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Christmas getaway families face travel misery

Families hoping for Christmas getaways this weekend will have to negotiate delayed trains and congested roads up and down the country.

The Southern Rail service between Kent and London Victoria was reopened last night after delays of up to an hour hit commuters, but flooding and landslips caused by heavy rain from Storm Desmond mean there will be a severely-reduced ScotRail service between Glasgow and Carlisle all weekend.

In the South East, the Gatwick Express train service from London Victoria was still catching up last night after a train breakdown at East Croydon blocked passage out of the station for an hour.

On the roads, the M8 was closed near Junction 4 (Whitburn) on the route from Edinburgh to Glasgow. The A3 was shut towards Hindhead between Greatham Junction and the A287, and the M25 clockwise exit slip road was closed at Junction 28, the Brook Street, Brentwood, roundabout.

The roads were also feeling the effects of flooding, particularly in the Lake District and north Wales. The B6261 near Kendal is closed both ways due to flooding between the A6 and B6260, as was part of the B6254.

In Wales, the Llandrinio Bridge, across the border from Shrewsbury is closed both ways thanks to flooding. The AA has issued a warning for both directions of the A55 Britannia Bridge because of strong winds.

On Thursday, a spate of train delays across multiple services deepened the row between networks and unions, and saw the Conservatives' Commons Leader put on the back foot by an angry Chuka Ummunna.

Mr Umunna (Labour, Streatham) told Commons leader Chris Grayling that the service provided by Southern trains and Network Rail to hundreds of thousands of commuters in London and the South East has been an "appalling joke".

In another day of delays, signalling problems affected South West Trains services to London Waterloo, while Grand Central, Great Northern, Hull Trains and Virgin Trains East Coast services were hit after speed restrictions were imposed near Huntingdon as well as a signalling problem at London King's Cross.

The issue was causing delays of up to 30 minutes to trains between London King's Cross and Peterborough, which were expected to continue until this afternoon.

There were delays on other rail services including London Overground, which was hit by a signal failure at Liverpool Street.

The incidents were the latest in a spate of signal failures which have caused travel misery for rail users this week.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: "After another morning of delays it is time the Government got a grip and stopped dangling gold-plated franchises in front of European state rail operators and gave a British state provider a chance to sort this mess out.

"State-owned rail companies from across Europe, with the Italian Trenitalia the latest to get the nod from the British Government, are queuing up to milk our railways to subsidise their own domestic operations. This scandal has to stop."

Mr Umunna said in the Commons: "The service that has been provided by Southern trains with Network Rail to hundreds of thousands of commuters in my constituency and London and the south east has been an appalling joke, an absolute joke.

"Southern trains has admitted they don't even have enough drivers and they don't have enough decent trains - basic things in providing a service.

"Will you get the Transport Secretary here to give a statement or at least write to us explaining what you're going to do to get these companies to sort their act out?

"They have broken promise after promise. Enough is enough."

Mr Grayling replied: "I understand the pressures on the line which passes through your constituency and of course they are affected by the massive investment taking place at London Bridge, which will create a much better infrastructure for the future as well as the completion of the Thameslink service on what is now the integrated franchise.

"I take note of the comments that you make. I'll make sure the Transport Secretary is aware of them."

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