Nearly back to normal

After yesterday’s snow, public transport seems to be returning to normal though there may be changes from the usual timetable in the morning. For one thing, the Bletchley disruption on the WCML is continuing and some train and bus operators in the south-east are still experiencing some difficulties. Of these, Southern Trains is just one with their website’s front page being a summary of service running information; their website must have run into bother earlier.

Other websites felt the strain too and the new Greater Anglia (formerly National Express East Anglia) website got a baptism of fire. Like Southern, it too has a front page giving a service overview but there’s their JourneyCheck page and Twitter feed too and that has been very active over the course of today. The rest of the website doesn’t seem to have been put into place though.

Yet another website that went down on everybody was that for Arriva Buses. Nevertheless, bus users in Yorkshire and the Northeast of England were well served with Twitter feeds. One wonders why we don’t get the same in the English Northwest too. After all, there is a Twitter account but it never seems to get used.

Though the BBC did sterling work when it came to overviews, Twitter seemed to come into its own (Facebook may have done the same but I am keeping out of there given Mark Zuckerberg’s approach to privacy and the IPO that has happened) during the weekend, especially with everything developing so quickly. In fact, you could tell where the snow was by the number of disruption information tweets. Some operators ran into the 1000 tweets (includes retweets and replies too) per day limit though waiting until after 00 or 30 minutes past the hour was enough to get going again, albeit with a 20 tweet per 30 minute quota as I found out for myself last night. Some operators have backup accounts for dealing with this situation so you have to ask what the 1000 tweet limit really achieves.

Along the way, I got to learn of some new operators: Marshalls of Sutton-on-Trent and Premiere Buses (of Nottingham, it seems). Links to both have been added to the bus companies page on here and it’s always good to grow more comprehensive.

Around Cheshire, most major roads are now clear though Bowers weren’t too trusting of the A537 for their 58 service between Macclesfield and Buxton. Buses were serving Bollington and the 130 to Manchester seemed to be going too though the live bus tracker seemed to be playing its usual non-availability games as it has been for the last few weeks. Both today and yesterday would have made good days for having it going given the weather that we got.

Continuing with road conditions, there is a lot of slush about the place and I don’t fancy the outcomes if either that or any standing water froze tonight. So far, temperatures seem to be holding at 2° C so there’s hope that any frost will not be so severe and there was a lot of melt-water around when I was last out and about. Cheshire East Council don’t seem to be taking chances though and there are gritters out and about again tonight although there’s no sign that pavements are being gritted by the council; maybe that’s being left to householders (before Christmas 2010, there was a statement to that effect from the then Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond) and I was out clearing that next to mine today. With all the lying snow and the threat of ice, we’ll have to see what the morning brings when it comes.

An eventful evening

Snow arrived today as promised and travel disruption ensued. At the time of writing, Arriva Yorkshire and Nottingham City Transport are operating no bus services at all rail and disruption is hitting both the East Coast Mainline along with services around Bolton and Blackburn. More generally, bus services are experiencing difficulties across the north of England and into the English midlands so it’s best to check with your operator to make sure that your service is operating.

Twitter has been a good place to see what’s happening and those of us who are on there need to watch our daily limit of 1000 updates (20 per half hour, it seems) too. Even transport operators such as Virgin Trains and London Midland have been known to hit these limits on days like yesterday when severe disruption was caused by a derailment near Bletchley. For these eventualities, they have been known to open more accounts so you wonder what the limit achieves.

More roads than those used by buses get affected too and the A537 between Macclesfield and Buxton and the A54 between the latter and Buxton are closed tonight. It is an open question as to whether Bowers’ service 58 between Macclesfield and Buxton will operate tomorrow given that it was off the road last Saturday. Today, it kept going until at least 15:00 since I spotted one on the Cat and Fiddle Inn’s webcam.

Whatever you do tonight, I hope that you stay safe. Tomorrow could be interesting as well though we are promised milder weather as the new week wears on. It seems that Ireland has been unaffected by wintry weather apart from disruption to U.K. flights. That really drives home how regional how weather can be.

Disruption in Scotland

Scotland still is catching the brunt of storm force winds and heavy rain as I write this. Bridges are shut (Tay, Erskine and Forth) and public transport services heavily affected. West Coast Motors are not running buses in Oban and Bute; the latter being due to a power failure. Sticking with the west of Scotland, the last Scottish Citylink departure for Fort William has been cancelled and that tells its own story. Glasgow and Edinburgh too have seen service changes as operators struggle with the weather. Even with that, most services seem to be running and keeping an eye on announcements from the likes of First Glasgow or Lothian Buses would be no bad idea.

Trains do not seem to have got too badly though there were some line closures around Glasgow earlier. Nevertheless, tomorrow will see the aftermath of what is battering Scotland so things may not be operating as smoothly as usually is the case. After all, there has been some structural damage done to buildings and infrastructure with a wall falling on a car in Aberdeen. At times like these, the only hope that can be expressed is that everyone is safe.

Update: National Rail Enquiries have on their website a page describing train running in the current adverse weather conditions. It looks as if there is more disruption than what I suggested above, such as between Edinburgh and Aberdeen. There’s quite a list of cancellations there with services such as the Caledonian Sleeper from Fort William and local ones around Glasgow being examples.

Update 2012-01-03: Yet another storm has hit Scotland again and with much the same effects too.

On the way to another year

From the travel point of view, 2010 got a very dramatic ending with the cold temperatures that brought us snow and ice. While it was the airports that bore the brunt of the weather, train and bus services suffered too, particularly in the first round of the cold weather. With the temperatures set to drop again in the next few days, we’ll have to see what happens. After all, it was in January of the year ending tonight that we really saw the snow cause trouble around eastern Cheshire. Who knows what lies around the corner?

Speaking of what may come our way in the future, we have what comes from any public spending cuts in Britain and Ireland. Warrington, North Yorkshire and Derbyshire already have shown signs of what may be precipitated by cuts to council budgets. There’s no word on anything like that from Cheshire but that may change.

Still, rail has seen some announcements regarding investment and can be said to have done better than expected. However, that has to be tempered by the prospect of sizeable hikes in ticket prices beyond those we have seen in recent years.

All in all, 2011 could become more interesting than some among us would rather. It could be one where we have to stand up for what services we have so that total savagery is avoided. Still, not everything has to be sacrificed so we’ll have to enjoy using what we can. Hope the new year is good to you and that you come through it untouched by any economic torment.

A Double-edged Sword?

One thing that we’re never told about those magical white Christmases that we’re often sold is that there’s a darker side to them too. Just ask anyone trying to fly before Christmas this year and they may have a thing to say about the weather that we saw.

What visited Heathrow and Gatwick on the last Saturday before Christmas Day caused enough disruption but it was the repeated showerings of snow that caused havoc at Dublin’s airport. All that was needed was a single hefty shower and runaways were shut for several hours. The result was many panicky travellers with some booking ferry crossings as a backup plan.

Rail travel became tricky as points suffered in the cold weather with many needing defrosting. It didn’t matter whether it was Euston station or Heuston station in Dublin because delays and cancellations were made more likely; London saw more cancellations than Dublin, it has to be said. Then, London Midland train passengers were to discover how it felt to be crammed into a smaller than usual train because two couldn’t be joined together due to frozen couplers. Special timetables with lower service frequencies saw introduction in Wales, Merseyside and Scotland because of the conditions.

Buses in the south of England saw enough disruption to set Twitter alight with a multitude of status updates. That wasn’t all because the same comments applied to Lancashire, Yorkshire, Northumberland and Wales. Seeing the flurries of updates was enough to remind me of the action of snow blizzards.

All of the above information provision was heartening to see but not everyone was as good at keeping passengers up to date. For instance, I spent several hours in a plane, diverted from Dublin, sat on the tarmac in Shannon and the lack of speed in making anything happen was enough to try your patience. Decisiveness and responsiveness weren’t characteristics of the experience and it didn’t help that the I had to return to a snowy Dublin when my final destination wouldn’t have been far from Shannon anyway; it was nearer than Dublin anyway. If buses and trains did this type of thing, you could foresee uproar…

All in all, the whole experience makes me appreciate the service offered by bus and train operators all the more and neither Dublin Bus or Irish Rail left me down on the day in question anyway. My observations and experiences of what the snow did this year have me wondered why I have been pondering outings to savour the snowy hills of Scotland and Wales during a spell of cold weather. It’s no wonder that I have been sticking to enjoying what’s close at hand when snow visits.

This is our second really cold winter in a row and my only hope is that lessons are being learnt. One climate scientist has suggested we are in a run of a few of these so we all needed to be doing some learning, myself included. With regards to dreams of white Christmases, we need to live in the real world and that’s even when somewhat surreal weather comes our way like it has done this year. Let’s hope that everyone stays safe and that the stranded get to their intended destinations as soon as possible.