Friday, December 2, 2011

Latest travel advice: More misery as Gatwick and Edinburgh airports close for second day

Standstill: Airports have employed extra people to try to clear the runways, but to no avail

Tens of thousands of passengers due to fly out of Gatwick and Edinburgh today saw their travel plans in tatters as the airports closed for a second day.

Gatwick shut down with hundreds of flights cancelled after two runways became inoperable.

An airport spokesman said: 'We are doing everything we can to resume operations, however conditions have deteriorated considerably.

'Our teams are working around the clock to make the runway safe for aircraft to use and get our airlines and passengers flying again.

'We brought in extra people to try to clear the runway. We had a vast army of people, but as fast as they were clearing the snow, the quicker it settled again.'

A statement said Gatwick will remain shut until at least 6am at the 'very, very earliest'.

Passengers in Scotland were also left stranded after Edinburgh airport was shut because of the harsh weather. However unlike Gatwick, it hopes to be open later today.

A statement said: 'We anticipate that the runway will be clear and open at 4pm,' adding 'please don't travel to the airport before then.'

Also hit was London City airport who this morning announced the closure of their runway until 2pm on Friday.

Frozen to the spot: Blizzards leave cars in Eastbourne, East Sussex, under a blanket of snow

At Luton, staff proudly announced that the airport 'is fully open and operational', but did warn passengers there may be a knock-on effect from other airports which may need to cancellations.

There was a similar message at Heathrow and also at Newcastle International Airport. A statement from Tyneside said: 'Significant snow has resulted in some disruption.

Passengers due to travel from the airport should still arrive as planned but should be prepared for changes to scheduled arrivals and departures.

Just after 11am a spokesman for Heathrow said: 'There are currently 99 mostly short-haul departures cancelled throughout today's schedule, as well as 102 arrivals. Over a thousand flights are still scheduled to operate today to and from Heathrow.'

Stranded: Lorries were stuck on the M25 in Reigate, Surrey, yesterday after heavy snow. Motoring organisations say councils have failed to plan properly for winter

White landscape: A woman tries to dig out her car in heavy snow near Edinburgh

Stansted airport is open and operating well with only eight cancellations scheduled so far today. Additional flights are being operated by airlines usually based at Gatwick, which is closed.

Manchester and Birmingham both claimed to be operating normally, adding: 'Although forecasts anticipate some snow flurries this morning we don't expect any significant disruption.'

Trains were also affected, with Eurostar reporting delays of up to 90 minutes.
A statement on their website said: 'Due to the current weather conditions, Eurostar will be operating a significantly reduced timetable on Thursday 2 December, with a number of cancellations. In addition, Eurostar services will be subject to delays of up to 90 minutes.

'Therefore we are strongly advising passengers booked for Thursday to postpone their journey if it is not essential, and are offering free exchanges or refunds.'

Around the country the big freeze tightened its grip with scores of cancelled railway services and chaos on the roads bringing the South to a standstill.

Six inches of snow in Kent overnight saw rail operators throw in the towel and cancel many services, leaving commuters with no way of getting into the capital.

And forecasters say there could be another eight inches across the east of England today as blizzards are forecast across the South East.

Gridlocked roads around the country were this morning leaving stranded motorists asking 'Where are the gritters?'

Conditions on the railways were no better as 300 commuters were forced to spend the night on an stranded train in West Sussex after heavy snow caused a series of line failures.

An attempt to 'shunt' the stuck Southern train into action failed and after being made to get off and wait on the platform for an hour, passengers were forced to reboard and spend the night in the stationary carriages.

Southern Trains were telling commuters this morning 'Sorry there are no trains at all until at least 10am'.

Yesterday the M25 – Britain’s busiest motorway – was among those reduced to nothing more than a car park because snow fell before gritters treated the surface.

Schools across the country were closed for a second day, giving hundreds of thousands of pupils a midweek break.

With millions caught up in the chaos, questions were today mounting over the failure to treat the roads despite councils and the Highways Agency boasting they were prepared.

And forecasters warned of the big freeze tightening its grip for the rest of the week, with more snow on the way and temperatures expected to plunge as low as -25C.

The failure to prepare for the widely forecast severe weather cost the economy at least £1.5billion yesterday in lost work. It saw:

Police warning drivers to travel only if it was ‘vital’ because roads were so dangerous.

The key A1 and M1 routes to the North hit by jams and closures throughout the day and virtually every main road across the Pennines blocked.

A total of 700,000 children given the day off school despite promises that classes would stay open after February’s big freeze.

Home Counties areas including eastern Surrey, Kent and south-east London were hardest hit by the weather, along with Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. Millions of workers arrived late or simply took a day off as the transport system collapsed.

Despite 3,300 gritters, new gritting technology and stockpiles of rock salt being replenished, most roads were simply not treated on time.

The failure prompted Transport Secretary Philip Hammond to order an urgent review of what went wrong. He warned there had been ‘complacency’ over planning for the big freeze.

Lost in the white stuff: Motorists made slow progress as they attempted to drive through the centre of York

‘I share the frustration of the travelling public and we need to be sure that we are doing everything possible to keep Britain moving,’ he said.

‘In extreme weather conditions some disruption is inevitable but there is no excuse for poor communication with passengers and motorists.’

The review followed a similar crisis in February – when Britain ground to a halt in two weeks of freezing weather – which itself prompted a review.

Miserable map: Met Office graphics reveal the swirling winds and dense cloud cover blanketing Britain

Taking it easy: Cars and vans drive through the slushy centre of Guisborough, North Yorkshire

On Tuesday the Highways Agency said it was ‘confident that the strategic road network’ would stay open.

‘We have 230,000 tons of salt and our fleet of 500 salt spreaders are operating day and night to keep the motorways and major A-roads open,’ said spokesman Mark Powell.
But yesterday the M25, M20, M23, M2, M3, M1, A1, A66, and A69 were among the vital motorways and trunk roads closed for all or part of the day.

As the chaos worsened, councils suggested it was the Government’s cuts which were to blame.

A spokesman for the Local Government Association said: ‘Most people in this country wouldn’t be willing to pay more council tax or see money diverted from other services to spend more on gritting.’

On Tuesday night at Orpington, Kent, parents with children were stranded on a train for more than ten hours.

Scores of passengers were forced to sleep in broken-down trains overnight after two trains became stuck in the snow.

Grounded: Planes sit on the tarmac at Gatwick Airport which shut down yesterday

Any port in a storm: A passenger at Gatwick Airport finds somewhere to rest in the hand luggage area

Rail services around the country are also expected to be disrupted through today, with special timetables running in worst-hit areas.

A fifth of all trains were cancelled yesterday and at least a third were severely delayed – leading to the prospect of it being fined for its performance.

Southeastern trains services to Kent and East Sussex were reduced to a fraction of their normal level and hundreds of thousands of regular passengers were unable to get to work. Buses which were ordered to replace them got stuck in the snow which had hit areas around London.

A spokesman for Network Rail said that the south and east were expected to be hardest hit by the weather overnight.

Asked how operators are handling the hazard, the spokesman said: 'I wouldn't want to generalise about the country as a whole as there are some train operators that have run a near perfect service today - yet if you move further south you'll find 2ft of snow and disrupted services.

'We are expecting particularly heavy snow tonight in Kent and Sussex, and while there will be a contingency timetable in operation, people can expect delays and should check online if possible before they start their journey.'

The spokesman added that rail crews will be working through the night, with special 'ghost trains' running to keep lines and points free of ice.

'We will also have railroad treatment trains that spray anti-freeze, snowploughs on standby to deal with any drifts, and thousands of people out working through the night so that we can run as full a service as possible,' he said.

According to the National Rail website, more than half of the 28 train operators across the country had their timetables affected by the weather, with eight operators reporting 'major' delays and disruptions and a further eight suffering delays on some routes.

Regions hit worst by the weather included Scotland, the north and east.
East Coast, which runs trains in Scotland and the northeast, advised passengers not to travel unless absolutely necessary, warning that the weather was causing disruptions to 'all services'

Trusty old girl: Tourists enjoy the 70-year-old steam engine of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway as it powers through snowy conditions which brought modern trains to a halt

First TransPennine Express and Grand Central which both operate out of the the north of England, also said that there were cancellations and major delays, with services out of Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds Middlesbrough and Nottingham affected.

Southeastern was running a limited contingency timetable 'due to the continued ice and snowy weather conditions', while Southern Railway's services were disrupted and all Gatwick Express services were suspended.

Going nowhere: Trains sit idle by icy platforms at Orpington in Kent

A spokesman for Southern Railway said: 'We will continue to do everything we can to run our planned services but passengers should be prepared for short notice alterations, cancellations and delays.

'We are currently running a revised Sussex Coast timetable and tomorrow plan to do the same.'

Britons hoping to pop over to mainland Europe to escape the bad weather will also be out of luck.

Eurostar Group Ltd., which runs the high-speed trains between London, Paris and Brussels, has cancelled seven of its services between London and Paris today and five between Paris and Brussels because of weather conditions

The long road home: Traffic queues around the M25 in Kent as snow causes travel chaos for commuters last night

Employment law firm Peninsula said a study of over 850 firms carried out today showed that 57 per cent of workers arrived in their offices, shops or factories late yesterday morning, with the north of England hit the hardest.

Insurance firm RSA has estimated that the bad weather could cost the struggling British economy up to £1.2 billion a day, with retailers and the restaurant industry likely to be the worst affected.

How the M25 became a car park

Congestion was already heavy on the M25 when, at the height of the Tuesday evening rush hour, a lorry jackknifed.

Two clockwise lanes were closed between junctions 8 and 9 for Reigate and Leatherhead in Surrey – and the chaos rapidly spread.

Up to 400 lorries and hundreds more cars became stranded overnight and there were massive queues around the Swanley area where the M25 joins the M20.

The jams stopped all prospect of the motorway being kept running as gritters and snowploughs could not get through.

At its high point late on Tuesday, the gridlock stretched around about a quarter of the 119-mile M25 – from Reigate to the Dartford Crossing.

Paul Watters, head of roads policy for the AA, said the problem was that lorries got into difficulty when going uphill on the icy motorway.

‘They start slithering and sliding around, and their weight compacts the snow so much that it turns into one massive sheet of ice that neither man nor beast can shift.
‘It turns the M25 into one big ice-rink, so the gritters can’t get through.’

Mr Watters added that there should be ‘smarter thinking’ about preventing vehicles continuing to join motorways once they are gridlocked.

‘You must take traffic off.

‘There is no point whatsoever in sending people on to a motorway that is blocked a few miles up.’

The whitemare... and the winter wonderland

To those caught in endless traffic jams or freezing on platforms as they waited for long-delayed trains, the snow was unlikely to raise a smile.

But for others liberated from work and school, it brought a simple delight in the beauty of a Britain blanketed more heavily and much earlier in the winter than normal.

Hundreds of thousands of children given a day off took sledges from cupboards and tea trays from kitchens to enjoy the slopes.

Impressive: An artist puts the finishing touches to his 50ft snow dragon in Nottinghamshire

And while the most modern trains could not cope with the freeze, a 70-year-old steam engine on the preserved North Yorkshire Moors Railway showed that traditional modes of transport can keep going in the worst of conditions.

Those who enjoyed the weather have reason to keep smiling – it is likely to stay until at least the end of the week, forecasters said yesterday.

Temperatures have plummeted below zero because of unusual weather conditions over the Atlantic. There is a high pressure system to the north of Britain, in the north of the ocean, and there are low pressure systems to the south.

Due to the way that air blows around pressure systems, wind is coming in from an easterly direction, bringing in bitterly cold air from Siberia where temperatures are -17c (1.4f).

Normally in Britain the wind comes from a south-westerly direction, bringing in relatively mild, wet conditions from the mid-Atlantic.

Standing strong: This snowman strikes a pose in front of the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle

As it crosses the North Sea, the air from Siberia warms a little – because sea is warmer than land at this time of year – and picks up moisture which evaporates to form clouds. These clouds produce snowfall.

As the winds are coming from an easterly direction, Newcastle, Hull, East Anglia and Kent and other easterly regions have been particularly badly affected.

The conditions are linked to La Nina, the phenomenon when the waters of the Pacific cool, causing atmospheric change around the world.

Posing for pictures: Deer create a perfect winter scene in Petworth, West Sussex

Slipping off to the shops: A young girl enjoys her sledge in Stirling

source:dailymail [endtext]