New Year strike on Tube brings chaos to London partygoers

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The Independent Online

Millions of revellers faced a night walking home in downpours as a 24-hour Tube strike brought chaos to London during the New Year celebrations.

Despite some drivers defying the strike call after Bob Crow, the RMT union leader, was pictured on holiday in Egypt, trains were grinding to a halt through the capital last night.

The Metropolitan police and emergency services warned of hypothermia and crowd-control problems caused by lack of public transport. They also advised people not to drive into London, and women were warned to beware of unlicensed cabs. Road safety groups expressed fears of a surge in accidents as drunk drivers try to get home. Nearly 3,000 police officers had been drafted in to control the crowds.

By late yesterday, 16 stations, including Covent Garden, were closed for the 24-hour action. Some Tube workers defied the strike call as a gesture of good will by working until the end of their shifts at 9pm. Transport for London said this meant the full effects of the shutdown would not be felt until after the countdown to New Year ended.

More than 150,000 were expected in Trafalgar Square and along the Embankment for the traditional festivities. But many who had come to the capital for a party were facing an enforced trudge home in the rain or a ride on crowded buses.

The Tube walk-out, in protest at new work rosters, also threatening to wreck today's New Year parade, with 10,000 performers from around the world. In an interview with BBC radio, Dan Kirkby, the parade publicist, said: "London deserves better than this. We are urging people to take a little time and effort, come on trains and drive and walk."

One person who managed to escape the strike and the cold was Bob Crow, the RMT general secretary, who spent New Year with his family in Egypt. He told a national newspaper that he was still in negotiations to end the strike despite his relaxing break and would return to London "if needs be".

But if he did, his reception would be a cold one. In Cardiff and Belfast, party-goers face gale-force winds and rain. In Edinburgh, temperatures hovered around 1C for one of the world's biggest New Year parties, in Princes Street Gardens.

Trains through the Channel Tunnel were delayed for two hours after a tunnel was closed. An empty train broke down at 10.30am forcing Shuttle and Eurostar trains to pass through the remaining tunnel. The stranded train was moved at 4pm.

In Sydney, the traditional New Year firework display still sparkled and banged despite 38C heat and wind-driven bush fires.