Worst snow in 18 years shuts UK
Published 03/02/2009 | 01:11
The heaviest snowfall to hit Great Britain in 18 years brought travel chaos to large parts of the country yesterday.
Thousands of people were left stranded as air, rail and road services suffered severe delays and disruption and thousands of schools across the country were closed.
Two climbers were killed in the severe weather conditions on Mount Snowdon, a plane strayed on to a grassed area at Heathrow Airport and hundreds of workers were forced to stay at home.
Conditions looked set to worsen last night with forecasters at MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, predicting temperatures would “plummet” to about -6C.
Yesterday, major airports closed runways, all bus services were cancelled in London during the morning rush hour and dozens of trains — including all Southeastern services in and out of the capital — were suspended.
On the London Underground, 10 of the 11 lines were either completely or partly suspended as a Transport for London (TfL) spokesman blamed the “quantity of snowfall” for the\[Clare Palmer\] extent of the disruption, saying some trains were stranded in depots, unable to be moved.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the authorities were doing “everything in our power” to ensure the resumption of key transport links, after a number of train services linking London and the south coast were disrupted.
The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) said the inability to get staff to where they were needed was the main problem today and blamed the chaos on the state of the roads.
"Today’s problems boiled down to physically getting people in," an Atoc spokesman said.
"If you can’t get the staff in to place, you can’t run train services. Getting people in to work, like a lot of other places, has been a challenge for us."
He blamed the lack of grit on roads for the problems.
"People don’t live next to depots any more," he said.
"If you can’t get people in to work, to clear the railway or operate the trains, then you can’t do so."\[Stephen Alexander\]One snapshot survey of more than 300 employers found one in five adults stayed away from work today because of the extreme weather.
London Mayor Boris Johnson defended the decision to suspend the capital’s entire bus service following the heavy overnight snowfalls, saying depots had been overwhelmed by the snow.
He said the capital was not equipped to deal with such an unusually heavy snowfall and told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One that “unleashing a 12-ton bus on to heavily packed snow or ice” would risk “turning it into a lethal weapon”.
He also praised those who turned up to work for helping to keep the capital moving and suspended the city’s congestion charge scheme as a thank-you gesture.
TfL said the “vast majority” of its bus services operated on local authority-maintained roads “which have been particularly affected by the heavy snowfall”.
But the Local Government Association said councils should not be used as scapegoats by organisations caught out by the wintry weather.
Chairman of the LGA environment board Paul Bettison said: “Other organisations that are affected by the snow appear to be using councils as a scapegoat for their own poor preparations for the weather.
“The claim that it is local authorities’ fault that they cannot run services needs to be treated with a huge pinch of gritting salt.”
An army of snow ploughs and gritters were working round-the-clock to clear the roads but motorists, who were warned only to make essential journeys, were caught in tailbacks of more than 50 miles.