The story of my London Transport Hell:
Thursday 30th January 2003 - When 4 centimetres of snow fell on London!
Check for the Latest Update at bottom of this page!

IMPORTANT: Click on the Next button below to step through the nightmare story.


I have sent emails to the many people, organisations and institutions requesting explanations as to why this nightmare could happen in one of the premier capital cities in the world.

e.g I have sent to Transport for London, London Mayor, London Buses, London Undergorund, my local MP, councillors, local papers and local TV and radio stations.

I will reproduce any responses that I get back (if I get any at all) right here:

FIRST Response award goes to the Mayor of London!

Email from Mayor of London's office
Recieved 4th February 2003

"Thank you for your recent e-mail describing the severe and unacceptable
difficulties you encountered on your journey home from work on Thursday
30th January. I have been asked to respond on the Mayor's behalf. The
Mayor is fully aware of the problems you mentioned in your e-mail and
agrees that the situation is totally unacceptable.

As you may or may not already know, the Mayor of London does not
currently have any control over the Underground system. This is
controlled by central Government. Also, the Mayor is only responsible
for 5% of London's road networks with the other 95% being controlled by
the individual boroughs.

The Mayor issued a press statement on Friday 31st January on the subject
of these transport problems where he said; "I am appalled by the failure
of London Underground and the Highways Agency, which is responsible for
London's motorways, to anticipate and respond effectively to last
night's weather conditions."

Transport for London (of which the Mayor is Chair) was well prepared for
these terrible weather conditions and acted in advance to limit the
chaos. TfL's roads were gritted well ahead of any snowfall. In fact,
gritting started on these roads at 8.30am that morning, well before the
dip in temperature. The same should have happened on the motorways and
borough roads. However, this was not the case. In addition, with the
M25 closed, the Highways Agency advised traffic to use the North
Circular, without informing Transport for London. The Mayor is keen to
see these roads come under his jurisdiction to avoid this problem
happening again.

With regards to the problems you found in catching a bus, it is true
that some services were affected by the adverse weather conditions.
Most bus routes use Borough roads and as these were not gritted by the
Boroughs many were unsafe or clogged up by traffic.

Despite the weather conditions, the Docklands Light Railway and the
Croydon Tramlink, both under the Mayor's control, managed to maintain a
100% level of service.

Whilst I understand your frustration at not being able to get home on
Thursday night, I trust my response will go some way to informing you of
which agencies are responsible for the various areas of public transport
in London, and that Ken Livingstone joins you in your disbelief at how a
few inches of snow brought London to a standstill.

Right on Ken!
I have no particular political affiliations - but there sure does seem to be some logic in the argument for bringing the entire transport system under single control/accountabiity. Selfishly for me - it would mean that I wouldn't have to send my complaints in multiple directions - and experience buck-passing etc. i.e. there would only be one person to blame. And after my experience on Thurs. 30th Jan - I sure do get the feeling that the current controllers just don't cut the mustard. Some BASIC communications discipline between tube line controllers and buses would have gone a long way to getting me and thousands like me home a lot earlier.

I await further responses.

Email from "Transport for London" (TfL)
Recieved 5th February 2003

Thanks for your email. I note the content of the URL you have quoted and the
response sent from the Mayor's office. Please note the as the Mayor's
transport authority, some of the comments you make have already been covered
by the response from his office.

I am sorry to hear of the major disruption to the public transport network
late last week as a result of the wintry conditions. I can clearly see the
nightmare journey you endured from the graphic on your website.

Firstly, may I explain that Transport for London are not yet responsible for
tube services and we are still waiting for the Government to pass control
over to the Mayor, Ken Livingstone, so we can start the badly needed
improvement programme. Any issues regarding tube performance during the
recent wintry conditions should be directed to LU who you can contact via

With regards to bus services, many areas of London were disrupted as the
road conditions made maintaining an efficient bus network very difficult. In
addition, of course, roads became increasingly congested as tailbacks grew
longer and longer. If you have any specific points regarding disruption on
the bus network, please feel free to contact London Buses, via

As a general point, although the cold weather was forecast, it's severity
was somewhat of a surprise. Despite some drivers working hard in difficult
conditions, our ability to run bus services was also hindered by the lack of
co-ordination in gritting London's roads. Passenger safety has to paramount
though and some services were cut back in extreme circumstances. TfL are
responsible for many of the major road routes in London and our gritters
were out in good time to ensure that our roads were safe to use. It would
appear that many of the roads under local authority control were not gritted
in time and so we saw widespread disruption to many areas of transport,
including our bus services. It should also be noted that the Croydon
Tramlink and DLR services, both under TfL's remit, operated at 100% service

The Secretary of State for Transport, Alastair Darling, has already
acknowledged that there needs to be better procedures in place to deal with
similar situations in the future. Gritting vehicles need to be called into
action to ensure that any snow or ice does not have the same impact on
London life. This will mean there needs to be greater co-ordination between
local authorities and the Government.

The Mayor was appalled at the failure of LU and the Highways Agency (who are
responsible for the motorways) to anticipate and respond to the weather
conditions. He has asked us to speak to the HA and co-ordinate with the
London Boroughs to ensure that there is no repeat of the recent chaos.

Listen up London Boroughs - no repeats please!
It does irk me somewhat that the news coverage on TV and radio was heavily biased towards reporting on those poor souls who got stuck overnight in stationary traffic on the M11 motorway. Believe me - I have every sympathy with them etc. and wouldn't want to wish anything like that on them - but hey; at least they were in their cars! Thousands of us in NW London were out on the street. MINDLESSLY DUMPED there by the train-load at Golders Green bus station - doomed to be waiting for a bus that would never arrive. Freezing. Shivering. Some people for over 4 hours! When all it would have taken was for a London bus controller to pick up the phone to the a London tube controller - so that we could have at least been told not to waste our time. And why wasn't there ANY member of staff at the bus station to tell us ANYTHING? Anything to put us out of our misery and tell us that the buses were being abandoned across North London?

More as it comes.

Email from "Customer Services" at Brent Council
Recieved 6th February 2003

Thank you for your email. I have forwarded your enquiry over to Brent's Streetcare Section, to investigate and respond to you directly via your email address.

Should you require any further information or assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Streetcare on 020 8937-5050.

Well - this email was received after I got an initial response from the email "robot" at Brent Council's "One Stop Shop". So now I am looking forward to what the "Streetcare" folks at Brent have to say about the problem .....

Email from "London Buses" (Customer Services of TfL Buses)
Recieved 18th February 2003

Thank you for your recent communication.

I am very sorry to hear of the difficulties that you experienced as you travelled home on the 30th January.

As you may be aware, many bus services were cancelled on that day, owning to extreme weather conditions. Such drastic steps were taken in the interests of safety, an because some roads were closed. We fully appreciate the inconvenience caused to the many passengers, who were left with no information.

We realise how important it is to keep passengers informed, so we often place notices at bus stops and shelters advising of long term delays sadly, it is not always possible to so, particular when faced with short term delays. I apologise that you were not kept fully in formed on this occasion.

If you forward your address, I will send you a book of six saver tickets, which can be used to make single adult journeys, as gesture of goodwill. If you have any other queries or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me.

A gesture of goodwill from London Buses!
The Customer Services people at London Buses are so sorry to hear about my nightmare journey home that they are happy to offer me six free bus tickets in a gesture of goodwill. They blame "extreme weather conditions" for the cancellation of bus services - but, as you can see, also apologise for the lack of communications. Considering that they appear to be a division of Transport for London (TfL) - which claims to have upheld the highest standards of service on the things that it controls on the night in question - it does seem a bit strange that failure to coordinate between the buses and the tubes was experienced that night. Hey ho - at least I got an apology.

I am still awaiting a response from my local borough council - who the Mayor of London blames for the chaos on the streets of North West London that night ...

Well - after not hearing ANYTHING from the "Streetcare" folks at Brent Council - I sent in another email to find out why. Here is the email from Brent Council I got in response:
Recieved 19th February 2003

Thank you for your email.

May I apologise on behalf of Brent Council for the delay in responding to your initial enquiry.
Your email that we received on 6th February 2003 was passed initially to the team leader of our Streetcare Call Centre. She in turn passed it to one of the Streetcare inspectors so that they may respond to you directly.
Unfortunately, the Call Centre team leader is on annual leave until Monday 24th February.

I have made enquiries with the Streetcare Inspectors this morning, in order to ascertain which inspector your email was passed to. However, at this stage I have been unable to establish who received it.

I will speak to the Streetcare Call Centre team leader on Monday morning and advise you accordingly.
Once again, please accept our apologies.

Once again:
I am really looking forward to what the "Streetcare" folks at Brent Council have to say when they come back from their holidays. I wonder if they were all on holiday in the run up to 30th January? - that would explain why they failed to spot the weather reports warning of bad weather to come ....

IN THE MEANTIME: (As I write this on Friday 21st February):
Today I received a letter in the post from the "House of Commons". It was from the office of my local MP - Barry Gardiner (click here for his website) - who have analysed the story of my nightmare journey home - and have written letters to TfL, London Underground and Brent Council on my behalf - demanding explanations as to why the system had failed me and many thousands like me that night. In particular - they didn't buy the response from TfL (above) absolving them of responsibility - pointing out that lack of communications was entirely the responsibility of TfL. I am really grateful to the office of Barry Gardiner - not only have they taken the trouble to study my story at this webpage - they have also gone out of their way to study the responses - and to point out where the system failed based upon my account of that shameful night. I will post the responses from those institutions here - IF I get any responses at all ....

STOP PRESS: Some of you are probably wondering why I have gone to such lengths to share this story - and why I just haven't let this go as some might say: "put it down to experience" - well the reason why is this:

Many things about that night stuck in mind - and will stick with me for a long time. But I will never forget the moment when I happened across some young girls at somewhere near West Hendon Broadway (after having spent hours treading on sheet ice from Golders Green station after helping an elderly man safely home). These girls asking me desperately for directions to Wembley - and me having to tell them that they had quite a few more miles to walk: they broke down in tears - they just didn't know what to do - and whether they were able to make it or not. I stuck around with them - feeling like I shouldn't abandon them - but they just couldn't walk any more - and they asked me to carry on my own. I never knew what happened to them - they just weren't dressed in the sort of clothes for "exploring" sub-zero arctic streets - and they were hopelessly falling all over the place on the sheet ice. This brought tears to my eyes.


So - more news as it arrives ...

Email from the "Government Office for London, GLA, Business and Europe Divison, Finance, Buses and Major Projects" (Have you heard of them?)
Recieved 28th February 2003

Thank you for your e-mail of 5 February addressed to Alistair Darling about your concerns regarding your journey home on public transport on the night in question. As you will appreciate, Ministers receive large volumes of correspondence from members of the public and are, unfortunately, unable to answer each one personally. Letters received from members of the public are therefore forwarded to the appropriate policy division for reply. In this case your letter has been passed to this Government Office for reply.

I was very sorry to hear of the difficulties you experienced whilst travelling home on the night in question. However, whilst Transport for London (TfL), under the Mayor, is now responsible for the provision of public transport on London - with the exception of the Tube - Alistair Darling has asked the Highways Agency, the rail industry, London Underground, and local authorities for an explanation as to why the transport system in some parts of the country, not least London, became paralysed so quickly. We shall then consider what lessons there may be.

Network Rail has informed us that there were no line closures and all routes were open and operational. Most train operators ran a normal timetabled service. However, there were some delays to both train services and Underground services in London, the most noticeable being in North and North West London, due to power failure, traction motor damage resulting from compacted snow which turned to ice in sub-zero temperatures, particularly where services were delayed by stationary trains on shared Network Rail/Underground lines. Network Rail say that in these cases personnel were sent out to chip away compacted snow on affected points. The problem with the traction motors in cold weather conditions was recognised some time ago and a programme of replacing them is in progress. It is scheduled to complete in March 2004.

Network Rail has very detailed regional plans (rule books) which cover issues such as foreseeing adverse weather and managing the network when it occurs. These are developed working closely with the Meteorological Office. The plans set out how severe weather forecasts are disseminated, the action to be taken on receipt and the responsibilities of the various industry parties. If a significant amount of snow has fallen, a Key Junction Strategy is invoked, which sets out contingencies to keep critical routes open by operating an emergency timetable. Part of the problem for rail maintenance staff on 30 and 31 January was that they experienced difficulties in getting to affected parts of the network because of problems on the roads (see below).

Cold weather causes two major problems for London Underground services. Firstly, if ice forms on running rails (those shared by Network Rail as described above), services are slowed because drivers must brake much earlier to stop trains at platforms. Secondly, ice can form on current rails, which prevents trains from drawing power to move. LU therefore prepares for bad weather by operating de-icing equipment on one in six of its trains, and equipping track crossing points with heaters to prevent freezing and signal failures.

Unfortunately, LU's de-icing equipment was not completely effective in every case, and the weather conditions on 30 January resulted in a solid layer of ice on the current rails, preventing movement by trains in affected areas. Whilst LU was aware of the probability of snow, these were unusual and rare weather conditions for London. Disruption on the network was not attributable to lack of overall preparation by LU.

Similarly, the freezing conditions caused a great deal of road traffic to come to a standstill, causing severe delays to buses, too. Services were subsequently withdrawn from many parts of London because it was unsafe to use the icy streets. In one case, a bus skidded broadside at Muswell Hill Broadway, and Camden Town became gridlocked. Conditions on the main roads improved by the following morning, allowing bus services to be resumed.

Transport for London's main concern, and also the main concern of the operators, is passenger safety. If they have reason to believe that safety could be compromised for any reason, action may need to be taken. Sometimes buses cannot be run at the times or frequencies advertised for reasons beyond their control or that of their operators.

I hope this is helpful and explains the position.

A very comprehensive set of explanations don't you think?
I was probably hoping for too much in expecting a response from the Secretary of State for Transport (Alistair Darling) - but I was mildly surprised by the response that I got from this Government department that I'd never heard of before. Anyway - I'll just have to resign myself to putting it all down to the bad weather and passenger safety. (Perhaps that's why the Central Line has been out of action for so long.) I do get the distinct impression that this passenger safety thing is why millions of reasons are given for why things DONT work.

Hey ho.

Still waiting for Brent Council to come back to me ....

At last! Brent Council's Streetcare department respond - by written letter rather than by email:
Letter from Brent Council Streetcare Service Unit.
Dated 27th Feb - but Recieved 1st March 2003

Click on the image below to view the letter:

Letter from Brent Council Streetcare department

I don't know about you - but when the separate window pops up containing the full letter - it doesn't appear full size! Even though it's meant to be - so you might have to click on the little mulit-arrow icon that appears at the bottom right of the image when you hover over it. This should bring it up to full size so that you can actually read it.

ANYWAY - First the Mayor blamed the Councils - and now my local Council blames the Met Office! I am ASTONISHED! My quest for answers now leads me to the Met Office ...

Email received from the Met Office.
Recieved 3rd March 2003

Than you for your recent e-mail. The web pages make interesting reading and
certainly weave a complex trail. At the time it was widely acknowledged
that Met Office forecasters had predicted the wintry weather many days in
advance. A press release was issued on the Monday before and this can be
seen at

The Met Office also provide a composite winter forecast for 32 London
Boroughs which we update four times every 24 hours. We would take issue
with the following statements in Brent Council's letter - "Snow showers
possible but wouldn't settle" and "The weather on Thursday morning did not
mention that it was going to snow". To quote from our forecast issued at 3am
on Thursday morning "There is an increasing risk of snow showers", followed
by the 11am issue "Current indications are that western domains could see 1
cms of snow eastern 3 cms." and finally the 5pm issue, " Further snow
showers are likely some of them heavy with the risk of a further 1 to 3 cms
in places".

The council might argue the forecasts weren't accurate in every detail but,
I hope you will agree, our forecasts painted a clear picture of the cold and
snowy weather to come.

However the key point here is, that despite the weather forecasts, the ice
and snow severely disrupted the travel plans of many thousands of people,
yourself included. We will therefore work with other organisations to
ensure that lessons are learned and pursue ways of forecasting the outcomes
and impacts of severe weather events rather than just the weather itself.

Senior Press Officer
Met Office London Road Bracknell Berkshire RG12 2SY United Kingdom

So - this is where the trail seems to end - in a showdown between Brent Council and the Met Office! Brent Council says that they were not warned. The Met Office says they were!



An update on Weds 12th March 2003
Well - I have written to Brent Council asking them to confirm and elaborate on their explanation regarding the allegedly "unhelpful" forecasts from the Met Office. I asked for the complaint to be dealt with my the Director of Environmental Services himself - and this was several days ago.

Since then - I have been checking the number of hits that this page has been getting - and I am shocked! This page has been getting hundreds of hits every day - and from all over the world too!

My access logs tell me which organisations have been hitting this page - and I have spotted numerous hits from Brent Council - so they *have* been looking here several times since I sent them my last email. Curiously, just yesterday - there was a particular flurry of hits from financial organisations in the City of London - e.g. Paribas, ABN Amro, Deutsche Bank, Barings, UBS etc. I used to work in the City for a number of years myself - so this stimulates some memories! (e.g. Broadgate Circle: I used play Chess on the outdoor chess board there! I wonder if it's still there?) SO: I big hello to all you finance types in the City - I hope you sympathise with my story - and I wonder if you suffered like me on that night in question? (You probably will have done if you live in the Harrow area). Anyway - I hope that some of you are deriving some entertainment value from this page too! After all - you've got to look at the funny side of it ....

Well - what a surprise!
Email received from the
Recieved 24th March 2003

Direct Line : 0845 330 9880

Thank you for your email regarding the recent adverse weather that affected certain Tube Lines.

I would like to inform you that we ran a de-icing operation throughout the day, but it was not enough to prevent the blizzard conditions causing a build up of snow and ice on some of our surface track. In places it formed ice up to an inch and a half thick. Staff chipped this away by hand until the thaw set in and trains were able to start moving again. The ice prevents the shoe on the train making good contact with the conductor rail and thus a train will lose power and stall. Falling snow also makes it
difficult for drivers to see signals clearly.

I would like to take this opportunity to apologise on behalf of London Underground Ltd for the widespread disruption to Tube services caused by the snowfall.

Yours sincerely

Customer Service Centre

Another apology.
Well - to be honest with you, I never did expect to hear anything at all from London Underground - so it was a pleasant surprise. Pity it took so long. But at least the explanation helps me to understand how trains "shoes" make contact with "conductor rails" - fascinating.

Well - I think this is where it all ends:
Here is the letter I finally got from Brent Council after I asked for an official explanation as to the why the weather reports appeared ot have been misinterpreted. Once again - Brent Council ("Your 24 hour online council") prefer to send me a paper letter instead of electronic mail:

Letter from the Director of Environmental Services
Brent Council
Dated 7th April 2003

Click on the image below to view the letter:

Letter from Brent Council Streetcare department

So - Brent Council did all the right things. And they regret the difficulties that myself and others experienced.

What do YOU think?

Well - I'm going to end it here. I'm simply too tired to pursue this any further. But if you have any comments - then please leave them at my "blog" page that covers the story. Thanks for all your support and hope that you gained something from it! (Even if it was just learning about how the trains work!)