Strikes, fog, delays but no snow

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The Independent Online

Rail strikes and treacherous driving conditions will pile on the misery for Christmas travellers over the next three days when 18 million cars are expected to hit the roads.

Rail strikes and treacherous driving conditions will pile on the misery for Christmas travellers over the next three days when 18 million cars are expected to hit the roads.

Train passengers in the North face severely delayed services, with drivers and conductors from two companies out on strike over the weekend. Further stoppages are expected tomorrow and Tuesday and over the New Year.

First North Western, which runs trains out of Manchester, Liverpool and Lancaster, is running a "handful of services" today after drivers walked out yesterday in a long-running dispute over pay. The train drivers' union Aslef also plans to strike on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

Conductors with Arriva Northern, which provides branch links to towns across the North, staged a 24-hour stoppage yesterday and are due to walk out again tomorrow and on Tuesday and New Year's Eve as part of a year-long pay dispute.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union said it expected the action to bring "chaos" to services. But managers claimed a quarter of its staff would not join the strikes and 80 per cent of its network would be covered. The Association of Train Operating Companies has warned all rail passengers not to travel without a seat reservation at what is the busiest time of year for the national network.

On the roads, the AA has warned an expected 18 million drivers of dangerous conditions due to bad weather. Yesterday's heavy fog and rain had already caused numerous accidents.

Retailers have reported brisk last-minute shopping. At the giant Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent, 200,000 people were expected over the weekend.

"We've seen a steady stream of shoppers throughout the weekend and the week," a spokeswoman said. "Sales were 10 per cent up on last year in November and we expect this Christmas season to be better than last year."

Tomorrow's heavy rain is expected to continue throughout Monday and Tuesday, and into Christmas Day, a spokesman for the Met Office said. Christmas Day will also be mild and the chances of snow "very unlikely".

If there is any snowfall on 25 December in Britain, it is most likely to be in Aberdeen, says the bookmaker William Hill, which has the city as its 5-2 favourite location.

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