Four killed in day of 'utter chaos' on motorways

Fog leads to a 100-vehicle pile-up on the M40, while congestion and strikes hit travel plans for Easter holiday-makers
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The Independent Online

Four people were killed and two more critically injured in motorway crashes yesterday, bringing "utter chaos" in the build-up to the Easter weekend.

Four people were killed and two more critically injured in motorway crashes yesterday, bringing "utter chaos" in the build-up to the Easter weekend.

Two men died in a pile-up involving more than 100 vehicles after a motorbike and van collided in thick fog on the M40 in Oxfordshire, while a man and woman were killed on the M5 in Somerset when a heavy goods lorry overturned on to a car. At least 16 more – including two children, aged six and eight – were injured in secondary crashes and had to be cut free by firefighters.

An RAC spokesman described the accidents as "particularly tragic", coming at Easter when there were many more families on the roads. At one point, tens of thousands of motorists were trapped in tailbacks up to 15 miles long, with the southbound carriageway of the M40 and both directions of the M5 closed for a large part of the day.

Steve Haynes, an ambulance worker who attended the M40 accident, described it as the worst scene he had experienced in 20 years. The first crash happened at about 7am at Lewknor, Oxfordshire, when motorcyclist Matthew Soulsby, of Coventry, collided with a van in fog. He was killed immediately, while a second man died later in Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital, a Thames Valley Police spokesman said. Sixteen more people were injured – one critically.

Approximately 20 secondary crashes followed, and fire crews had to cut numerous people free, several of whom were airlifted to hospital.

Three hours later, an articulated lorry travelling south on the M5 near Sedgemoor services collided with a camper van on the hard shoulder. The lorry veered across the carriageway, crashed through the central reservation and hit two cars and another lorry travelling northbound. It then careered down an embankment, taking one of the cars with it.

The car driver, a man, was killed, while a woman from another vehicle was freed by firefighters but died in hospital. Another woman was also seriously injured but said to be in a stable condition last night.

With a sunny start forecast for the long weekend, visitors were expected to flood into UK resorts as well as foreign destinations on one of the busiest days of the year for Britain's transport system.

Heathrow had its busiest day of the Easter break yesterday, handling 195,000 passengers, and predicted a total of 800,000 passengers by Monday. A further 80,000 people were expected to fly out of Manchester, 66,000 from Luton airport and 35,000 from Birmingham.

Those travelling through Manchester could face problems with a four-day strike by Transport and General Workers' Union security staff due to start today, although airport officials said that it would be "business as usual".

A further half a million people were due to travel under or over the Channel to France, the Netherlands and Spain. Some could encounter problems. Passengers on two Eurostar trains were delayed yesterday when asylum-seekers invaded a tunnel terminal in France.

Tourist chiefs were hoping that the fine weather would boost visitor numbers to attractions at home, after the devastation caused by foot-and-mouth disease last year. The English Tourism Council said about 2.6 million trips were expected in England this Easter, resulting in spending of around £40m.

Those planning to stay in the UK and travel by train in the north of England were likely to face problems with a strike hitting services on the Arriva Trains Northern network.

Motoring organisations predicted jams on motorways heading towards popular tourist spots, particularly in the West Country and the Peak District.

Some peoplefaced a cash-strapped Easter as Barclays bank admitted that an error had led to a delay in processing payrolls. However, it urged people not to panic and said they would be able to withdraw cash even if their salary had not shown up in their balance.

Some good news emerged yesterday, when a one-day strike by English Heritage staff was called off.

Hot spots

Roadworks

Essex: M11 Jct 8, 40mph speed limit in place.

West Midlands: M6 Jcts 6-7 (Spaghetti-Great Barr).

Cheshire: M62 between Burtonwood services and Jct 9.

Lancashire: M6 between Jcts 28 and 30. 50mph speed limit.

M4 and M5: southbound, heavy traffic expected at Almondsbury Jct.

Hampshire: M27 between Jcts 3 (M271) and 2, contraflow in place.

Cornwall: A38 Glynn Valley between Liskeard and Bodmin.

Trains

Eurostar services Friday and Monday, but not Saturday or Sunday.

St Pancras area maintenance will see reduction in Midland Mainline and Thameslink services from 0001 on Easter Saturday.

Rugby to Nuneaton South junction on Virgin West Coast services will be diverted away from the Trent Valley via the West Midlands from 0001 on Easter Saturday.

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