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Is the UK Transport Sector Ready for Winter 2019-20?


Guest article from Houghton International

In a recent study, scientists from UCL forecasted yet another extreme winter for 2019/20. Those who had their lives turned upside-down by the infamous Beast from the East in 2018 will be hoping for a milder winter. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look that way. Of course, it is too early to know for sure what this winter will bring, but if the UCL predictions are anything to go by, we must start preparing.

The forecast summary reads: ‘We anticipate the North Atlantic Oscillation will be negative and that United Kingdom temperatures will be colder than normal during January-February 2020’. The jet stream that blows in from the west above the Atlantic, bringing frosty weather, is predicted to plunge the UK into an average temperature of 3.9°C over January and February. This is 0.5°C below the average winter temperature in the UK between 1981 and 2010.

Our climate is becoming more extreme and unpredictable. To avoid any inconvenience to travellers, local authorities and the transport sector have a duty to British citizens to keep things running smoothly. Let’s take a look at how public transport has improved in light of the Beast from the East, and how we can best prepare for another extreme winter.

The Beast from the East: lessons learnt

High pressure over Scandinavia often results in a polar continental air mass hitting the UK. This is what happened in 2018, causing transport systems to be stretched to maximum capacity and face unprecedented challenges. Despite the measures put in place, Britain was not prepared for such extreme circumstances. Most forms of transport were ill-advised due to the weather conditions and, according to Transport for London, one in five regular commuters forwent their commute altogether in England’s capital.

Despite the efforts of the transport sector, the extreme winter created difficulties for the general public all over the country. Local authorities and transport companies did what they could during the cold winter: roads were gritted and extra help was brought in. In central and greater Manchester, military forces were deployed to help clear snow-covered roads. Although the reaction was fast and as efficient as possible, people across the country agreed that more could have been done to prepare if we had better anticipated the weather conditions. Luckily, we now have the power of hindsight, and can start preparing early for winter 2019/20.

Winter 2019/20: a nation prepares

By roads

Now that we have insight from the UCL long-range forecast, we can start preparing. Last year’s cold weather plan for England outlined what to expect from weather warnings. Both medium and high-level warnings equate to disruption in public transport services and advise commuters to prepare for longer journey times. The general public can prepare themselves for longer journeys, but what can the transport sector and local authorities do to mirror their efforts?

Local authorities have been advised to “work with partner agencies (e.g. transport) to ensure road/ pavement gritting preparations are in place to allow access to critical services and pedestrian hotspots.” Gritting is essential for the continuation of car and bus travel.

By rail

Train systems are particularly challenged by turbulent weather conditions. One reason why extreme weather can be detrimental to train travel is that in cold weather or winter periods, direct current line inductors can be exposed to moisture from snow and ice. This leads to many electrical flashover faults. Overheating and short circuiting due to excessive moisture can also cause severe damage to coils. In extreme cases this causes the aluminium conductor to melt and erode away, leaving a gap. Once damaged, the current flow through the conductor is forced to bottleneck through the now smaller cross-sectional area of the conductor. This results in higher resistivity and an increase in temperature.

One solution to this problem was developed by electric motor repair company, Houghton International. Using pioneering technology, they designed HiTIG, a technical welding solution for the repair of high current aluminium windings. HiTIG restores functionality to an otherwise unserviceable unit. Using a standard high-quality tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding procedure, they can create a filler weld. This weld utilises an inert gas with a tungsten tip to create a repaired portion.

This process allows the solution to be delivered repeatedly, and to a consistent standard. Commenting on the innovation, Hodi Mirafsari, Engineering Director at Houghton International said: ‘Having worked in the rail sector for over 15 years, Houghton International understands the requirements of the sector and the needs of our customers. HiTIG is the perfect example of Houghton International working collaboratively with customers to solve complex engineering problems and extend the life of electro mechanical assets across their vehicles.’

With technological advancements like this one constantly under development, we will see a transformation in our transport sector. Due to climate change, extreme weather conditions are only going to become more common in the UK. Preparation and adaptation are key when it comes to navigating cold winters. Hopefully we will be ahead of the game this year and be ready for anything that winter 2019/2020 throws at us.


Posted in News


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