Cancelled trains and icy roads stall the mass getaway

Freezing temperatures are forecast to continue for days, with Boxing Day blizzards likely in the West Country, Wales and Scotland.

Rail companies faced criticism for not running enough trains with enough coaches to accommodate customers on a day when millions of them were trying to travel with bulky luggage to reach their families.

Some operators cancelled a quarter of their train services yesterday, and some services will close completely over Christmas, with no trains running from Essex and East Anglia into London. Trips from London to Bristol and Wales will also take longer because of diversions around Reading, and engineering work is planned on 15 out of 17 lines between now and 3 January. The weather has meant disruption is still being caused to services run by East Coast, First Great Western, ScotRail and First Capital Connect.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the pressure group Passenger Focus, said: "The message from passengers is clear – treat us like human beings and give us useful, timely information, early notice of delays, and more help from railway staff when delays happen."

The Association of Train Operating Companies admitted yesterday that trains were "over-crowded". Its spokesman Edward Welsh said that up to quarter of services had been cancelled in order to improve the lines' efficiency – reasoning he acknowledged sounded counter-intuitive.

"What the industry has been trying to do is concentrate on people getting through," he said. "That has impacted on punctuality and we apologise for that.

"We are trying to ensure that services are reliable so sometimes we have to reduce the number of services to increase the reliability of those services.

"Unfortunately it means some trains are overcrowded and it does mean cancellations, and we apologise for that, but trains have been getting through."

Heathrow operated almost a full schedule of 1,200 flights yesterday, but its operator BAA, which has faced criticism for the airport's lack of preparation for dealing with the snow, said it could not guarantee it would be able to get travellers to their destinations before Christmas. The backlog of stranded passengers stood at 600,000.

An inquiry into Heathrow's handling of the extreme weather conditions has been launched after the mass cancellation of flights. A panel of experts from airports and airlines around the world will scrutinise the "planning, execution and recovery" from the heavy snowfall which left hundreds of thousands of passengers stranded just days before Christmas.

Announcing the inquiry, BAA chief executive Colin Matthews said the panel would make recommendations to the airport owner, which has also approved an extra £10m for winter equipment: "The inquiry will forensically examine what went wrong at Heathrow, and look fundamentally at our ability to prepare and respond more effectively to periods of bad weather at an airport operating at its maximum capacity.

The disruption has not been not restricted to rail and air services, with the AA warning that icy roads and poor travelling conditions would see journey times double.

The association's crews were called out to twice as many breakdowns as normal, with 13,000 reported across the country by 4.30pm yesterday and the total expected to reach 19,000 by the end of the day.

Darron Burness, head of AA special operations, said: "Daytime temperatures haven't risen above freezing in most areas today, so ice will remain the biggest hazard for those travelling through the Christmas weekend."

Up to 75 councils out of a total of 205 are still waiting for orders of salt after a government report suggested the country may run out this winter if cold weather continued.

The majority of the UK should stay dry but cold today, with slight snow showers in northern and eastern parts of the country.

Skype scuppered

People trying to contact friends and family around the world have been affected by an outage to the free internet phone service Skype. The problems across its network, which can handle 25 million calls simultaneously, started at about 8.30pm on Wednesday night and continued until yesterday evening.

The disruption was caused by a software issue on critical parts of its network, the company said yesterday. A spokesperson for the Luxembourg-based firm said: "We are working extremely hard to ensure that everyone trying to sign in to Skype can access their accounts and make calls. We've identified a bug in the Skype software which was the root cause of the downtime."

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Product Development

    £26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Product Development departm...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Estates Contracts & Leases Manager

    £30000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Estates Team of this group ...

    Day In a Page

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory