Trains, Planes and Automobiles Grind to a Halt

Concern over lack of resilience of transport infrastructure

The AA is concerned over the lack of resilience of transport infrastructure

1 December 2010

The Automobile Association has today raised severe concerns over the lack of resilience of the UK's transport infrastructure.

The AA has highlighted major problems on both road and rail The AA has highlighted major problems on both road and rail with drivers and passengers stranded overnight in sub-zero temperatures. The AA also raises concerns on the lack of consistent and reliable information being given to travellers across all modes.

The British economy is losing tens of millions of pounds because of a failure to deal with the problem of gridlocked motorways, major roads and rail travel in the freezing weather. Airports such as Gatwick have also been shut.

Practical difficulties

There have been numerous reports on how to cope with winter weather and yet parts of our transport network have already seized up. Highway planners have concentrated on salt supplies for the winter but had not thought adequately about how to deal with the practical difficulties posed by blocked motorways and major roads.

The AA used its snow busting Land Rovers with kinetic ropes – used by the Army to pull tanks out of mud – last night to help move hundreds of vehicles including articulated lorries stuck in snow and ice on roads around the country. AA patrols are also working flat out to get to stranded motorists. More than 100,000 breakdowns have been attended since last Thursday.

The AA accepts that not all roads can be gritted and that on occasions heavy snowfalls can wash away the salt. Roads such as the A57, near Rotherham, Yorks, became treacherous with salt washed away, more snow falling and freezing, which left articulated lorries struggling for traction in treacherous 'ice rink'conditions.

Roads in many other areas were absolutely gridlocked last night.


Edmund King, AA President, said: "We might have more salt than last year but we need better planning to allow gritters through heavy traffic and blocked roads. Some highway authorities have invested in new gritters but again we hear that farmers offering to use tractors as snow ploughs were prevented from doing so as the insurance had not come through. This is not good enough.

We need better plans to prevent people continuing to join motorways once they are gridlocked "The UK has lost tens of millions of pounds over the last few days due to road stagnation and rail paralysis in some areas. We have had people trapped on motorways and on trains for hours on end and that is unacceptable. In the 21st century we should not have people stuck on the motorway all night or stranded on trains or at train stations.

"We need better plans to prevent people continuing to join motorways once they are gridlocked. We can not afford to have vulnerable people stuck on a road to nowhere or waiting for ghost trains that never arrive.

"The travelling public needs better information on road and rail services. Southeastern Trains and railway officials were giving out conflicting information on whether or not trains were running this morning. Traffic information websites were also down for parts of the morning.

The AA also accepts that drivers need to be prepared and adapt to the conditions.

Winter motoring tips

we need better planning to allow gritters through heavy traffic and blocked roads DO get up earlier to give yourself plenty of time to clear your car of snow and ice (which can easily take ten minutes) so you don't have to rush on the roads.

DO smear some petroleum jelly on the rubber door seals to help prevent them being frozen shut. It's also worth squirting some WD40 into the door locks, including the fuel cap lock, to reducing the risk of a frozen lock.

DO dip the clutch when you start the car – this helps take more load off the starter motor and, ultimately, the battery.

DO everything slowly if driving on icy roads – keep your speed down and adopt a smooth driving technique: avoid sudden manoeuvres, acceleration and braking.

DO try to maintain a constant speed, choosing the most suitable gear in advance to avoid having to change down while climbing a hill.

DO leave a bigger gap between you and the vehicle in front (at least ten seconds).

DO take care even on gritted main roads – salt is less effective from minus 5 degrees and barely effective at all from minus 9 degrees.

DO be watchful for pedestrians slipping on pavements and roads.


DON'T pour hot water over your windscreen to thaw it – you risk cracking the glass due to the big difference in temperature and it will only refreeze on the screen and ground, creating a slippery hazard!

DON'T use the wipers to clear snow and ice. The rubber blades often stick to the frozen screen, so either they rip or get cut up (ice crystals are sharp) or, if frozen solid, burn out the motor, which will blow a fuse. Always clear the windscreen of ice and snow with de-icer and scraper before you use the wipers – don't leave them on 'auto' mode, if applicable – and free the blades from the screen.

DON'T drive off like a tank commander – make sure all windows are clear before you set off.

DON'T leave your car unattended when de-icing it – it's an open invitation to thieves and your insurance won't pay out.

DON'T put too much strain on your battery – start the car before turning on the electrics: lights, blowers, automatic wipers, heated seats and rear windscreen, radio etc.

DON'T underestimate how treacherous black ice can be – stopping distances on snow and ice can be up to ten times greater.

More winter driving advice »

Severe weather breakdown updates »


2 December 2010