Storm Pia brings Christmas travel woes


British Airways was forced to make changes to its flight schedule after air traffic control restrictions in response to the storm, which brought winds of up to 115mph…reports Asian Lite News

The Christmas getaway has been thrown into chaos after Storm Pia brought the transport network to a standstill. All trains going north from London Euston were cancelled for three hours and those from King’s Cross were delayed.

Eurostar and Channel Tunnel services were also cancelled after a sudden strike by French workers, and passengers waiting for ferries at Dover faced 90-minute delays.

British Airways was forced to make changes to its flight schedule after air traffic control restrictions in response to the storm, which brought winds of up to 115mph.

The disruption raised fears that Friday, which is already set to be the busiest day on the roads, will be miserable after passengers unable to travel on Thursday were forced to delay their journeys or drive instead.

The problem is set to be compounded by the planned closure of King’s Cross and Paddington on Christmas Eve for engineering works, further limiting the time passengers have to leave the capital.

Network Rail initially blamed the weather for the disruption at Euston, saying high winds had damaged overhead power lines, but it later emerged that the line was brought to a standstill by an electrical fault on a train.

Train companies, whose disputes with the unions have already brought the country to a standstill this year, were urged to put on extra services to ensure everyone can get home.

MPs said it was ridiculous to blame the weather for the chaos.

Greg Smith, Tory MP and member of the Commons transport select committee, said: “Train operating companies cannot get away every Christmas with blaming the weather for the appalling service. Bad weather at this time of year is not unusual.

“Millions of people need to get around the country to spend time with relatives at Christmas, and they need to get home. But the operators wheel out the excuse of the weather when anyone in the country could have predicted what was going to happen.

“They need to urgently lay on buses – preferably coaches – or find other ways so that people who have paid these extortionate prices for their tickets can get home.”

Both Avanti and LNER, the two main operators serving the North, said they would accept Thursday tickets for Friday’s trains.

However, the railways are already set to be busy, with a survey by passenger group Transport Focus finding that one in four people planning to travel by rail over the Christmas period would be travelling on Friday.

The RAC estimated 13.5 million leisure journeys by car would take place across the UK between Friday and Sunday, up 20 per cent on the three days before Christmas Day last year.

Anyone attempting to drive as an alternative to the railways faces the peak of road congestion on Friday as drivers embarking on leisure trips compete for road space with commuters and business traffic.

Motorists are being advised to travel before 11am or after 6pm if possible to reduce the chance of being stuck in long queues. London Paddington will be closed between December 24 and 27, meaning no mainline trains will serve Heathrow Airport during that period. King’s Cross will also be closed on Christmas Eve.

Smith urged Network Rail to cancel these works. “This is what is happening on the roads – roadworks have been reduced to the bare minimum over Christmas,” he said.

“Network Rail should have done the same. Millions of people are moving around the country and it is just plain stupid to have engineering works at such a critical time of year.”

Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, said: “At this time of year people are relying on public transport so they can spend Christmas with loved ones. But constant chaos on the railways is adding hours onto people’s journeys and the trains that are running are overcrowded.

“Rail companies must do more to make sure that people can get home for the holidays, whether that’s more carriages on the trains that are running or suitable replacement options to make sure people aren’t stranded.”

Gusts of 115mph were recorded at Cairngorm Summit on Thursday and winds of 81mph were recorded at Brizlee Wood, near Alnwick, Northumberland.

TransPennine Express urged passengers to avoid travelling to or from Edinburgh all day on Thursday, and to only make journeys to and from Carlisle and Manchester, Liverpool and Preston after 3pm.

On Thursday afternoon, Network Rail originally said there were no trains from Euston because of damaged overhead power cables.

But later they said the real problem was a fault on a single train. Services began again, but delays were expected to continue for hours. A spokesman said: “The incident took place in the Bourne End area at around 12.15pm and is believed to have been caused by a fault on a train.

“All lines were closed while investigations took place into the incident, including drone surveys of the lines, but trains were on the move soon after 3pm.” The problems affected Avanti West Coast services between London Euston and Scotland. At least 144 trains departing from Euston and Kings Cross were cancelled on Thursday, affecting up to 85,000 people trying to leave the capital alone.

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