Frozen Britain:

The great Christmas trek

UK's frozen transport system to be tested to limit by seasonal exodus

The Christmas hopes of millions of Britons hang in the balance today as, undeterred by continuing Arctic conditions and the prospect of further snowfalls, they begin their holiday travels across the UK by road, rail and coach.

At the same time, despite the fact that thousands of minor roads remain icy and hazardous, freight companies and postal services are racing to deliver a backlog of millions of presents, as well as essential supplies, while fears of fuel, food and grit shortages continue to build.

Retailers, meanwhile, are looking at today – the most important shopping day in the immediate run-up to Christmas – as their last chance to recoup some of their dramatically reduced seasonal takings. The hoped-for shoppers will put further strain on the country's frozen infrastructure.

And at airports the situation for hundreds of thousands of passengers remains uncertain as major hubs, including Heathrow, struggle to clear backlogs and bring an end to the misery of delays and diversions.

Motoring associations and travel companies predict that today will be the busiest of the year for travellers, with a peak expected at about 10am. People forced to stay in Britain by delays to air and Eurostar travel are expected to add extra strain to the overburdened road and rail network.

The AA estimated that almost 14 million cars would be clogging up the roads, with a third covering more than 100 miles.

The organisation has been working at twice its usual rate over the past few days, receiving 21,000 call-outs yesterday compared with 9,500 for a normal Wednesday – and it is advising motorists to expect their journey times to be doubled.

While main routes are now largely clear of snow across the country, some routes remain treacherous – and with more snow forecast for large parts of Wales, the Midlands and the South, conditions were expected to worsen.

"We are expecting it to be the busiest day of the year," said an AA spokesman. "If anything there will be even more people who have not been able to return to their families until now."

The coach operator National Express also predicted that today, particularly around mid-morning, would be the busiest on the roads. With an increase in passengers frustrated by plane and train delays in the cold weather it said it had laid on 200 extra coaches with 40 per cent more services than usual for an estimated 50,000 passengers. Train services appeared to be improving yesterday. Seventy per cent of trains were running on time across the UK although there were still disruptions, with Virgin Trains having to cancel some London to Birmingham and Manchester services.

"It is an improvement. Things are running better," said a Network Rail spokesman. "There are still some amended timetables in place and disrupted services. We will be working hard with the train operators to run the best service and keep the infrastructure operational."

While the Midlands endured blizzards yesterday, the Met Office said it was expecting it to be a dry day for most areas today though it would remain bitterly cold, rarely reaching above freezing and dropping to as low as -20C in parts of the Highlands.

Later in the afternoon, however, it was forecast that the South-east, including parts of Suffolk, Essex, Kent and Sussex would have some snow showers and strong winds.

"Wherever you're heading, allow plenty of extra time, as the last thing you want to do is rush in these conditions," said Darron Burness, head of AA Special Operations. "Spend some time checking your car over, as up to half of all breakdowns could have been prevented and, as well as the Christmas presents, don't forget to carry all the essential winter kit, especially plenty of warm clothing and a fully-charged mobile."

Christmas outlook

Today

Driving conditions will be tricky early on with localised fog patches, but it will clear during the morning to leave a dry day – good for those hoping to travel.



Tomorrow

Generally dry, but the South-east is likely to be hit by more snow. The North could also see light snow showers.

Christmas Day

The South-east will have more cloud meaning higher air temperatures. The rest of the country should have clear skies, with more frost overnight.

Britain feels the strain

14m Number of cars expected to clog roads as millions of travellers journey home for Christmas.



75 Councils, among a total of 205, still waiting for orders of grit.



13 Thefts of heating oil reported by Avon & Somerset police as the cold weather continued to drive up prices.



200 Extra coaches laid on by National Express every day as more than 50,000 travellers abandoned train travel.



14,000 Extra delivery rounds made daily by Royal Mail as it battled to clear a backlog of presents.

Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before