Government asks: Why can't our transport system cope with a bit of snow?

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The Independent Online

Much of Britain ground to a standstill today as the big freeze hit roads, railways and airports, prompting criticism from the Government about how the country coped with severe winter weather.

Much of Britain ground to a standstill today as the big freeze hit roads, railways and airports, prompting criticism from the Government about how the country coped with severe winter weather.

Motorists found themselves trapped in their cars on treacherous motorways as their path was blocked by crashed and abandoned vehicles across the South East and East Anglia.

Public transport was also struck by the severe weather conditions, with rail services delayed and airports forced to cancel flights.

As many travellers struggled to continue journeys, Transport Secretary Alistair Darling demanded to know how the road and rail network had become paralysed due to the weather.

Mr Darling said he had asked the Highways Agency, local authorities, the rail industry and London Underground to explain why they had not been prepared for freezing weather, adding: "Snowfall in January is hardly unexpected."

Airports were forced to cancel services, with other flights perating with delays of up to two hours.

Stansted Airport in Essex was closed due to staff not being able to reach the airport by road or rail.

Airport operator BAA said Heathrow was experiencing "considerable disruption" because of the weather, with 140 flights cancelled so far and more expected.

British Airways cancelled 44 short haul flights, including all of its domestic flights, and 19 longhaul flights out of Heathrow, with a further seven flights out of Gatwick also halted.

A spokeswoman said: "Extreme weather conditions in the South of England today, including heavy snow, high winds and freezing temperatures, have resulted in significant disruption to our operations, particularly at London Heathrow and Gatwick."

Many train services also fell victim to the weather, either through equipment failing in the sub–zero temperatures or staff battling to get to work.

The Association of Train Operating Companies said services were gradually returning to normal today, but "pockets of disruption" remained

"There were some problems last night, particularly where there was very heavy snowfall.

"Services through Cambridgeshire were particularly badly affected, as well as East Anglia and services up to Milton Keynes.

"Today it has been getting much better, with relatively few problems and what delays there are are caused by a number of things, including signalling failure not related to the weather."

The spokesman said that compared to services such as airports and the roads, the railways had stood up well to the cold weather.

WAGN, which runs services through East Anglia which has been very badly affected by the weather, said services into London Liverpool Street had been running with delays of up to an hour.

WAGN's services into King's Cross also had delays up to one hour 40 minutes and a spokeswoman said many trains were subject to short notice cancellations.

She added that many of the early delays were due to drivers not being able to get into work due to blocked roads.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said that "exceptional" weather conditions had presented a major challenge to the Highways Agency, London Underground and the train operating companies.

"There have obviously been exceptional weather conditions in certain parts of the country and the responsible authorities are dealing with the situation as best they can," he said.

He added: "If there are any lessons that can be learnt from this, then of course they will be."



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