Saturday, December 18, 2010

Snow stops trains, planes & automobiles

Britain once again came to a halt after a little snow disrupted trains, planes and automobiles. Most rail services experiences problems and nearly every airport in Britain was shut at some point on Saturday. Meanwhile those who took to the roads found themselves in traffic jams of slow moving traffic. Many areas were not gritted with local authorities seemingly caught out by the wintry conditions. And in the last weekend before Christmas many shoppers found themselves trapped in car parks as motorists experienced problems exiting some multi-stories after encountering ice on ramps.

Airport closures hit thousands of passengers across the UK. Heathrow was shut for most of the day and will stay shut until Sunday. Gatwick was also affected but reopened by early evening though many flights were cancelled. The disruption was not confined to Britain however. Airports in Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands also saw cancellations and delays.

In the north there was more than 25cm of snow while parts of London and the south-east of England was under a blanket of snow around 10cm deep. Northern Ireland experienced some of the heaviest snowfall for 25 years, with more forecast. But both Northern Ireland and Scotland faired better than the south. Belfast International Airport and Belfast City airports have reopened, although there are knock-on effects from other closures. Meanwhile Scottish airports are open but are being affected by closures elsewhere.

Motorists ignored advice to stay off the roads and many routes became gridlocked. Drivers spoke of journey times of more than 2 hours to travel just a few kilometres. Problems were further compounded as gritting lorries became trapped in the queues of stationary traffic.

Most motorway networks were free-flowing but in parts of Wales and on the M25 in Surrey jackknifed lorries created problems for thousand of motorists. Jon Caudwell, from the Highways Agency, said they were doing their best to keep major roads in England clear but needed help from motorists who he said should "really seriously consider" whether they needed to go out. Caudwell said he was surprised at the level of traffic on the roads, given the advice not to travel.

Many drivers broke down and the Automobile Association said they had attended more than 11,000 breakdowns by 17:30 GMT on Saturday, with calls peaking at 1,200 every hour, twice the normal rate.

Many rail operators were running reduced services, including Southeastern, South West Trains, Southern Railway and First Capital Connect. London's Underground also saw delays adding to problems for shoppers as they hunted for last minute bargains. Brent Cross shopping centre in London was forced to close, angering Christmas shoppers, many of whom had to leave their cars behind. And motorists found themselves facing long queues and delays as they attempted to leave Lakeside shopping centre in Essex.

The cold spell is expected to to continue for several days and many Britons may see the first white Christmas in years. But there is little enthusiasm amongst many who have only experienced traffic jams, cancelled engagements, flights and travel plans [BBC / Sky / CNN].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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