Thursday, February 19, 2009

SnowTime in London

On February 2nd, 2009, Jenny Booth in the Times of London reported "Heaviest snow in 20 years brings large parts of Britain to a halt".

The heaviest snowfall in 20 years has closed thousands of schools and caused transport chaos up the eastern side of Britain, with London and the surrounding areas the hardest hit.

Six million bus passengers were left in the lurch as all London's bus services were halted because of dangerous driving conditions, and every Tube line except the Victoria line was at least partially suspended.

Many mainline commuter rail services were also cancelled or seriously delayed, and flights at London's airports were decimated, with both of Heathrow's runways shut, Luton and London City closed, and Gatwick and Stansted flights subject to delays and short-notice cancellations.

Millions of commuters stayed at home rather than brave the conditions, as an estimated one in five people either worked from home or took the day off, costing industry hundreds of millions of pounds.

One of the world's capitals, the great city of London, was paralyzed by a rare snowstorm, which eventually amounted to about eight inches (20 cm). There was virtually no way to travel in the city, with all bus service suspended, and even the "underground" subway system unreliable. Getting into and out of the city was equally hard, with commuter railroad service canceled and driving quite dangerous due in part to the lack of road clearing equipment. In a different Times of London article, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, was quoted as saying “This is the kind of snow we haven’t seen in London in decades...We don’t have the snow-ploughs that we would otherwise need to be sure of getting the roads free.”

Because London rarely has snow, it has saved money most years compared to US cities like Chicago or Boston which must purchase and use large quantities of salt and sand each winter and purchase and use large quantities of snowplows and sand/salting trucks. And, less money is spent on the employees needed to make the roads passable. But, when the snowstorm does come, London is much less prepared to deal with it than cities with colder climates. One moderate size storm stops all transportation. Why? Because cars, trucks, buses and trains all have traction problems in snowy and icy conditions. No city should have to endure frozen mobility in the way London recently did. The recent London weather shows that even cities in usually temperate climates have some risk each winter of greatly reduced or even halted transportation.

There is only one way to have weather immune transportation, and that is to base it not on wheels and roads, but on air cushion vehicles (ACVs) in elevated, lightweight guideways. Those who have followed this blog before know that I'm talking about the Aeroduct System. It would not shut down in a snowstorm of any size, let alone one that amounted to less than one foot (30 cm). London and any other city would save money by having no need for salt, sand, trucks and plows, and no citizen would be prevented from travelling intra and inter city. ACVs glide over snow and ice, even pushing excess snow out of the way with the air propulsion. Not only would transporation be available, it would not be dangerous. As the article by Ms. Booth says, the bus service in the city was cancelled due to "dangerous driving conditions". And, Ms. Booth talks elsewhere in her article about the "treacherous conditions" on the roads leading to and from London.

London might not have another major snow event for some time to come. But, its recent plight shows that it doesn't take much for wheel based transportation to cease working well, to become a danger, and to require considerable expense to set right. And, the forced closing of businesses means additional money lost. I invite all those who want to bring safe, economic and always available transporation to their communites to contact us about the Aeroduct System.

No comments: