U.K. Commuters Struggle to Get Home as Storm Halts Trains

U.K. residents who braved southern England’s worst winds in five years to get to work today face a demanding journey home as rail companies curb timetables after trees were blown across tracks and brought down power lines.

Commuter specialist Greater Anglia and the Stansted Express airport link halted service until further notice, while Southern Trains was among operators to reduce frequencies amid a struggle to restore routes in the aftermath of a storm that saw gusts peak at 99 miles per hour. London Overground expects disruption to continue until at least 10 p.m., with few of its lines open.

Devastation wrought by the low pressure system blocked tracks, severed overhead electricity cables and closed a nuclear power plant as it swept through this morning, leaving more than 600,000 without power. As many as four people died in weather-related accidents in the U.K., with falling trees killing a car driver, crushing a caravan and linked to a London gas explosion.

“The damage caused by the storm has been more severe than expected,” said Robin Gisby, managing director for operations at Network Rail Ltd., the owner of Britain’s train tracks, who added that more than 100 trees had fallen across lines or wires.

Three long-distance lines connecting London with northern England were blocked and hundreds of commuter services were scrapped across the south. Engineers checked track for obstacles that might derail trains or cause people to be trapped for hours.

Stagecoach Plc’s South West Trains, Britain’s top commuter operator, halted at least 160 services due to the storm before commencing a “phased re-introduction.” It warned that further cancellations and alterations were to be expected.

Tube Delays

Go-Ahead Group Plc’s Southeastern, which serves 179 commuter stations, said most connections had been restored after more than 50 trees blocked tracks. Sister franchise Southern’s Gatwick Express shuttles to London’s second-busiest airport returned to running normally after major disruption.

East Midlands Trains will run no services out of London St. Pancras until tomorrow following overhead wire damage, though the station’s Eurostar Group Ltd. services were running as timetabled and billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains, reliant on Pendolino expresses that also draw power from cables vulnerable to high winds, aimed to restore schedules by 4 p.m.

Rival London-Scotland operator East Coast warned of hour-long delays and First Great Western, which links the capital with Wales and southwest England, was curtailing services.

On the London Underground subway there were delays on the Piccadilly and District lines, with minor disruptions reported on the Northern line. All other services are operating normally.

Ferries Marooned

The storm, which developed over the Atlantic and was strengthened by a strong jet stream and warm air near Britain, was the worst to hit the south of the country since 2008 and the most severe to arrive in the fall in 11 years, the Met Office said. The system produced as much as 50 millimeters (2 inches) of rain, with flooding exacerbated by wind-blown debris

The storm’s impact was also felt in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, where warnings of hurricane-force winds prompted the idling of ferry services.

Falling trees killed a man in his 50s as he was driving in Watford, north of London, and crushed a 17-year-old girl as she slept in a caravan in Kent, the Press Association reported, citing local police. A downed tree may also have caused a gas explosion in Hounslow that killed two people, according to London’s Metropolitan Police.

Some 200,000 U.K. customers remain without power after 407,000 connections were restored, Energy Networks Association said. UK Power Networks, which distributes more than a quarter of Britain’s electricity, said helicopter patrols were being carried out to assess the state of overhead lines.

Reactors Idled

Dungeness B nuclear power station, one of nine in Britain, automatically shut down both reactors after electricity supplies to the site were cut off, spokeswoman Sue Fletcher by telephone, and it may be a week before the facility is up and running again.

London Heathrow, Europe’s busiest aviation hub, scrapped about 20 percent of flights between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. and 10 percent between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., with cross-winds well in excess of the 30 mph that can hamper landings and takeoffs. The airport, which usually has close to 1,300 services a day, said about 5 percent of flights would be scrapped from 4 p.m. onwards.

All London-area airports advised passengers to check with airlines on the status of flights before setting out.

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