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London Heathrow Link Stays Shut by Fire Amid Holiday Exodus

London Heathrow Rail Line Shut by Fires Amid Holiday Exodus
British Airways, the biggest operator at the airport, said 111,000 travelers will be flying today across its network. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

London Heathrow airport’s main rail link to the U.K. capital faces continued disruption tomorrow after being shut because of equipment damage today, the hub’s busiest day of the holiday season.

The service will remain closed for at least part of Saturday as repairs continue, said Russell Spink, a spokesman for Network Rail, which runs the tracks. The company had hoped to restore service today for the Heathrow Express trains, which depart for Europe’s busiest airport every 15 minutes, and the slower Heathrow Connect services, the company said.

The branch route to Heathrow was shut after water penetrated a line-side transformer at its junction with the Great Western main line yesterday, causing a fire. A second blaze damaged gear at Acton, closer to London’s Paddington station. Two of four lines to Paddington remain closed, limiting services to southwest England and Wales, and people are advised to check websites before traveling.

“It’s not just a case of flicking a switch,” Network Rail spokesman Chris Denham said. “The systems need to be brought back gradually. Much of the line-side equipment is quite old, dating from the 1960s, and is scheduled to be replaced.”

London Heathrow is expected to attract 105,000 departing passengers today, the most during the Christmas holiday, as some Britons opt to spend the holidays abroad and overseas visitors fly out to be with friends and family.

British Airways, the biggest operator at the airport, said 111,000 travelers will be flying today across its network.

Trains to the west of England and south Wales operated by FirstGroup Plc’s First Great Western unit are also affected.

Network Rail is advising travelers wanting to use public transport to take the London subway’s Piccadilly line, which connects with Heathrow. The service was running without disruptions at 5 p.m., according to the website for Tube and bus service operator Transport for London.

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