Icy blast for transport operators

Questions were being asked tonight about Britain's ability to cope with sub-zero conditions after much of the transport network shuddered to a halt.





Thousands of people were left high and dry after rail operators cancelled services, four major airports closed their doors and motorists faced chaos on the roads.



Some 7,000 schools turned children away from lessons while around two in five people failed to turn up for work, dealing a huge blow to the economy in the crucial run-up to Christmas.



Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, who has announced a review of how transport operators have coped, was forced to defend himself in the Commons after Labour's Maria Eagle told him to "get a grip".



The shadow transport secretary said: "The country is in chaos with passengers forced to sleep at stations, stuck freezing all night in broken-down trains and trapped in their cars - all at a cost to the economy of up to £1.2 billion a day."



Mr Hammond replied: "When there's extremely high snow and extremely low temperatures, there will be disruption to the transport system."



But the Confederation of British Industry said more needed to be done to ensure the country could function in cold weather.



Welcoming Mr Hammond's review, Neil Bentley, CBI Director of Business Environment, said: "Businesses and their staff are doing what they can to keep Britain open for business in these difficult weather conditions.



"Given the critical economic importance of the transport network, this review is as welcome as it is timely."



But he added: "It is important that transport providers work with the Government to improve the ability of the network to cope with adverse weather conditions."



Heavy criticism has been heaped on rail bosses after 300 passengers found themselves stranded overnight on a Southern train in West Sussex where snow caused a series of line failures around Three Bridges station.



Passenger Rebecca Forsey told the BBC: "It was an absolute nightmare. We had to wait around for several hours in the cold on a freezing platform. We finally got something to eat at 4am."



Rail magazine managing editor Nigel Harris said: "I think it's outrageous and disgraceful in the 21st century that we can have people stuck all night on trains in built-up areas in southern England.



"It's not as if the people were stuck in Outer Mongolia. These were ridiculous and shameful failures. Being involved in the rail business, these incidents make me angry and embarrassed."



The Rail Maritime and Transport union called on ministers to strip train operator Southeastern of its franchise after its services ground to a total halt.



The Government was also urged to suspend planned rail fare increases next month.



General secretary Bob Crow said: "In light of the horrific experiences of travellers on the railways during this cold snap, it would be nothing short of a scandal if the private train operators were allowed to jack up fares by up to 13% in a few weeks' time."



The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) said problems were caused by the "sheer volume" of snow and by "ice and snow building up on electric conductor rails".



Atoc chief executive Michael Roberts added: "We apologise to all those people who have struggled to get to where they want to go. We understand that that this kind of disruption is incredibly frustrating."



Meanwhile, many of those hoping to travel from Gatwick, Edinburgh, Southampton and London City Airport airports saw their plans thrown into disarray.



Officials said Gatwick would not reopen until at least 6am tomorrow.



On the roads, the AA said it had attended 10,500 breakdowns, with calls coming in at 1,150 every hour.



In Hampshire, a gritting lorry only added to the traffic problems after it overturned as it cleared the A3, near Petersfield.



Meanwhile, motorists were warned of hazardous driving conditions and advised to make only essential journeys.



A survey of almost 1,000 employers by employment law firm Peninsula found 38% of workers could not get to their workplace this morning and a further 43% were late arriving.









Forecasters said around 15 inches (38cm) of snow had fallen in Redesdale, Northumberland, while another 10 inches (25cm) carpeted Charlwood, west Sussex.



Temperatures - which struggled to climb above zero during the day and fell to minus 17.9C in Kinbrace, in Scotland - are expected to plummet further tonight, possibly dipping below minus 12C in London and the South East.



Billy Payne, of MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: "Tonight will be the coldest night of the season so far for much of England and Wales.



"We don't often see such a cold snowy spell so early in the season. It's quite remarkable - it isn't something that happens very often so early in the winter."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (HTML5, Ext JS, CSS3, jQuery, AJAX)

£40000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor