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Winter Resilience

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 26th October 2011.

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Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

It is exceptionally friendly in the chamber this afternoon.

Last winter, many of us suffered disruption to our travel plans. I am happy to accept that those of us who live in cities have more options, one of which is walking between places, especially as many of us live closer to our place of work and so on. People in cities such as Glasgow perhaps suffered less than people in other areas. Nevertheless, on the worst day of the winter last year, I started my journey into the city centre by bus, but we did not get far. I then went to the nearest train station and, lo and behold, a train appeared and I got to my destination okay. I got home by bus in the evening. Perhaps unwisely, I went out again in the evening and waited quite a long time for a train, but to be fair, it came. I was ready to walk home when a bus came along and got me home. Whatever else we do, we must pay tribute to the bus and train drivers and other staff who kept as much of the system going as they could last winter.

Also on a positive note, we do not compare badly with other countries. I have visited one or two. In January a few years ago, I went to Budapest, which as members may know is a city in Hungary. People there are used to slightly colder winters than we usually get, but there were fairly icy pavements to start with, then there was rain, which subsequently froze, and they could not cope with that at all. The pavements especially, but also the roads, were unbelievably treacherous.

Another city that I spent some time in for a couple of years is London, which as members may know is a city in England. On one occasion, there was a little snow—by our standards, it was pretty minimal. I was in the House of Commons that day, but it had to stop early because it could not cope with a little snow. The whole city practically ground to a halt, including the buses and the underground. Some of us thought that the snow did not go underground, but I learned that it obviously does. When I was a councillor in Glasgow, I would come out and almost immediately, if there had been snow, the area in front of the city chambers and the main parts of the pedestrian precincts would have been cleared, but when I came out of the House of Commons in London, nothing had been done. There was snow everywhere and it was treacherous and slippery. It was pretty hopeless.

ScotRail was criticised last winter. Since then, and indeed during last winter, it looked at other countries’ systems, including those in the Nordic countries, and it found that there is no magic formula. Even countries that are used to colder winters than ours still struggle. Sometimes they do not have trains running at all and sometimes they use huge amounts of hot water to clear ice from rolling stock, which can be considered wasteful. ScotRail is now at the forefront of finding innovative ways in which to keep rolling stock running.

The information flow is important, and I have to say that it has improved. If I heard Jackson Carlaw correctly, he said that there was a complete failure of communication. Frankly, that is over the top, but perhaps that is what we should expect from that quarter. There was certainly not a complete failure of communication. Years ago, when there was a bit of snow, we would stand on a railway station and have no idea of what was going to happen. Now, certainly at many stations in my area, we have electronic information that tells passengers, broadly speaking, how long the train will be delayed for, although I accept that ScotRail does not always get it right.