U.K. Christmas Exodus Hampered as Storms Lash Railways, Airports

By Robert Wall | December 24, 2013

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 attempt to travel before Christmas.

Ten U.K. rail operators reported major delays, according to National Rail, mostly caused by fallen trees and overhead lines, with South West Trains and Southern both closing their networks pending checks for obstructions on the tracks.

London Gatwick airport has been hit both by the shutdown at Southern, which serves the hub, and glitches with landing and ground-lighting systems following the storm, with air traffic manager Eurocontrol predicting “moderate” flight delays there until 1 p.m. at least. Damage to power lines meanwhile threatens to leave thousands of homes without power on Christmas Day.

“High winds blowing debris and trees onto overhead power lines overnight have caused extensive damage, which engineers will be working to fix,” said U.K. Power Networks, which has 8 million customers in southern and eastern England. About 70,000 customers were without power, it said today.

The Environment Agency listed 49 flood warnings and 90 flood alerts for southeast England, with more than 150 warnings across the country. Gale-force winds that prompted the U.K. Met Office to issue an “amber” alert for the southeast yesterday eased in the area today as a low pressure system north, threatening damage and disruption for the rest of Britain.

Flood Zones
South West trains will have no service until 10 a.m., with at least 28 trees blocking rails and lines flooded in six locations, Network Rail, which runs Britain’s train tracks and stations, said on its website. “Staff are working to clear the problems but the poor weather is slowing progress,” it said.

First Great Western and the Stansted Express service that connects London with the airport, the biggest base for Ryanair Holdings Plc, also said service was disrupted.

London’s Heathrow airport, Europe’s busiest, said operations are largely back to normal, with some hangover from yesterday, when more than 40 flights were scrapped. Passengers should make their Christmas destinations after being switched to other flights 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.

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.

–With assistance from Andrea Rothman in Toulouse. Editor: Christopher Jasper

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