joined a group of council staff and Cllr. Don Austen on the steps outside, surveying the chaos (the Mayor was also stranded inside, and I suggested the conditions were apt for a local coup if we were so minded). It was soon clear nothing was going anywhere in a hurry, so with a parting shot of "If I'm not back by the New Year, call a by-election", I set off to walk through the frozen wastes to Eltham.

The pavements were horrendously slippery and I struggled to stay upright, so I can well understand how there are so many injuries in weather like this. The whole way home - Academy Road to the Shooters Hill junction, then Well Hall Road and Westmount Road, I saw just one bus, and it was out of service. I got home in one piece, but certainly didn't envy those trying to drive.

My question is WHY?! I've been to Norway, where heavy snow is not exactly unknown, and the trains keep running, and the cars keep moving. How is it that our pavements and roads turn into ice rinks, and our railways seize up? It happens every time it snows, and yet we seem unable to learn from other countries and work out where we're going wrong.

There. Rant over. Sorry.

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