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Snowed under as schools shut and roads freeze over

Rail boss grilled over snow chaos_1SNOW and ice brought much of the district to standstill on Thursday and Friday.

An estimated 10cm fell over-night on Wednesday across Canterbury, Whitstable, Herne Bay and Faversham causing many schools to close and forcing some commuters to abandon journeys into work.

By Friday, temperatures remained below freezing as icy conditions took hold. Many public services were still unable to operate, with refuse collections and postal services among those affected. Shops and petrol stations reported running out of supplies as people stocked up for the weekend.

On Thursday, an elderly woman in Waltham died after she fell and bumped her head trying to clear snow from her driveway. Police confirmed the 93-year-old, from Pennypot Lane, went back inside her house after falling, but died shortly after. Her death is not being treated as suspicious.

South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Trust (SECAmb) focused their efforts on getting to those patients who needed help the most, although the number of calls did not significantly increase. Voluntary organisations such as the Red Cross and St John Ambulance, as well as other 4×4 vehicle suppliers, assisted SECAmb in getting staff to and from work and responding to patients.

Rail boss grilled over snow chaos_4Outpatient appointments at the Kent & Canterbury Hospital were cancelled on Thursday afternoon because of concerns for patient and staff safety. Many staff were unable to get into work to run clinics or see patients, with the situation repeated at local doctors surgeries, including Saddleton Road in Whitstable.

Age Concern centres in Canterbury, Whitstable and Herne Bay were unable to open on Thursday and Friday, but did ensure their most vulnerable clients were checked up on in case of emergencies. Herne Ray Age Concern was still able to complete its meals on wheels service on both days.

Despite the majority of schools closing, St Peter’s Methodist Church Primary in Canterbury defied the conditions on Thursday and pupils held an impromptu snowman competition.

Rail boss grilled over snow chaos

Furious MPs have slammed Southeastern for its performance during the snow crisis as transport minister Philip Hammond vowed to hold the rail operator to account. The company is facing a mounting backlash over its failure to give passengers up-to-date information as hundreds of services were cancelled and some travellers forced to remain on trains overnight.

MPs summoned the operator’s managing director Charles Horton to Westminster yesterday (Wednesday) to explain why passengers were let down. Herne Bay MP Roger Gale said:

When a company seeks to devise a failsafe timetable to be implemented in times of emergency and can’t adhere to it you have to ask whether they’re capable of running a railway at all.

The relaying of information has been disastrous. The commuters I’m in contact with have been splitting blood about it. When they are let down by public services, having made the effort themselves to get to work, they are entitled to ask why those providing the service have not made the effort to get it right.

Are we the only country in the world that can’t keep trains running in the snow?

Southeastern could be stripped of its franchise in 2012 if it fails during year-long review period. That began in December 2009. According to A presentation by Mr Horton to a rail summit organised by Kent County Council, the company’s eligibility for a two-year renewal of the franchise after 2012 is dependent on train capacity, cancellations and the number of delays caused by its own problems.

Faversham MP Hugh Robert-son experienced his own problems after an hour-long journey from London to Headcorn took four hours. He said:

If you have completely unexpected cold weather then you have to live with it, but I’ve lived in Kent my whole life and almost every winter it snows.

The Office of Rail Regulation said operators should have no excuse for not providing information to customers. ORR chief executive Bill Emery said

With the great strides that have been made in communication technology passengers should expect to receive useful and timely information during disruptions. There are no excuses.

Post and bins disrupted

Rail boss grilled over snow chaos_2Canterbury City Council and Swale Borough Council suspended rubbish collections on Thursday and Friday due to the bad weather. People were advised to leave their bins out as normal for refuse lorries to collect them as soon as possible. All lorries hoped to catch up with the backlog on Monday morning.

Postal deliveries were also hampered by the conditions. Collections and deliveries across all CT post codes experienced disruption. Royal Mail took on extra delivery vans and rail services in a bid to move more mail from regional distributions centres out to homes and businesses.

Nightmare journeys for drivers and rail passengers

Many main roads were close to impassable and rural routes cut off. Southeastern trains ran a significantly reduced timetable on Thursday with services between London Victoria and Dover Priory via Canterbury East suspended by mid-morning. High-speed services between London St Pancras and Canterbury West also suffered severe delays.

On Friday, the network coped better, with only minor delays reported.

Rail boss grilled over snow chaos_3Rural stations were deserted during the worst of the conditions on Thursday. Sky News reporter Paul Harrison was live at Aylesham railway station, where he saw only one train pass through on its way to Canterbury East in 90 minutes. Later in the day, he was live at Barham crossroads at the A2 where driving conditions were hazardous.

A jackknifed lorry caused disruption on the coastbound A2 at Bridge. Emergency services attended just before 10.30am to divert traffic and recover the vehicle, between the A2050 and A260 Old Dover Road. The road reopened at 1.30pm. A gas leak in South Tankerton closed the Old Thanet Way between Reeves Way and Clover Rise.

Kentish Gazette, 09th Dec 2010

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