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Parliamentary Debates and Questions

S5W-13464: Bill Bowman (North East Scotland)

Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party

Date lodged: 15 December 2017

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment has been carried out of the possible impact of severe winter weather on major transport infrastructure in the north east, and whether it will provide details of any extra measures and resources being made available to ensure that transport links remain available.

Answered by: Humza Yousaf 3 January 2018

Whilst we know severe weather will cause disruption in the north east, this Government has taken a wide range of steps to improve our resilience to the challenges of winter in this area, to mitigate its impacts and to recover our transport networks, businesses and get daily life back to normal as quickly as possible. This has been done in partnership with a broad range of public, private and third sector partners and has included new investment, development and innovation - all learning the lessons from recent winters.

Transport Resilience

The Traffic Scotland National Control Centre (TSNCC) at Queensferry co-ordinates a more joined-up response during major travel incidents and severe weather, as well as targeting reduced journey times across the transport network.

The TSNCC hosts the Transport Scotland Multi-Agency Response Team (MART) arrangements which enable a strategic overview of event and incident handling. This is a joint process with Police Scotland and includes trunk road Operating Companies, the Met Office and others. We have also seconded personnel from Police Scotland, British Transport Police and the Met Office to enhance closer partnership working.

Transport Scotland has a specific Resilience Team, which ensures there are arrangements in place to prepare and provide support for major impacts to the transport network. They played a full part in all recent, major resilience events in Scotland including the closure of the Forth Road Bridge and the partial closure of the M80 in February as a result of snow. They are currently focusing on working alongside the UK Government departments to prepare for Counter Terrorism responses.

Transport Scotland, through Traffic Scotland, has developed and utilises multiple technology platforms to inform transport network users of issues, alternative routes and methods of travel to minimise transport disruption. These platforms include desktop and mobile websites, smartphone apps, internet radio, a customer care line and social media.

Trunk Roads

The winter service, provided across Scotland from the start of October through to mid-May, is a critical front-line service. With the actions we are taking and with road users playing their part by planning ahead, together we can get Scotland moving throughout the winter.

New contract specifications, greater use of technology and getting information to people ‘on the move’ are just a few of the ways we have strengthened the winter treatments, decision making and communication with road users. The enhanced preparedness is also beneficial outside of winter, as the procedures and practices such as the MART improve our resilience for other severe weather events and major events such as T in the Park and The Open golf.

With climate change and the prediction of wetter winters, flooding will continue to be an area that has the potential to cause disruption on the trunk road network. The trunk road network has known areas that are susceptible to flooding which are monitored during periods of heavy or sustained rainfall to provide an appropriate response endeavouring to keep roads open where possible or close them should the flooding compromise the safety of road users.

Our Operating Companies have flooding management plans in place for areas that are susceptible to flooding and have appropriate plant, equipment and traffic management strategically placed across the trunk road network to deal with these events in a timely and effective manner.

To mitigate the impacts of high level flooding events, Transport Scotland has procured a Relief Vehicle, which will be strategically located. The unit will be custom fitted with items such as a radio remote controlled crane and pump.

In summary, our winter service operations allow the safe movement of users of the trunk road network and minimises delays and disruption caused by severe weather. With a fully mobilised winter fleet, our winter service capability has never been higher; and our pre-winter preparations, audits, scenario workshops and weekly winter calls will ensure that there is no room for complacency in our winter service, despite the recent mild winters.

Rail

We are working with The ScotRail Alliance to prepare for potential severe winter weather and expect to see further improvements in operational and customer services and travel advice offered. This will include:

Continued improvements across all ScotRail fleets to improve their robustness to the issues caused by winter weather in previous years.

ScotRail depots and maintenance facilities to have winter maintenance equipment installed and undertake a winter resilience check at all depots and train fleets.

Winter working preparation for all stations, ensuring de-icing equipment and materials will be in place.

Network Rail will carry out a winter resilience check both at regional and local level.

Network Rail will again make available the mobile snow and ice clearance machine that can thaw junctions quickly. In addition, all local teams will be equipped with winter clearance equipment and provided with latest weather forecast and impact briefing.

A robust communications plan will be delivered ensuring passengers are prepared for adverse weather, including customer road shows at key stations throughout December, and the creation of a dedicated website and social media campaign for key messages.

Ferries

The Scottish Government is committed to maintain and improving lifeline ferry services that play a key role in supporting the economic, social and cultural development of island and remote communities.

During periods of bad weather the ferry operators providing lifeline ferry services to the Scottish Government under a Public Service Contract will, where possible, advise the travelling public in advance of any potential disruption. This information is provided via the ferry operator’s website, texting, social media, as well as the national and local media.

In addition, where periods of bad weather are anticipated, the ferry operator will seek to try and flex the scheduled ferry service timetable to provide sailings in advance of, or following on from, the disruption to the timetabled services, to try and minimise any impact on our remote and island communities.

Ferry travel has its own distinct challenges, particularly high winds, and the ship’s Master has a duty to ensure the safety of passengers above other considerations. The Merchant Shipping (Master’s Discretion) Regulations 1997 gives the ship’s Master sole responsibility for deciding whether it is safe to sail.

Aviation

Aberdeen Airport has a fully robust winter plan in place which has been used in previous years and is ready for implementation as and when the weather arrives. This includes both airside and landside facilities, access and egress for passengers and staff and additional staff resource when required.