Ashes to Ashes

The Icelandic volcano, the one with unpronounceable name, brought our aviation transport network to a halt and put paid to many people’s Easter Holiday Break. To those of us unaffected by the chaos, it made a welcomed respite to the electioneering news. For a while at least too, we witnessed what one interviewed traveller, excited by his multi-modal surface based journey, called our ‘Dunkirk spirit’ coming through. Sadly, such spirit has now reverted to the more familiar recriminations.
What this episode has once again demonstrated is that ‘acts of god’ events continue to prove the fragility of our transport networks. Whether it be heat waves buckling track, snow in Eurostar electrical systems, floods washing away bridges in Cumbria or extended cold snaps crumbling our road surfaces, our highly tuned transport network is susceptible to both direct and indirect earthly events, and hence so is our economy.
The importance of such impacts is not lost on the Government. For example, the Nicholas Stern report to Government on the economic impacts of climate change advocated setting aside 1% (later revised to 2%) of GDP to future proof society against changing climactic conditions. Just last month, the Government announced a Winter Resilience Review, to be chaired by David Quarmby CBE, a consultant and former director of Colin Buchanan, to review the preparedness of the transport systems in England for severe winter weather conditions, including lessons learned from the last two unexpectedly severe winters. The Review will cover highways and the supply logistics of salt, and the transport providers and network operators of bus, rail, and aviation.

What the Icelandic volcano has proved is that Dunkirk spirit we still have but the resilience of our infrastructure remains fragile when faced with the ravages that Mother Nature can throw at us.


One thought on “Ashes to Ashes

  1. If we’re talking of the spirit of wartime and Dunkirk then think of all those posters urging us to consider if our journey is really necessary. What snow, tidal waves, and volcanic ash remind us of is that nothing in life is guaranteed, not even transport systems, and no matter how advanced any system is anywhere in the world there is no guarantee that it will always work perfectly.

    Resilience is a key word. What does it mean? Flexible systems? Contingency planning? All of the above, but I’d also suggest resilience begins in the mind. Plague of locusts on the line? Dust storms of Biblical proportions? Why not be more prepared to work remotely? Why not consider that better IT networks has as much potential effect on the transport network as transport systems themselves. How many of our journeys are really necessary? Do we always need to physically travel? Have we fully appreciated and embraced the electronic revolution, even now?

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