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Dashing (or not) through the snow - John C. Kirk

Dec. 2nd, 2010

12:34 am - Dashing (or not) through the snow

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As most people have noticed, it's been snowing in England recently. However, some local authorities and train companies handle this better than others.

Yesterday (Wednesday) I cycled to the station. I normally cycle to Norbury (zone 3), but this time I went for East Croydon (zone 5) because it was nearest. My basic mantra was "slow and steady": the roads had been gritted, so I got there fine. The same applied to the other end, going from Willesden Junction. I'm not sure which council that is: I think we're on the border of Brent and something else. Anyway, I cycled from the station to the office, then back again at the end of the day, without any mishaps. Even the minor roads had been gritted, with just the occasional icy patch. The important rule there is to keep going: don't use the brakes (which will make you skid), and don't try to steer. Instead, just stop pedalling and trundle along on momentum, so that the wheels keep turning slowly.

After that, things went a bit wonky. Trains between Willesden Junction and Clapham Junction (London Overground) were running on schedule. However, trains between Clapham Junction and East Croydon (Southern) were a bit frelled. Nothing ran on schedule, so I just had to wait and see what turned up, and the first 3 trains were completely crammed full, although bizarrely the 4th was almost empty. My cycling gear (lycra) is good while I'm moving, but it gets a bit chilly if I'm standing around for 30 minutes.

Once I came out of East Croydon, I saw that the road was covered in slush, so I didn't even attempt to cycle on it, particularly since my route starts with a downhill slope. Instead, I pushed the bike along in the hope that it would be better a bit further along. It wasn't, but I discovered a huge traffic jam; it took one of my friends 3h15m to drive 3½ miles! I wound up pushing my bike all the way home: it would normally take me 5 minutes to ride, or 20 minutes to walk, but in this case it was 30 minutes. My cycling shoes are "mountain bike style", so I can walk in them, but they don't have brilliant grips, so I went slowly to avoid slipping over. I noticed that the front wheel of my Brompton was turning normally but the back wheel was just sliding along, which also meant that it tended to slip to the side. I didn't figure out the cause until I got home: as the wheel turned, it picked up slush, and this had built up between the wheel and the mudguard to such an extent that it held the wheel still. I did see one guy go past on a unicycle, so I was very impressed by his balance! I was also quite impressed by the conduct of the drivers: it was almost eerily quiet in Croydon, with no blaring horns. The traffic barely moved, but people apparently understood that nobody could get out of the way.

Today (Thursday) I left the bike at home. This meant that I could wear extra layers and chunky boots (with decent grip). The roads were a bit clearer, but the pavements were still covered in snow, and all Southern trains were either delayed or cancelled. So, it took me a while to get to work, but I was amazed at the difference. Again, the Overground lines were fine, and the roads/pavements are almost completely clear. Apart from a few patches of snow/ice, you wouldn't even know that it had been snowing. Coming home in the evening involved more delays from Southern, and more snowdrifts in glorious Croydonia. According to the council, they've cleared entrances to stations, but there's no evidence of that at South Croydon. I'd expect snow to be worse as you head further north, so it's odd that Croydon are having so much trouble in south London.

Oh well, let us see what tomorrow brings.

Comments:

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From:susannahf
Date:December 2nd, 2010 06:16 pm (UTC)
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I'd expect snow to be worse as you head further north, so it's odd that Croydon are having so much trouble in south London.

I'm sorry, but as a scientist, I have to call you out on this. That's like getting Type II diabetes and saying "I'd expect Fred to have got diabetes rather than me, because he's more overweight." Being further north makes it more likely that there will be snow, in the same way as being more overweight makes it more likely that you will get Type II diabetes. Neither outcome is certain given the input, nor will two inputs (locations, people) get the output in the most likely order (northern one getting snow, more overweight one getting diabetes).
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From:johnckirk
Date:December 2nd, 2010 07:12 pm (UTC)
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Ok, fair point.

When we get snow in England, people often ask why everything grinds to a halt, considering that other countries (e.g. Russia) cope with far more snow; the standard answer is that they're better prepared because they get more snow, and it would be irresponsible to buy loads of snowploughs etc. in the UK which would then stand idle for years at a time. So, I'm not comparing England to other countries, and I'm not even comparing London to Durham; I'm just comparing two London boroughs which are 15 miles apart.

It's possible that Croydon is getting a lot more snow than Acton, and so that's why everything's getting clogged up. However, I think it has more to do with planning failure. For instance, I went through Shepherd's Bush station on Monday evening (before the snow), and a member of staff was scattering grit all over the platform; that's part of the London Overground network which ran ok on Tuesday. By contrast, I went through Selhurst yesterday and the entire platform was covered in snow, so I suspect that they didn't grit it at all. Today, the entire Southern rail network was "suspended until further notice".
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From:shuripentu
Date:December 3rd, 2010 01:12 pm (UTC)
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Croydon does appear to have gotten more snow than more central parts of London: one person working in Shepherd's Bush looked at photos of the snow in Croydon on Tuesday and expressed surprise, and comparing photos taken in other parts of London on Wednesday with photos taken in Croydon on the same day shows a significant difference in the amount of snow, at least on that day. For example:
Nunhead, Southwark
East Dulwich, Southwark
Hampstead Heath, Camden
Compare to:
Park Hill
Queen's Gardens
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From:susannahf
Date:December 3rd, 2010 03:56 pm (UTC)
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Grit/sand/salt on their own are useless when you get more than a sprinkling of snow. For larger amounts, you need to shovel the snow and *then* use grit etc.
That's not to say that some areas are more prepared than others, but you have to take a lot into account: how much snow was there, how quickly did it fall (a large amount of snow falling slowly is easier to deal with than a smaller amount of snow arriving in a blizzard), was there also wind (drifts can cause problems out of all relation to the "nominal" depth of snow), when did it fall (fewer staff overnight) etc
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