Arctic Warming Rapidly This Autumn: Hot, Hot, Hot
The Arctic is far too warm this year in autumn when compared to other average years. Traditionally in November the arctic cools, freezing the Arctic Ocean’s surface and sea ice returns. 2016 has been different: Danish and US researchers have shown air temperatures have peaked at 20 Celsius higher than normal for the time of year. In addition, sea temperatures averaging nearly 4C higher than usual in October and November. Temperatures have been only a few degrees above freezing when -25C should be expected at this time of year. As a result, on 19 November, the extent of Arctic sea ice was nearly 1 million square kilometres lower (8.633 million vs 9.504 million) than it was on that date in 2012.
The actual temperature difference between the Arctic and mid-latitudes has been much reduced due to the melting of summer Arctic sea ice. This differential of temperatures has altered the jet stream allowing more warmth and moisture to be driven towards northern latitudes, further warming the region. This has helped to perpetuate the warmth in the Arctic creating a vicious circle of warming. As a result the lowest ice extent ever recorded for late November has been observed.
Sea surface temperatures in the Kara and Barents seas, both located north of Russia, are much warmer than usual. The earlier than usual spring break up of ice has lead to air temperatures warming and this in turn affects the ability of the sea to freeze. It is an example of positive feedback events that rapidly perpetuate certain conditions: in this case more warming leading to increases in temperature again and so on. This warming has been very rapid and is extraordinary. It is likely to mean less sea ice in 2017.
More on this story can be found on the Guardian web site and this article on the Medium website. It is important to realise that the Arctic ice levels affect the rest of the world. Global temperatures are regulated by the Arctic: if it gets warmer there, our weather systems are likely to change. Without Arctic sea ice, the global climate is likely to be altered dramatically.
Stealth Railway Station Closure?
There is a railway station closure proposal for a small station in the Midlands of the United Kingdom. The station in question is that of Norton Bridge which serves a small hamlet with a population of around 600 but is also a rail head for the larger town of Eccleshall, Staffordshire and surrounding villages such as Yarnfield and Swynnerton. Eccleshall has a population of around 4,600 and Yarnfield and Swynnerton have a further 4,500 people. This combined population would have the ability to support a frequent rail service.
Back in 2004 as part of an upgrade of the West Coast mainline railway, on which the station is situated, the station had its footbridge removed and this was not replaced. Instead of building a new replacement bridge thus allowing people to get to the station, the decision was made to stop train services and use substitute buses replacing trains instead. According to this Wikipedia page the station used to have a relatively healthy usage with around 4,700 people per annum using the station during the year 2002/3. This figure fell to around 2,000 users in 2004/5 which reflects the removal of the footbridge and the bus substitution. From that time onward there has been a decline in passengers using the service. The bus substitute takes almost half an hour from Stafford as opposed to the less than 10 minute journey that the train would have taken for the just over 5 mile (around 7.5km) journey.
The area around Norton Bridge has recently benefited from a £250 million railway upgrade scheme that improved the junction. No part of the budget was used to consider reinstatement of the station footbridge or a new station, which would now be needed in order to replicate the former service pattern from Stafford to Stoke-On-Trent. This improvement is an example of speeding up thorough trains between large population centres at the expense of smaller settlements, a sort of urban-rural disparity where smaller places are becoming relatively more cut off. There is a closure document that highlights the new railway layout and how it affects the viability of the station due to its now inappropriate location following the works. The works clearly did not account for re-instating the station and service. The station location is now sited on the high speed lines where express trains could be delayed by local services stopping at Norton Bridge station.
A government proposal has been published to shut the station fully and withdraw the bus service. It is on the gov.uk website. The proposal discusses the bus service as a “temporary situation” which has “existed for 12 years”. The temporary situation was actually caused by government owned Network Rail’s poor management of the West Coast railway upgrade which vastly exceeded its budget by millions of pounds. The bridge removal should have been a bridge upgrade but resources could not be justified easily after such an excessive overspend. An assessment was carried out by the Department for Transport in accordance with the Railway Closures Guidance to see if railway reinstatement would represent value for money. The conclusion for reinstating train services has “concluded that this is neither an appropriate nor responsible use of resources”.
According to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) usage of the station by passengers during 2014-2015 was not recorded. The figures have not been recorded for several years now. This information is available on the ORR web site. This is a convenient omission perhaps? We no longer have a case to justify objecting to the closure now that numbers have not been recorded. Given that many other railway stations have been recording very significant passenger increases over the last 10 years and continue to do so, then should investment be made to reopen this station?
Evidence may suggest that there could have been a longer term plan to close this station when the footbridge removal made the station inaccessible back in 2004. Given the area has had much new investment to re-route railway lines in the area meaning that the former service to Stoke-On-Trent is no longer an option. This personal travel blog post had preempted the forthcoming closure of the station. Norton Bridge is a dying hamlet with the pub, ironically named the Railway Inn, having closed. With no public transport the settlement is not likely to thrive either.
Representations about the closure proposal should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org or Norton Bridge Consultation, Department for Transport, Great Minster House, 33 Horseferry Road, London, SW1P 4DR NO LATER THAN 3 FEBRUARY 2017.
This closure is likely to be the first of many of similar stations that have had their services withdrawn or reduced down to such a level that they no longer serve a purpose. Closures such as this remove the possibility of sustainable transport options in the future. It could be argued that this is very much closure by stealth.
South West Rail Flooding (Again)
Over the weekend of 19/20 November 2016 the UK was hit by Storm Angus. This storm brought with it much rainfall over a very short period of time across much of the UK. In the South West around 10% of the annual rainfall fell within two days resulting in much flooding. As a result the only two main rail routes into Devon were both closed: one with flooding covering the single line at Whimple (as seen in this image) and the other, outside Exeter, where tracks were washed out. This occurred at a place called Cowley Bridge Junction which is a strategic junction on the network. Tracks were left hanging in the air after flood waters washed over the railway line in several places and engineers had to restore power and signalling the line. Re-opening of the line was, however, ahead of schedule and within two days of the floods having passed. This flood event, which hit large parts of the UK, highlights the importance of resilient transport infrastructure that needs to cope with more frequent extreme weather events.