Train drivers are made of stern stuff in South Wales. The sight of 30 centimetres of snow would have left most of us reaching for a mug of tea and our slippers but so determined was Arriva Trains Wales driver Jan Eldem not to disappoint his passengers that he borrowed a neighbour’s tractor to get to work.
It’s difficult to find the words to adequately describe some of the images that appeared across social media of Storm Emma besieging Britain’s railway with a seemingly limitless artillery of snow and ice.
Photos of giant icicles hanging like bats from the ceilings of rail tunnels around the country illustrated just how strange things had gotten. Third rails had frozen over, preventing trains from being able to draw power, and signals were stuck on red where tracks had frozen together. Even the snow plough trains were finding it hard going.
The ScotRail Alliance has probably faced the toughest test to keep its 2,800 miles of railway open. As much of the UK began to thaw, ScotRail was still clearing huge snow drifts in sub-zero temperatures. As a ScotRail media officer put it to me, although the infrastructure was “still fragile” in the aftermath, trains had continued to run.
There were inevitably stories of delays and “chaos” across the network. Although anyone claiming anything other than force majeure should think about how treacherous it was for them to make that short drive to the local superstore to panic buy a stock pile of long-life milk and baked beans.
There were also worrying scenes in Lewisham as passengers on board a grounded Southeastern service, against the warnings of operating staff and police, forcibly opened the doors of the train and descended onto the tracks alongside a live third rail. The incident is being investigated both by Southeastern and the RAIB.
Overwhelmingly, however, passengers praised the commitment of the teams at their local stations. Across the network, staff grabbed their snow shovels and got to work. Others manned social media channels, providing updates to passengers and posting photos showing vast blankets of snow where the railway used to be.
We always talk about how rail staff really are out at all times of day in all weathers – the start of this month certainly proves that theory.
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