U.K. Christmas Exodus Slowed as Storms Lash Trains, Airports
Storms that lashed southern England yesterday have closed dozens of railway lines, halted ferry sailings and left airports struggling to restore services as millions of Britons embark on journeys before Christmas.
Damage to overhead cables in winds that reach 92 miles per hour (142 kmph) threatens to leave thousands of homes in the dark on Christmas Day, spurring Prime Minister David Cameron to tweet “I’m across plans to get electricity to many without power.” More than 130,000 clients remained cut off even after 420,000 were reconnected, Energy Networks Association said.
Nine U.K. rail operators were reporting major delays as of 6 p.m., according to National Rail. Southern and South West Trains (SGC) closed in the morning to check for obstructions before offering a limited service, while high-speed routes to Scotland faced disruption this evening as the storm tracked north.
“Strong winds have damaged overhead wires and brought down more than 80 trees onto lines, and some parts of the network have been flooded,” the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the industry, said by e-mail, adding that staff were working flat out “to get people where they need to be for Christmas.”
London Gatwick airport was hit both by the shutdown at Southern, which provides the hub’s rail link, and a failure of landing and ground-lighting systems following the storm, with air traffic manager Eurocontrol predicting “moderate” flight delays there until 8 p.m. at least.
Gatwick’s northern terminal suffered “significant power outages” from flooding from the River Mole, the airport said.
EasyJet Plc (EZJ), the hub’s largest user, scrapped 38 services and postponed six overnight, Ryanair Holdings Plc (RYA), Europe’s top discount carrier, delayed departures to allow people to catch flights and British Airways, the biggest U.K. operator, said its predominantly leisure-focused services there were also affected.
The Environment Agency raised its flood-warning total for southeast England to 55, plus 99 alerts, with more than 150 warnings across Britain. Gale-force winds that prompted the Met Office to issue an “amber” alert for the southeast yesterday eased in the region today as a low-pressure system headed north, threatening damage and disruption for the rest of the U.K.
At sea, the Port of Dover closed during the storm amid safety concerns, according to its website. Sailings have now resumed and the harbor said it’s working with ferry operators to ensure people get away before it closes for Christmas.
Virgin Speed Limit
With the storm focus set to shift to Irish Sea coasts, ferry services there were being wound down. The Isle of Man Steam Packet Co. said on its website that a sailing to Heysham in England was put back from 8:45 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the earliest, and passengers due to get the return trip arriving at the island at 5:45 p.m. won’t now depart until Christmas Day.
South West Trains, which operates out of London Waterloo, commenced services after 10 a.m. today while limiting trains to a handful of routes after at least 28 fallen trees blocked rails and lines flooded in six locations.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains said services between London and Scotland were affected by track owner Network Rail’s decision to restrict speeds to 50 mph in northern England, where winds are forecast to reach 90 mph. The expresses tap power from overhead lines that can be brought down in gusty conditions.
Many passengers have heeded advise to leave earlier than planned, spokesman Ken Gibbs said. The last Scotland train was due to depart London around 5 p.m., and like the bulk of U.K. operators Virgin will then close for two days until Dec. 27.
First Great Western (FGP) and the Stansted Express that connects London with the airport, the biggest base for Ryanair, also said services were disrupted.
London’s Heathrow airport, Europe’s busiest, said operations were largely back to normal, with some hangover from yesterday, when more than 40 flights were lost. Passengers should still get to their Christmas destinations after being switched to other services or departing later today, it said.
Elsewhere in Europe, strong winds also reduced the rate of aircraft arrivals at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and the city’s secondary hub, Orly. Eurocontrol also warned airlines the two airports were not available as alternatives and recommended pilots carry more fuel in case they had to divert.
Meteo-France issued “amber” alerts for violent winds in the north and east, with “yellow” warning applying across much of the rest of the country.
More to Come
ERDF, which runs France’s electrical-distribution system, said employees were working to restore 240,000 customers who lost electricity last night. Most were in the far north, with 130,000 in Brittany and 35,000 in Normandy.
SNCF rail services between Brest and Saint Brieuc were cut briefly after storm damage, and a car carrying nuclear waste derailed yesterday at Drancy, six miles from Paris, with an investigation underway, according to the government.
A Swiss skipper and his co-captain whose sailboat capsized in the English Channel last night while returning from a trans-Atlantic race were rescued this morning by a Norwegian boat, AFP reported, citing the coastguard. Their yacht sank.
The U.K. Met Office warned that another Atlantic depression will bring a further spell of wet and stormy weather at the end of this week. The current system is forecast to produce heavy snowfalls in northern England and Scotland.
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