Paddington closure adds to holiday gridlock

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The Independent Online

Thousands of travellers spent the start of the Easter weekend stuck in traffic or cursing rail engineering works.

Thousands of travellers spent the start of the Easter weekend stuck in traffic or cursing rail engineering works.

Traffic gridlock in the South-east was made worse by Paddington station being closed for the whole of Easter for work on signals. The closure knocked out the Heathrow Express service, forcing many air passengers to travel to the airport by car.

Rail engineering work also disrupted other lines. The west coast main line, which takes Virgin trains to Manchester and Scotland, is closed between Hemel Hempstead and Bletchley for the whole weekend, and the east coast main line to Leeds, York and Newcastle upon Tyne will be closed on two sections of track today and tomorrow.

Rail passengers will have to bridge the gaps in the network by using replacement buses, which will add to congestion.

A spokeswoman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said: "There are no serious delays. We are just advising people travelling by train to allow for journeys to take slightly longer than normal if they are using services affected by engineering work."

The AA reported gridlock on all the main coastal roads and heavy traffic on the motorways, with a 15-mile tailback on the M5 at Bristol at one point yesterday. The good weather and the closure of Paddington, which serves the west, were contributing to the traffic, said an RAC spokeswoman.

An estimated 5,000 vehicles travelled into Devon each hour on the westbound M5 at the busiest times yesterday and there were problems on the M27 coastal road in Hampshire, which leads into the A31 to Bournemouth.

Traffic was heavy on the M3 to Southampton. The M1 through Yorkshire and the M62 to Hull were particularly busy, while heavy traffic in Cornwall produced a tailback of several miles on the A30 near Bodmin. "In Surrey, the A320 to Thorpe Park has been blocked, and there have been queues into Colchester and outside Leeds Castle in Kent," the AA spokesman added.

"There may be a build-up again on Monday as people head back home, but it is unlikely to be as busy as yesterday because of the weather," he said.

Yesterday, the first of an estimated 1.8 million people travelling abroad for the Easter period left from air and seaports. Airports reported a busy but problem free start to the holiday. A spokesman for Stansted airport in Essex said: "It was busy on Thursday and we were very busy early this morning. But it's nothing out of the ordinary for Easter and we've coped."