Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Travellers need true grit in ice-bound Britain

Travelling Britons braved fresh icy blasts today as the severe weather did its best to wreck the country's transport links.

With councils running low on salt stocks to treat roads, travellers had to show true grit just to complete the simplest of journeys.

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis told his Cabinet colleagues that salting of motorway hard shoulders was being ended to preserve stocks for other areas.

Road conditions on major routes improved today, but many side roads remained treacherous.

Eurostar was just one of the train companies operating a reduced service today, prompting Europe Minister Chris Bryant to complain on the Twitter website about the Channel Tunnel company.

Once again, a series of broken-down trains added to the problems of rail passengers already having to cope with fewer-than-normal trains, with a breakdown at Birmingham causing delays of up to an hour.

Major airports remained open, but British Airways and easyJet were among carriers that had to cancel flights.

Flight cancellations at Gatwick - where more than 100 flights were axed yesterday - were down to 17 today, but passengers at the West Sussex airport were scornful of the UK's ability to cope with an extreme winter.

David Spencer, 49, from Guildford, Surrey, who was trying to set off on a week's holiday to Spain, said: "It's disgraceful that, with the first snowflake, the country goes to pot."

At Heathrow's Terminal 5 overnight, British Airways asked passengers on some arriving flights to leave the airport without waiting for their luggage, with the bags being sent on to them later.

BA said the problem had been due to the knock-on effect of flight delays plus icy conditions but that the baggage situation was back to normal for daytime arrivals today.

The Highways Agency, which is responsible for England's motorways and major A roads, said that it would continue to salt hard shoulders on the sections of the M6 and M42 on which road users are allowed to drive at busy times.

Local authorities said they were revising their salt plans to ensure the most important roads were gritted.

Harrow council in north west London said it had ordered sufficient supplies of salt but they had simply not been delivered. In Brighton and Hove, parking attendants were diverted from handing out tickets to help shovel snow and grit pavements.

In Cumbria, police were informed of a member of the public who emptied a grit bin and then tried to sell the contents to other residents.

For the first time for some days, no major roads in England were closed today, although broken-down vehicles caused lane closures and delays.

The RAC said its patrol teams had attended 5,000 call-outs by midday today and 250,000 since the cold weather began on December 18.

It said it was receiving around 1,500 calls an hour - more than twice as many as normal. The busiest areas today were Manchester and the Wirral, Scotland, the West Midlands and Wales.

The AA said it had dealt with 340,000 breakdowns since the evening of December 17 - more than double the normal amount over this period.

AA president Edmund King said: "In our entire history we have never been as busy as we have been over the last few weeks."

On the railways, some services were cancelled and, in places, road conditions were too poor for bus replacement services to run.

The Association of Train Operating Companies said that, up to 1pm, a total of 62% of the trains due to run under the revised schedules today had been on time, with 31% late and 7% cancelled.

Mr Bryant, who was caught up in a Eurostar delay, posted on the Twitter website: "I am rapidly developing a very severe hatred of Eurostar as we are travelling at about a mile a year."