Hundreds stranded as railways seize up too

Hundreds of passengers had to be led to safety from stricken trains yesterday as again travellers faced the prospect of delays and cancellations.

With the Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, offering troops "as muscle" to clear airport runways, breakdown services operating at full tilt and one council insisting it was the "wrong kind of snow" to grit roads, an increasingly fraught nation battled to get home for the holidays.

More than 100 passengers spent six hours stranded in heavy snowfall when their train from London to Ashford became stuck near Otford in Kent. They were rescued at about 3am.

Later in the day eight more trains had to be evacuated after damage to overhead power lines at Huntingdon near Peterborough. While five managed to reach stations for passengers to disembark, almost 300 people had to clamber on to tracks when their services came to a halt.

The East Coast line, one of the country's main railway arteries, was suspended, leaving passengers at King's Cross frustrated and desperate. Despite being advised to go home, many stared forlornly at a departure board flashing up cancellations.

Anne Barrow, 70, who had travelled from Kent to try to reach her son in Leeds, said: "That's Christmas totally ruined. I can't come up again tomorrow; it's too much."

Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc), insisted that the majority of trains were running, adding: "Network Rail and train companies will continue to work flat out through the coming days and nights to keep as many services running as possible in the run-up to Christmas."

There were further problems at airports. The Prime Minister revealed that he was frustrated by the continued disruption at Heathrow, and that the Government had offered military support to help clear the snow but been turned down by the airport operator, BAA. Mr Hammond explained: "We've said if they need additional manpower, a bit of muscle to clear snow, we can provide them with troops and lorries to do that. They're telling me at the moment they have all the muscle they need."

The AA said it had experienced its busiest day on record on Monday, dealing with 2,000 breakdowns an hour.

As councils across the country fought to keep the roads gritted and clear, one blamed the "wrong kind of snow" for impassable routes. Alan Muncaster, Dorset County Council's highways engineer, explained: "The problem was the snow was quite wet. I know there are jokes about the wrong kind of snow – but with that amount of water, it washes the treatment away."

Cost of the freeze so far

* Including last January's freeze, the cost of wintry weather to the UK economy for 2010 could be £27.7bn.

* The East of England Ambulance Service has reported 6,000 incidents, up nearly 20 per cent on a month ago.

* The AA has been dealing with 2,000 breakdowns an hour during rush hour, double the normal rate.

* Gas consumption hit a record 465.8m cubic metres yesterday. More than 100,000 boilers have been repaired by British Gas over the past week.

* Delays are costing BA £60m a day.

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