Lessons learned review of winter 2009/2010


The winter of 2009-10 has been the coldest in the UK for 30 years, creating extremely challenging conditions for the travelling public across the whole of the country. For the most part, our transport networks have coped well in the circumstances. However it is important that lessons are learned in order to improve our resilience for future winters.

Following a decade of relatively mild conditions, the winter of 2008-09 was severe and the worst for almost 20 years. A number of reviews followed, including by the House of Common Transport Select Committee, the London Assembly, the Local Government Association and the UK Roads Liaison Group (UKRLG). The July 2009 report by UKRLG made 19 recommendations to highway authorities, producers and suppliers of salt and other stakeholders to improve preparedness.

The winter of 2009-10 has seen an even more sustained period of sub-zero temperatures. The biggest issue was the availability of road salt, but additionally the severity of the weather conditions caused disruption across most modes of transport including rail, air and sea. The response of central and local government to severe winter weather must aim to maintain public access to key services such as health, education and employment. However, the scale of the response must provide value for money to the public purse.

Purpose of the Study

The aim of this study is to identify practical measures to improve the response of England’s transport systems – road, rail and air - to severe winter weather. The study will build upon the recommendations of the UK Roads Liaison Group “Lessons from the Severe Weather February 2009”, and will take account of reviews of experience and lessons learned by public authorities, network operators and transport providers. The study will consider the views of transport users and stakeholders, the effectiveness of communications about travel conditions, and the contribution of weather forecasters.

There will be an immediate focus on measures that should be adopted to improve  preparation for and management of winter 2010-11;  the study will also consider and make recommendations about longer term measures.

Timetable and reporting:

The review will report in two phases, reflecting the need to:

a) identify measures that can be implemented relatively quickly in preparation for next winter 2010/11, and

b) to take a longer term view of our preparedness for severe winter weather in future years.

Phase one

The phase one report will aim to identify quick wins aimed at improving resilience in preparation for next winter 2010/11. This will largely focus on the planning, production, deployment and distribution of salt stock for the road network, including possible enhancements to the supply chain. It may include recommendations across other modes if opportunities are identified. The phase one report will be published in July, before the summer parliamentary recess.

Phase two

The phase two report will consider wider aspects of resilience of transport services across various modes through the winter season. It will review communications, economic impacts, public expectations and issues around weather forecasting. Publication will be targeted for autumn 2010.


The review will be steered by a panel of three independent experts:

  • David Quarmby CBE (Chair)
  • Brian Smith
  • Chris Green(*) 

A review team, comprising DfT officials, will provide administrative, project management and analytical support.

The review outcomes formally recommended to the Secretary of State for Transport will only apply to English authorities, but will take account of the wider UK context. The Scottish and Welsh administrations will be fully involved in the work of the review. It will be for Scottish and Welsh Ministers respectively to decide what action is required in those countries.

(*) Chris Green will formally join the Panel in late June as he steps down from the Board of Network Rail.

Contact the Winter Resilience Review team

Email: winterreview@dft.gsi.gov.uk


David Quarmby CBE
c/o Winter Resilience Review Team
3/18 great Minster House


An initial review of previous winter service reports will be undertaken in order to avoid unnecessary duplication and to ensure any recommendations complement actions already being taken by network operators and transport providers to improve their winter service. The review will build on the recommendations of the UKRLG report “Lessons from the Severe Weather February 2009”. This initial review will inform the development of a more detailed schedule of questions and issues for investigation.

The review will be seeking evidence and views from a range of key stakeholders, including transport network operators and transport providers, salt suppliers and distributors, transport users, businesses, the general public, weather forecasters, and the media. Evidence will be gathered through stakeholder workshops and calls for written evidence covering the full scope of the review. This evidence will be used to identify practical measures to improve the national response to severe winter weather, presenting case studies of best practice and culminating in a package of recommendations.

The rail industry is already reviewing performance during the severe winter 2009/10. Similarly, the salt industry is currently identifying immediate action for re-stocking during the summer period.

Draft scope of the review

(For consideration and adoption by the panel at its first meeting)

Phase One - Winter resilience and salt stock management

1.1  Weather forecasting

Review of the availability and accuracy of weather forecasts, their communication and interpretation for highway authorities.

1.2  The complete salt supply chain and treatment strategies by highway authorities

A critical review of the complete salt supply chain, in the context of the lessons learned and actions implemented from the 2008-09 winter season, and how it might be most effectively planned and managed. Review the actions already under way by authorities following experience of the 2009-10 winter season.

Consider and evaluate the different treatment regimes adopted by different authorities. Review the monitoring and reporting processes for levels of readiness including salt re-stocking.

Critically examine a range of options covering resilience levels, diversification of supply, collaborative storage and procurement, mutual aid between authorities, and the contribution of innovations and technology in winter servicing.

Critically examine the case for national regulations, and powers of ministerial intervention, to ensure that adequate supplies are maintained at local level and by the Highways Agency.

Make recommendations designed to make better preparation for next winter season and achieve improved winter resilience on the roads.

Phase Two – maintaining cross-modal winter transport service provision

2.1 Coordinating an immediate response to severe winter weather

Review how well existing approaches work in achieving a co-ordinated and efficient response to severe winter weather in the UK, including:

  • Clearance of snow from transport infrastructure
  • Maintaining access to and resilience of critical infrastructure e.g. emergency services, motorways and other strategic highways, railway depots and stations, airports, ports, freight routes, power stations, hospitals
  • Effective communication to travellers and transport users, communities, and providers of critical services 

Identifying examples of best practice in providing a fast and efficient response (e.g service delivery, communications, resilience networks), including practices of other European countries who experience similar winter patterns to the UK.

Advice on the most appropriate central government role in facilitating co-operation between key delivery agencies.

2.2 Resilience of rail services in severe winter weather

Review the overall approach taken by Network Rail and the Train Operating Companies in preparing the network and its infrastructure for severe winter weather. Review experience and lessons learned by NR and TOCs in service planning and delivery, and in sustaining network availability. Review the effectiveness of communications to passengers and freight users, and lessons learned in handling the consequences for operations and for passengers of service disruption.

Make recommendations as appropriate.

2.3 Resilience of airports and air services in severe winter weather

Review the approach taken by airport operators and airlines in planning and managing the consequences for airports and air services of severe winter weather in the UK. Review their experience and lessons learned;  review the effectiveness of communications to passengers within the UK and overseas, and lessons learned in the handling the consequences for operations and for passengers of service disruption.

2.4 Weather and long term trends

Review and analyse current thinking on likely trends in weather and winter temperatures and conditions for the UK, the accuracy of forecasts and possible developments, and their relevance for winter resilience strategy in England.

2.5  Economic analysis

Analysis of the likely costs and benefits of different approaches to winter resilience, bringing together costs of alternative levels of preparation and intervention with the benefits of greater resilience to business, travellers and the community at large. Account will be taken of approaches taken in other countries with similar weather patterns to the UK. This will include a review of the policies and standards relating to treatment of footways, costs of accidents and public liability.

2.6 Communications and public expectations

Consider public attitudes and expectations of winter resilience and whether these can be met. How well communications work between public authorities, service providers and their users, the role of media and how communications can be improved. Enabling end users to help themselves (use of grit bins, snow clearance, etc).

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