Severe weather incident review
Thank you for bearing with us as we did our best to get you to your destinations last week (w/c 26 February) during the severe weather. We worked very closely with Network Rail throughout to try and keep people moving. This article is intended to provide you with more information about what happened, what the impact was and what we did about the situation.
As you are already aware, a spell of severe weather nicknamed “the Beast from the East” hit the region. An amber warning was originally issued by the Met Office for overnight on Monday 26 February, although snow subsequently didn’t materialise locally until the morning of Tuesday 27 February. Significant snowfall continued locally on Wednesday 28 February and Friday 2 March, and freezing conditions throughout the week added to the challenges we faced.
What was the impact?
Snow and freezing conditions place significant strain on both the track and signalling infrastructure and our trains and stations. Network Rail has a video that summarises some of these issues.
Across the course of the week there were a number of problems caused by the weather:
- Multiple failures of the track points across our network at various stages across the week, including those that serve both East Ham and Shoeburyness depots. This meant at key times we were unable to run trains across our full route, or to bring trains out of the depot and into passenger service
- A number of individual signals failed during the week, which meant trains could only run at low speed and with the special permission of the signaller in those areas
- The snow, and subsequently the melting ice, caused damage to a number of trains. The impact ranged from comparatively simple issues like disabling the train’s horn (which means the train is automatically restricted to a maximum speed of 20mph), to blowing the train’s main fuse which means the unit is entirely without power. By the end of Friday 11 different four-carriage trains were out-of-service due to damage caused by the weather during the week
- Ice formed on the overhead power lines, which forced trains to run at lower speed
- Ice formed on the CCTV cameras that are used to control level crossings on the Tilbury Line, which meant some crossings were left continuously in the down position for several hours to protect the railway. This caused local road traffic queues in some areas.
During a normal peak service we run up to 20 trains per hour between Barking and Fenchurch Street, despite there being only one line of track in each direction and just four platforms at Fenchurch Street station. With the weather conditions causing the range of issues outlined above, the network could not operate at such a high level of capacity and therefore we had to make a number of alterations to our service each day.
What we did about it?
We worked very closely throughout with Network Rail to identify what the likely impact of the severe weather would be each day. Our top priority throughout was to run a safe level of service which transported as many people as possible without creating the risk of passengers potentially being stranded by the conditions.
We ran a limited service on the Tuesday in light of the amber weather warning, but also advised passengers not to travel because this level of service provided a significantly reduced capacity at peak times. Heavy snow hit the Southend section of the route, including our depot at Shoeburyness, during the morning but the worst of the weather at that stage passed further south. Under those conditions we agreed with Network Rail that we could operate more trains that day than originally planned, but with trains and drivers deployed differently it wasn’t possible to simply switch to our normal timetable in the middle of the day. Instead we made as many adjustments as possible, adding more trains to the evening peak and extending our service to run the end of the day rather than finishing early as had originally been planned.
On the Wednesday we attempted to run a full timetable because the forecast had improved, but because of the number of incidents caused by the weather across the day this proved impossible to deliver effectively. Like every station and public venue we have contingency plans to manage crowding at stations, and for part of the evening peak we implemented our crowd control plan at Fenchurch Street station to ensure the station concourse did not become overcrowded. We know that a number of passengers were frustrated at having to queue to get into the station, but this was an important decision which kept the station operating safely despite the severe disruption caused by the weather.
On the Thursday and the Friday we operated a special timetable which included more than 90% of our daily trains, but with selected peak services cancelled in advance. This included cancelling trains that start from Laindon and from Leigh-on-Sea. These services were cancelled because we agreed with Network Rail not to use the points at these stations, to reduce the number of locations where the infrastructure was at risk of failing and causing disruption. This meant the bay platforms at these stations were not in service.
We published details of the planned timetable for each day as early as possible. For live travel information during what was at times a fast-changing situation, our Twitter account @c2c_rail was an important channel. During times of disruption we operate primarily in “broadcast mode”, and attempt to provide key information to as many people as possible, rather than being able to give the personalised responses to individual queries that are possible at other times. We also directed customers to sources of live travel information, such as our Journey Check page and the Live Departures information on National Rail Enquiries website.
Throughout the week our staff worked extremely hard in very challenging conditions to keep our stations and depots safe and operational. We deployed extra staff and volunteers from HQ to support our frontline staff in these roles, such as gritting the platforms, sweeping the snow away to keep stations open, and providing the best customer service we could. As a result of these efforts, during the week there was only one reported incident of a passenger slipping over in the icy conditions on our network. Network Rail also deployed extra staff to key points on the c2c route to try and resolve infrastructure issues as soon as they arose.
Over the weekend our engineers worked very hard alongside their colleagues at Bombardier, our train maintenance company, to carry out repairs on the 11 damaged trains. As a result one additional service in each peak has been short-formed so far this week, and this situation is likely to continue for the rest of this week. However this is a significantly better situation than had been feared when the scale of damage to the c2c fleet first became clear.
On the evening of Sunday 4 March Network Rail also undertook emergency engineering work near our East Ham depot to repair some of the damage caused to the infrastructure. This ensured we had full access to the depot again and were able to operate a full timetable on Monday 5 March rather than reduced services.
Compensation for delays
As we advised customers not to travel on Tuesday 27 February, if you had a ticket valid for this date you are entitled to claim compensation. For subsequent days, any delays will be measured against the timetable that was advertised and in operation for that day, rather than our normal timetable.
To find out more about compensation and to make a claim visit via our Delay Repay section