Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Think the Rain is Bad? What Will We Do When the Snow Returns?

Yesterday’s flooding in Dublin gives a nervous Spailpín Fánach pause to wonder about what exact plans have been made for the return of the snow.

We all know it’s coming. The ads for shoe ice grips for shoes have been running on the Irish Times home page for weeks. And it’s reasonable to ask just what the local authorities and the great ship of state herself are doing to get ready for another harsh winter in Ireland.

The first really hard snap in January of last year came out of the clear blue sky. The buses being cancelled in Dublin was annoying, but understandable. Who had ever seen it this bad?

The second time, eleven months later in November, was a little more annoying. When the temperatures dropped below freezing and Dublin Bus cancelled its services, for the “greater safety of the population,” we wondered just why they weren’t more prepared this time, and if it’s really acceptable to have a workforce have to make its own way home when the weather gets bad. They had ten months to think about it, after all.

Which means there are now no excuses for a third time. If the local authorities are doing their jobs, they will have plans made for when the ice hits. Because it’s coming, just as surely as God made little green apples.

They’re prepared across the water. The London Times had a report yesterday detailing the provisions that Her Majesty’s Government have taken for the safety of the citizens of the realm. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr George Osbourne, is carrying out an austerity program in Britain not dissimilar to the one here but even though road maintenance budgets have been cut, the British have still upped their salt budget.

The British, like ourselves, have a number of different agencies in charge of different aspects of transportation, but all the British agencies have already done their bit to keep the show on the road. Network Rail has spent £60 million pounds to keep the railway working, including investing in six snow carriages, decked out with ploughs, scrapers and brushes.

Heathrow has spent £34 million to get ready for the snow, an investment that includes the cost of 185 snow clearing vehicles. Gatwick has spent eight million pounds to buy, amongst other things, fourteen snow ploughs and over half a million litres of anti-icing agents.

The British local authorities have a stockpile of 1.4 million tonnes of salt. The highway agency has another quarter of a million, and there’s a Government National Strategic reserve supply of 450,000 tonnes.

Not only that, but the different local authorities realise they are in a different ballgame and so are deciding to salt less roads and send the trucks out in colder conditions in order to make supplies last longer. London’s Lambeth Council salted at one degree Centigrade last year. This year, the trucks don’t go out until it hits zero. It makes a difference, and the salt lasts longer.

Devon County Council has reduced the roads it will salt from 1,600 to 1,520, a five per cent reduction, to conserve supply. They know that climate change is now here, and they are making adjustments.

An Spailpín Fánach looks forward to the announcement from Minister for Transport, Mr Leo Varadkar, TD, and from Minister for Local Government, Mr Phil Hogan, TD, about what the Government’s plans are to prepare for this year’s harsh weather. Or will they just shrug their shoulders and blame Mr Chopra, like they always do?