21 Dec 2010

UK snow: East Coast rail route shut, more Eurostar queues

Communities Editor

Rail passengers faced major travel disruption as the East Coast route linking London and Scotland was suspended, although the situation is likely to improve tomorrow, as Darshna Soni discovers.

Services on the UK’s main rail route between London, the north and Scotland were scrapped for the day as Christmas travellers faced yet more misery. East Coast trains from London King’s Cross were cancelled after severe damage to overhead power lines near Peterborough – but they are likely to be back to normal by Wednesday morning.

The firm said in a statement: “East Coast is advising all of its passengers not to travel today (Tuesday), as all train services to and from London King’s Cross have been suspended for the rest of the day, due to damage to overhead power lines at Huntingdon, near Peterborough.

“East Coast is also advising all passengers who have arrived at King’s Cross to go home and restart their journeys tomorrow.”

UK weather: snowy rail tracks as train passengers face problems. (Reuters)

I want to get back to see my parents who I haven’t seen for two years. It’s not a good situation. Mark Brett

Mark Brett lives in China and is trying to get back to see family in Newcastle. He told Channel 4 News he is now trying to travel north from St Pancras.

He said: “I’m not a happy person really. I want to get home as quickly as I can. We’ve travelled in from Shanghai, we were delayed for a day in Dubai and that was inconvenient too.

“I want to get back to see my parents who I haven’t seen for two years. It’s not a good situation.”

Prime Minister David Cameron has blamed the “coldest December for 100 years” for the ongoing transport problems but promised to take action “across the board” to “get people moving”.

Follow #c4news snow and travel live blog

East Coast managing director Karen Boswell said: “East Coast apologises for the inconvenience this will cause to passengers who are planning to travel today due to severe damage to the overhead power lines.

“Network Rail staff are on site and are working fast to fix the problem but unfortunately we currently have no estimate as to when the line will re-open.

“Our staff are working hard to get our passengers currently on route to their destinations as soon as possible with the minimum disruption.”

Government transport expert David Quarmby has called for better information to be given to rail passengers during winter disruption to services.

UK snow: Eurostar customers waiting for trains at St Pancras, London. (Reuters)

Eurostar queues, day two

Thousands of passengers are queuing for a second day in the hope of catching a Eurostar train to destinations including Paris and Brussels.

The queues are as long as Monday, although they are slowly moving. Eurostar staff are at the back of the queue advising passengers on whether they can expect to travel. Only people with tickets are being told to wait.

Those joining the queue have been told they will have to wait for around five hours outside before waiting again inside St Pancras Station.

Eurostar says 80 per cent of its trains are running and it is hopeful that all passengers with tickets will be able to travel.

Airports latest

Delays and cancellations continue at the UK’s major airports, with Heathrow still the worst affected. It is operating no more than a third of scheduled flights with just one runway open.

In a statement, the airport’s operator BAA warned that passengers should expect there to be delays and cancellations “potentially beyond Christmas Day.” It said that many areas of the airfield would not be usable until Wednesday morning at the earliest.

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews has promised a thorough investigation into events at Heathrow.

At Gatwick, which reopened early this morning, 600 flights are scheduled today and around 100,000 passengers are expected to travel through the airport.

“Knock-on delays and cancellations are likely throughout the day, due to the ongoing impact of snow across northern Europe,” a spokesperson for the airport said.

‘Challenging’ road conditions ahead

The Government and highway authorities “may find it challenging” to meet road salt requirements for the rest of the winter, a Whitehall-commissioned report has said.

David Quarmby also said there was “an opportunity” for more to be spent by transport operators to combat severe conditions.

Speaking as he launched his report, Mr Quarmby said: “We are all struggling but maybe businesses and the Government will make a decision to up (the level) of resources.

The report added: “The use of road salt has been high so far. In spite of record salt stocks and the new national strategic reserve, Government and highway authorities may find it challenging to meet requirements for the rest of the winter.

“To ease the large demand for road salt, a priority should be making the guidance on lower spread rates produced by the national winter service research group available to all authorities urgently in an easily accessible format.”