The Day Britain Stopped
was actually quite a good programme in the end, despite the doubts I expressed here recently. Sure, there were a few parts that didn't ring true such as there being no adequate explanation for the gridlock on the motorway network outside the M25 - to gridlock even a stretch takes a serious accident, such as the crashes on the M25, yet the possibility of a series of crashes causing enough disruption to block that many motorways is very low. Yes, the program was looking at a combination of events coming together, but the whole idea seemed to have been included solely so they could feature Lineker and Hansen saying the England match in Manchester had been cancelled (which is another flaw - an England international on December 19th?)
Also, there was one fact that was wrong. After the accident, they referred to tailbacks on the M25 growing at 'a mile a minute' which means that the back end of the queues was growing at 60mph. To understand how strange that would be, imagine driving down one carriageway of a motorway at 60mph when the opposite carriageway has been closed because of an accident. You'll drive past a long queue of traffic caused by the closure, but eventually you'll reach the end of the queue. For it to be growing at a mile a minute, the end of the queue would be travelling with you as you went at 60mph. I have heard before a figure of 15mph for the speed at which queues on the M25 can grow after a closure, though.
However, aside from those few moments, and the strange experience of seeing Anna Rajan (who I've worked with) appearing as herself while all the others featured were depicted by actors, it was a very interesting programme. After this and Smallpox 2002, the BBC seem to have invented (or at least defined) a new genre - the serious mock-documentary. Usually the fake documentary format is used for satirical purposes - these are the first times I've seen it used to examine a serious issue.
And it is a serious issue - working in the field I do (reporting travel news) means I see on a regular basis how easy it is to cause chaos from what seems like a minor problem. The most recent example that everyone saw was the problems snow caused in Ja
nuary (and don't get me started on how a light flutter of snow can paralyse Britain), but there are serious delays somewhere in the country every day (with, on average, ten people dying on the roads every day as well) and it doesn't take much for two or more incidents to come together and create havoc. The Day Britain Stopped did take an extreme example of this, but it was still a plausible and logical example. For those who haven't seen it, the situation is that on the day of a rail and tube strike, there's a serious crash on the M25 that shuts it in both directions on the section between Heathrow and Gatwick. Because of the gridlock, air traffic controllers can't get to Heathrow and West Drayton (one of England's main air traffic control centres), with the staff who do make it being pushed to the limit. This, coupled to faults already present in the air traffic control system, leads to a mid-air collision of two planes over Hounslow.
There are serious problems with our transport infrastructure, and one of the more telling contributions at the end of the documentary, from a fictional Labour MP and Transport Minister called Tom Walker (not blogland's own MP, Tom Watson
) is that no Government wants to make the investment in infrastructure necessary to rectify the long-term problems because the pay-off is so much further in the future than Governments like to think about (or 'beyond the next election' to put it in terms of political time). Yes, effort is made to fix the pressing problems of the moment, but there seems to be a new long-term plan announced every year proclaiming a great transport system will be in place by 2020. Then, nothing happens and twelve months later a new plan comes out saying we'll have a great system by 2021... and so on.
In terms purely of London and the South-east, I think this is one way getting the 2012 Olympics could be a good thing as it would give a fixed deadline. Some things can be postponed - the Olympics can't and it would mean that the transport infrastructure for that area would have to be in place, or the country would risk international humiliation. It is possible - look what Sydney achieved for the 2000 Olympics, or France for the 1998 World Cup - but it seems that there has to be a definite motivation to get things done. I don't preten to know what the solutions are here, but I think we do need to have a serious national debate about this issue before we're forced into it by an event that so far is only the subject of fictional documentaries.