The wrong type of snow is a phrase coined by the British media in 1991 after severe weather caused disruption to many of British Rail's services. Despite common knowledge that snow manifests itself in various forms, a British Rail press release implied that this fact was hitherto unknown to BR management and engineering staff. Henceforth in the United Kingdom, the phrase became a byword for euphemistic and lame excuses.[1]



The phrase originated in a comment by British Rail's Director of Operations Terry Worrall on 11 February 1991 that "we are having particular problems with the type of snow". This prompted a headline in the London Evening Standard saying 'British Rail blames the wrong type of snow'[2] which was swiftly taken up by the media and other papers. The cold snap had been forecast and British Rail had claimed to be ready for the coming snow. However, the snow – which was not deep enough for snowploughs or snow blowers to be effective – was unusually soft and powdery,[3] finding its way into electrical systems and causing short circuits and traction motor damage. For traction motors with integral cooling fans and air intakes pointing downwards – the type that is still common on British electric multiple units – the problem was made worse as the air intakes sucked up the loose snow. Meanwhile, the snow also became packed into sliding door mechanisms and into points, causing them to fail.[3] In addition, low temperatures resulted in problems with electrical current collection from the third rail.

Many electric services had to be replaced by diesel haulage, and emergency timetables were introduced. Long delays were commonplace – up to eight hours in some cases. The disruption lasted over a week.[3]


The phrase "the wrong type of snow", "the wrong kind of snow" and variants appear periodically in British media reports concerning railway incidents brought on by adverse weather, with an intended polemic effect of instilling disbelief in the reader. During the December 2009 European snowfall, several Eurostar trains broke down in the Channel Tunnel, trapping 2000 passengers in the dark; newspapers reported "wrong type of fluffy snow".[4]


  • Allan, Ian. Motive Power Monthly (May 1991) ISSN 0952-2867
  • Hartley, Peter; Bruckmann, Clive G. (2002). Business Communication. Routledge. ISBN 0415195500. 
  • Gourvish, Terence (2002). British Rail, 1974-97: From Integration to Privatisation. ISBN 0199269092. 


  1. Hartley & Bruckmann 2002, p. 1.
  2. Woodward, Antony, and Penn, Robert, The Wrong Kind of Snow, How the Weather Made Britain (2008), ISBN 9780340937884.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Gourvish 2002, p. 274.
  4. Bird, Steve; Lindsay, Robert (21 December 2009). "Eurostar blames 'fluffy' snow for weekend chaos". London: The Times. Retrieved 21 December 2009.