Steve Brine MP

for Winchester & Chandler's Ford

28 NOV 2011

Winter weather plan for railway

A joint package of improvements has been put in place in preparation for the eventuality of severe winter weather affecting the South West Trains' network in and out of Winchester this year.

South West Trains and Network Rail are jointly responsible for what is one of the busiest and most complex commuter rail networks in Europe but many regular travellers experienced problems when the worst of the weather hit last Winter. To a certain extent that is unavoidable but SW Trains have recently written to Winchester MP Steve Brine with details of their plan for Winter 2011/12.

The last two winters have been particularly challenging for all modes of transport, however contingency plans have helped the network locally to deal with the impact of severe weather and provide the best possible service for passengers in these circumstances. In partnership with Network Rail SWT have also invested in measures to significantly enhance the resilience of the service it provides to passengers in winter. This has helped to keep passengers on the move, despite some very challenging weather conditions.

Although SWT implemented a contingency timetable on a few days when it simply would not have been realistic to run the full service, they kept services running in and out of Waterloo throughout the period and we were the only train operator to record a year on year increase in punctuality during Period 9 (14th November – 11th December) which covered the first batch of snow. South West Trains was the only train operator in the country to record a year on year increase in PPM at 87.9% and was significantly more punctual than other train companies operating south of the Thames. Nonetheless the company recognise the need to learn lessons and is seeking to make further improvements.

SWT have carried out a comprehensive review and further improved its planning based on lessons learned from last year. Delivering an intensive commuter network which is already operating at full capacity is always going to be a very big challenge in severe weather, particularly as the operator is relying on ground level third rail electrical supply to our trains which is very vulnerable to ice and snow.

However, South West Trains and Network Rail are working closely together to try and provide the best possible service to our passengers in the circumstances and to communicate information to passengers as effectively as possible.

The review highlighted several new or improved initiatives, all designed to build further on the extensive contingency plans already in place.

Some of the additional measures now in place include:

Improved Network Rail track management

  • Preventative heating of the conductor rail at key strategic locations on the network to try to prevent it freezing and to enable trains to continue to draw power.
  • A new specially-built train for use on the south-east rail network to lay heated anti-icing fluid directly on the conductor rail, and to scrape snow and ice from the tracks.
  • Enhance use of ice and snow clearance trains and vehicles.

Contingency timetables

  • We have developed a greater variety of contingency timetables based on our experience from last year. In the event that we do need to implement one of these contingency timetables, they will be accessible to our passengers on the evening before implementation.

Enhanced fleet preparation

  • Improved preparation of the South West Trains fleet, including investment into heated couplers for our class 444 Desiro trains so they can "split and join" more reliably, making trains even more reliable during extreme weather conditions. This allows for trains to easily divide (10 car trains can divide into two and go in different directions).

Better communication with passengers

  • Blackberry smart-phones for on-train staff to receive immediate service updates and pass up-to-date information to passengers.
  • Twitter and dedicated email alerts tailored to passengers' individual journeys
  • New dedicated information managers in the Wessex operational control centre at London Waterloo to improve advice for passengers
  • More sophisticated customer information system at London Waterloo to show trains running during disruption rather than clogging the system with those cancelled.

SWT have said they we will do everything possible to provide the best service possible and information for our passengers during severe weather even though the network operates at full capacity and uses 1920s third rail technology. But they have stressed during the event of severe weather, it will never be possible for them to be able to deliver the same levels of punctuality or to provide the same level of capacity as it would do on a normal day.

South West Trains will be holding a drop-in session for MPs in Westminster on Tuesday 13 December which will be attended by Winchester & Chandler's Ford MP Steve Brine. If you would like to comment on any of the above or raise questions via Steve about these contingency plans, please drop him a line before lunchtime on Monday 12 December and he will report back.

Contact Steve Brine via or on 01962 791110.

More information ...

South West Trains -

Severe weather contingency from train operators - News story from Steve Brine MP

Download the flyer delivered to homes and handed out in Winchester - here as a PDF

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