Snow Chaos Causes Travel Backlog

In Europe, Floods & Storms, News Headlines

Freezing conditions are continuing to bring misery for people using Britain’s airports and rail network – with forecasters predicting no respite until Boxing Day.

Airport operator BAA has warned of more delays and cancellations at Heathrow, possibly until after Christmas Day, although the second runway has now reopened.

British Airways said there was significant disruption to its flights in and out of the airport, while David Cameron admitted his “frustration” at the hold-ups.

The Prime Minister revealed the Government had offered military assistance at Heathrow – the worst-hit airport in the UK – but said BAA had turned it down.

Mick Rix, national officer for the GMB union, said it was “scandalous” of the operator to reject help when so many passengers were stranded there.

Around 600 flights were scheduled at Gatwick Airport after its overnight closure but delays were still expected.

All of the UK’s other airports are open, although many are warning of disruption to schedules and possible cancellations.

Eurostar is running a restricted service due to the continued bad weather.

Queues for Eurostar trains started building up at St Pancras station in central London from 3am.

Thousands of passengers were forced to wait for up to eight hours for trains on Monday in bitterly cold weather.

First-aiders from St John Ambulance were sent in as a precaution while people shivered in lines that stretched around the terminal building.

East Coast rail suspended all services to and from King’s Cross after severe damage to overhead power lines at Huntingdon, near Peterborough.

Several hundred passengers were stranded on a train bound for London and were forced to climb down onto the tracks.

In a statement the company said it was unlikely there would be any services from Peterborough to King’s Cross until Wednesday.

In Kent more than 100 passengers were stuck for six hours on a Southeastern train from Victoria to Ashford when lines froze.

They were eventually rescued at 3am after another train was sent alongside as a “last resor

The EU Commission has criticised Europe’s air travel disruption as unacceptable and urged airports to “get serious” about better planning for bad weather.

Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said the chaos “should not happen again”.

He also warned if necessary laws would be brought in on “minimum service requirements” – including the provision of equipment to tackle severe winter conditions.

Roads across the UK remain treacherous after temperatures fell to -17C in northern England overnight, with parts of the South dropping to -8c.

Forecasters predict sub-zero temperatures will persist over the coming days, hampering efforts to free up the frozen transport network

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has relaxed the rules on night flights at Heathrow in a bid to ease the passenger backlog.

Arrivals will be allowed until 1am, until Christmas. Special repatriation flights into London will also be permitted to operate around the clock.

Airport bosses say Heathrow is likely to operate at a reduced capacity until 6am on Thursday at the earliest.

In a statement, BAA said: “Passengers should anticipate further delays and cancellations in the following days and potentially beyond Christmas Day.”

It added that “significant cancellations” would extend into at least Wednesday, telling passengers to keep away from terminals unless they knew for sure their flight was on.

After Monday’s half mile-long queues at St Pancras, Eurostar urged people to only come to the station if they had a confirmed booking for travel.

The AA said Monday was the busiest day in its 105-year history with just over 28,000 breakdowns.

The RAC reported a similar number of calls. Both motoring organisations were expecting in the region of 19,000 breakdowns today.

In a statement to the Commons, Mr Hammond said the transport system would “struggle to recover” in the days leading up to Christmas.

The strategic road network and rail network have performed “broadly satisfactorily”, he said.

But it is not just travel that is taking the strain.

The emergency services are also struggling to cope with the freezing temperatures.

Sky’s Peter Sharp, at North Devon Hospital in Barnstaple, Devon, says staff there have been struggling to get into work.

An appeal was made on the local radio station for 4×4 vehicles to help bring doctors and nurses in from rural and isolated areas.

Forecasters predicted a dry day for much of the country but said it was unlikely the mercury would climb high enough for a thaw.

The Sky News weather team says it will be another cold night with the temperature set to plummet to -20C over the snowfields.

On Wednesday, snow showers across central parts will gradually drift southwards.

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