The Christmas getaway has been thrown into chaos after Storm Pia brought the transport network to a standstill on Thursday.
All trains going north from London Euston were cancelled for three hours and those from King’s Cross were delayed.
Eurostar and Channel Tunnel services were also cancelled after a sudden strike by French workers, and passengers waiting for ferries at Dover faced 90-minute delays.
British Airways was forced to make changes to its flight schedule after air traffic control restrictions in response to the storm, which brought winds of up to 115mph.
The disruption raised fears that Friday, which is already set to be the busiest day on the roads, will be miserable after passengers unable to travel on Thursday were forced to delay their journeys or drive instead.
The problem is set to be compounded by the planned closure of King’s Cross and Paddington on Christmas Eve for engineering works, further limiting the time passengers have to leave the capital.
Network Rail initially blamed the weather for the disruption at Euston, saying high winds had damaged overhead power lines, but it later emerged that the line was brought to a standstill by an electrical fault on a train.
Train companies, whose disputes with the unions have already brought the country to a standstill this year, were urged to put on extra services to ensure everyone can get home.
Passengers were left stranded at St Pancras International Station
Credit: Dinendra Haria/LNP
MPs said it was ridiculous to blame the weather for the chaos.
Greg Smith, Tory MP and member of the Commons transport select committee, said: “Train operating companies cannot get away every Christmas with blaming the weather for the appalling service. Bad weather at this time of year is not unusual.
“Millions of people need to get around the country to spend time with relatives at Christmas, and they need to get home. But the operators wheel out the excuse of the weather when anyone in the country could have predicted what was going to happen.
“They need to urgently lay on buses – preferably coaches – or find other ways so that people who have paid these extortionate prices for their tickets can get home.”
A last-minute strike by Eurotunnel workers caused the cancellation of Eurostar trains
Credit: SARAH MEYSSONNIER/REUTERS
Both Avanti and LNER, the two main operators serving the North, said they would accept Thursday tickets for Friday’s trains.
However, the railways are already set to be busy, with a survey by passenger group Transport Focus finding that one in four people planning to travel by rail over the Christmas period would be travelling on Friday.
The RAC estimated 13.5 million leisure journeys by car would take place across the UK between Friday and Sunday, up 20 per cent on the three days before Christmas Day last year.
Anyone attempting to drive as an alternative to the railways faces the peak of road congestion on Friday as drivers embarking on leisure trips compete for road space with commuters and business traffic.
Motorists are being advised to travel before 11am or after 6pm if possible to reduce the chance of being stuck in long queues.
Engineering works ‘plain stupid’
London Paddington will be closed between December 24 and 27, meaning no mainline trains will serve Heathrow Airport during that period. King’s Cross will also be closed on Christmas Eve.
Mr Smith urged Network Rail to cancel these works.
“This is what is happening on the roads – roadworks have been reduced to the bare minimum over Christmas,” he said.
“Network Rail should have done the same. Millions of people are moving around the country and it is just plain stupid to have engineering works at such a critical time of year.”
Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, said: “At this time of year people are relying on public transport so they can spend Christmas with loved ones. But constant chaos on the railways is adding hours onto people’s journeys and the trains that are running are overcrowded.
“Rail companies must do more to make sure that people can get home for the holidays, whether that’s more carriages on the trains that are running or suitable replacement options to make sure people aren’t stranded.”
Travellers face a weekend of travel chaos as engineering works are to take place on railways
Gusts of 115mph were recorded at Cairngorm Summit on Thursday and winds of 81mph were recorded at Brizlee Wood, near Alnwick, Northumberland.
TransPennine Express urged passengers to avoid travelling to or from Edinburgh all day on Thursday, and to only make journeys to and from Carlisle and Manchester, Liverpool and Preston after 3pm.
Fault on single train
On Thursday afternoon, Network Rail originally said there were no trains from Euston because of damaged overhead power cables.
But later they said the real problem was a fault on a single train. Services began again, but delays were expected to continue for hours.
A spokesman said: “The incident took place in the Bourne End area at around 12.15pm and is believed to have been caused by a fault on a train.
“All lines were closed while investigations took place into the incident, including drone surveys of the lines, but trains were on the move soon after 3pm.”
The problems affected Avanti West Coast services between London Euston and Scotland. At least 144 trains departing from Euston and Kings Cross were cancelled on Thursday, affecting up to 85,000 people trying to leave the capital alone.
The last-minute strike by Eurotunnel workers caused the cancellation of Eurostar trains to the continent and also LeShuttle, the rail service which carries cars across the Channel.
It was reported that trade unions had rejected an offer of a bonus worth 1,000 euros (£867) per employee, demanding a payment worth three times as much.
At least 30 Eurostar trains were cancelled and the closure of the tunnel led to extra congestion on the cross-channel ferries. The Port of Dover warned of 90-minute delays for passengers clearing French border control.
At 6.30pm on Thursday it was announced that the Channel Tunnel had reopened.
National Highways said it had removed more than 1,000 miles of roadworks on England’s motorways and major A-roads, meaning 98 per cent of its network would be free of cones over the festive period.
That’s all for today
Please check back to the homepage for more travel information.
- The Met Office issued a yellow warning for “strong winds across a large swathe of the country” would bring “delays to road, rail, air and ferry transport”.
- The UK’s wind turbines generated an all-time record amount of electricity.
- British Airways grounded two dozen UK and European flights.
- All Eurostar services were cancelled after a last minute strike by Eurotunnel staff.
- Speed restrictions were implemented on trains between Newcastle and Edinburgh, while trains were suspended between London and Manchester.
- Schools were closed in Shetland and Christmas markets shut in Liverpool and Nottinghamshire.
- Motorists were urged to avoid lunchtime journeys on ‘Frantic Friday’, which has been tipped to be busiest day on roads.
The railways over Christmas
Network Rail is preparing to launch its festive engineering works, which will cause disruption to journeys.
London Paddington will be closed between Sunday and 27 December for HS2 engineering work, while King’s Cross will also be closed on Christmas Eve and Southeastern services will not run from Victoria between 23 December and 2 January.
Outside of the capital, an engineering project near Southampton will cause some disruption to services, as will work to build the new Cambridge South station.
No trains, Tube or bus services will operate on Christmas Day, while a very limited service will run on Boxing Day.
Eurotunnel strike over
Eurotunnel has confirmed the 11th hour strike has ended after an agreement was reached with unions, giving hope to stranded passengers.
French transport minister, Clément Beaune, announced the news on social media by saying “traffic can resume”.
Earlier, Eurostar said no European rail services would be running to or from London St Pancras for the rest of the evening.
However, Eurotunnel have now said in a statement: “This agreement means that LeShuttle services will resume progressively this evening and Eurostar tomorrow morning.
“Eurotunnel welcomes this agreement and reiterates its apologies to all LeShuttle customers as well as Eurostar passengers and rail freight operators whose traffic has been impacted by this strike.”
Travel chaos mapped:
Port of Dover issues delay warning due to Eurotunnel closure
Passengers passing through French border control at Dover are currently experiencing delays of 90 minutes, because the port is processing “additional volumes of freight and tourists”.
The cross-Channel ferry to France, which was expected to be busy with Christmas travel, is anticipating additional traffic due to Eurostar cancellations.
Those planning on travelling from Dover this evening are advised not to turn up without a valid ticket or a transfer voucher issued by Eurotunnel.
Port of Dover said: “The increase in traffic may mean that passengers need to allow some additional time for their journey.”
Eurostar cancels all remaining services this evening
Eurostar services in both directions between London’s St Pancras International and Paris’s Gare du Nord have been cancelled this evening due to a last minute strike in France.
Earlier, Eurostar cancelled all services before 7pm, but this has since been extended to cover the rest of this evening.
“Due to unexpected strike action by Eurotunnel staff, we’re sorry to let you know that your train has been cancelled,” a message reads on the Eurostar website.
All customers will be able to exchange their tickets free of charge or receive a refund.
Pictured: Alternative transport
A foil boarder makes the most of the windy conditions in Newhaven, England
Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Europe
Euston disruption stemmed from train fault
Severe delays and cancellations encountered by passengers travelling to and from London Euston are believed to have been caused by a train fault.
Network Rail said an incident took place in the Bourne End area at around 12.15pm, after which all lines were closed until 3pm while investigations took place using drone surveys.
Responding to a customer query on social media over whether the 5.33pm service from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly would be running, National Rail said: “This service is currently expected to run but may be delayed or even cancelled.”
Parts of M20 closed due to Eurotunnel disruption
The M20 coastbound carriageway between junctions 8 and 9 has also been temporarily closed due to suspended Eurotunnel services, Kent Police said.
The “emergency measure” will allow freights bound for the continent to queue on the empty section of motorway to try to minimise disruption to Kent’s wider road network.
Pictured: King's Cross crowds
The Christmas getaway has been plunged into chaos amid Storm Pia
Credit: Joanne Edwards / Story Picture Agency
Motorists urged to avoid lunchtime journeys as ‘Frantic Friday’ tipped to be busiest day on roads
Motorists should travel before 11am or after 6pm to reduce the chance of congestion, the RAC has advised.
Brits will embark on an estimated 13.5 million leisure journeys by car between Friday and Sunday, with ‘Frantic Friday’ set to be the busiest over Christmas.
RAC spokeswoman, Alice Simpson, said: “Strong winds will make many Christmas getaway trips more challenging this week, especially those made in the north of the UK.
“Drivers will need to be on high alert for fallen branches, and even trees.”
National Highways has removed more than 1,000 miles of roadworks on England’s motorways and major A-roads, meaning 98 per cent of its network should be free of cones over the festive period.
Wind turbines generate highest ever amount of electricity
The UK’s wind turbines generated an all-time record amount of electricity on Thursday morning, the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) revealed.
Between 8am and 8.30am wind farms across Britain generated 21.8 gigawatts of electricity, which supplied 56 per cent of all the power used from the grid.
This beats the previous record of 21.6 GW set in January this year and comes close to the highest ever proportion of electricity generated by wind power, which was 69 per cent in November this year.
Dan McGrail, the chief executive of RenewableUK, said: “Setting a new wind energy record is a great achievement to celebrate during this festive period.”
Drones used to inspect damaged power cables
Engineers at London Euston used drones to assess the damage to overhead lines between Milton Keynes Central and Watford Junction.
Avanti West Coast services between London Euston and Scotland have been affected by the disruption, but the operator has said that lines have now reopened.
Customers with tickets valid for travel on 21 December are also able to travel tomorrow, Avanti has confirmed.
Check before you travel, public told
Passengers are being urged to check before they travel from London Euston this afternoon as a problem with overhead wires north of Watford means major changes to train times, Jack Simpson writes.
Network Rail said its engineers are on site and working to fix the issue with one of the wires that supplies power to trains on the West Coast Main Line at Bourne End, Buckinghamshire.
They are working to get at least two of the four tracks through the area opened shortly, to allow an emergency timetable to run.
Currently, all lines are blocked between London and the north-west including Manchester.
James Dean, Network Rail’s West Coast South route director, said: “I’m sorry to passengers impacted by the overhead lines coming down near Euston station and the major disruption to journeys this is causing. Our team of engineers are onsite and assessing the damage, but it is too early to know what has caused it. Our focus is on fixing the issue as soon as possible.”
A previous issue today, caused by a tree falling on the railway near Newark on the East Coast Main Line, has been fixed and trains are running from King’s Cross, with delays.
Dozens of Eurostar trains cancelled
At least 24 Eurostar trains have been cancelled.
Eurostar said in a statement: “Due to unexpected strike action by Eurotunnel staff, services are currently not able to proceed through the Channel Tunnel until mid-afternoon at earliest.”
Four trains are returning to their starting point.
Eurostar cancelled all services before 7pm.
Passengers booked on the three trains due to operate after that time were warned that “we cannot exclude additional last-minute cancellations, which may include your train”.
In pictures: London St Pancras chaos after Eurostar suspended
Long queues at St Pancras station in London due to cancellation of Eurostar's Channel Tunnel services
Credit: Simon Jones/BBC
Overcrowding at London St Pancras International station
Credit: Dinendra Haria/LNP
Channel Tunnel workers have gone on strike unexpectedly
Credit: Dinendra Haria/LNP
All Eurostar services between UK and France suspended
Christmas holiday plans have been thrown into chaos for hundreds of people after staff at Eurotunnel unexpectedly went on strike during the peak holiday getaway period.
Channel Tunnel traffic has been suspended between the UK and France, train operator Eurostar said, following the unscheduled industrial action.
The company told travellers planning to use its services today to try to postpone their travel plans if possible.
Eurostar tweeted: “We’re very sorry to hear that you’re caught up in the disruption today, it’s due to unexpected strike action by Eurotunnel staff.
“We would recommend postponing your journey if you can, even if it’s until tomorrow.”
On its travel updates page, Eurostar said train traffic to and from London was currently suspended.
Getlink, the French company formerly known as Eurotunnel which operates the Channel Tunnel, has not yet responded to requests for comment.
Watch: Chaos at London Euston
Passengers have been locked out of London Euston station as all trains are blocked on the West Coast Mainline.
Hundreds of people are now congregating outside the station, unable to board trains to the Midlands, Manchester, the north-west of England and beyond.
If they try to head a few hundred metres down the road to King’s Cross, they will find the same situation of huge crowds and few trains (see below post)
London Euston now. Passengers locked out because overhead lines have come down on the tracks.Coincidentally this suits those who would restrict movement deter people from travelling as per #NetZero goals pic.twitter.com/0MjzXZpZRl
— Francis O'Neill (@FrancisxONeill) December 21, 2023
Watch: Chaos at King's Cross
The departure boards at London King’s Cross are showing almost all trains delayed, with services between London and Scotland particularly affected.
The crowds are building on the concourse...
The state of Kings Cross station - as Storm Pia causes train cancellations and delays. pic.twitter.com/qyUvw6TXD1
— Brad (@bradleyconnorj) December 21, 2023
A camp old time at Kings Cross where staff are using loudhailers to tell us when to board rather than the station speaker system because of delays. We can’t hear properly. First train was cancelled, the next one was delayed by an hour, and has now vanished off the board. pic.twitter.com/mGxA4RXdtx
— David Chipakupaku 🏴🇿🇲 (@David_Chippa) December 21, 2023
Gales officially top 80mph
Gusts of 81mph have been recorded at Brizlee Wood, near Alnwick, Northumberland, and at Baltasound on Shetland.
Winds of more than 70mph have been recorded elsewhere in the North East of England.
People on social media reported their sleep had been disturbed by Storm Pia, not officially named by the Met Office, but given named status by the Danish authorities where it was expected to have an even greater impact than in the UK.
Meanwhile, the roof has been blown off a section of a block of flats in Haslam Crescent, Sheffield, the city council said on X.
The Met Office yellow warning for wind is in place until 9pm on Thursday.
All trains between London and Manchester blocked
Manchester Piccadilly said: “Apologies to passengers arriving to travel to London Euston today.
“Due to damage to overhead wires all lines are blocked. Engineers are on site assessing the damage. We are sorry for any disruption caused.”
Network Rail said the disruption was expected to last until at least 5.30pm.
Departure boards are showing all trains between the two cities cancelled or indefinitely delayed.
Overhead cables have come down in Hemel Hempstead, a key part of the West Coast Mainline.
Latest Storm Pia pictures
A flat block in Sheffield has suffered roof damage amid high winds
All traffic was stopped on a stretch of the M60 this morning after a lorry overturned
Credit: MEN Media
Watch: Rocky landings at Manchester Airport
Many planes have been performing “go arounds” to abort landings at Manchester Airport this morning amid very strong winds on the final approach to the runway.
Other pilots have braved it, leaving the plane rocking from side to side.
All good fun at Manchester Airport right now pic.twitter.com/1E97y65hFm
— Roy B (@RoyTheBoyF1) December 21, 2023
British Airways grounds dozens of flights
British Airways has grounded two dozen UK and European flights because of the stormy weather.
The airline said in a statement: “As a result of Air Traffic Control restrictions put in place because of Storm Pia, we have had to make some adjustments to our schedule today.
“We have apologised to our customers for any disruption to their travel plans and our teams are working hard to get them on their way as quickly as possible.”
A Jet2 aircraft heading to Malaga is blown sideways as it takes of this morning in the strong winds at Leeds Bradford airport
Credit: Andrew McCaren/LNP
A large tree blown down during Storm Pia winds on Spital Road in the Wirral
Credit: Iain Watts
The strong winds have brought down many trees across the country
Credit: Iain Watts
Christmas market shuts because of wind
Liverpool Christmas Market has shut for most of the day because of Storm Pia.
It said in a statement: “Due to a yellow weather warning for strong winds, the Liverpool Christmas Market will be closed on Thursday 21 December.
“The situation will be reassessed at 4pm for a possible 5pm opening on Thursday 21 December. Please check on our website before travelling.”
Mansfield Market in Nottinghamshire has also closed its doors for the day.-
School closures in Shetland
Schools in Shetland will be closed on Thursday and more electricity network engineers are being brought in to deal with any power cuts.
Meanwhile, 1,400 pupils have been affected by school closures in northern Sutherland and Caithness in the Highlands.
Ferry services across the west coast of Scotland are expected to be disrupted, CalMac said.
Delays and cancellations on rail network
With ticket acceptance on routes such as LNER spilling into Friday and many trains already being sold out, the Christmas getaway could be at risk of major disruption.
Speed restrictions are in force across much of Britain’s rail network which will bring delays.
Elsewhere on the trains, Network Rail said many services will only run once safety inspections have taken place, leading to some cancellations.
Latest pictures: Storm Pia wreaks havoc
Branches from a tree, brought down by strong winds, covers a parked car in a street in Huddersfield in northern England
Credit: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images
Waves crash against the Headland Promenade in Hartlepool this morning
Credit: Jordan Crosby
An Audi is submerged on Britain's lowest road, the A1101 in Welney Norfolk
Millions travelling on the roads - just as storm hits
Some 2.2 million drivers taking to Britain’s roads on Thursday according to the RAC.
The Christmas getaway will then get into full swing on Friday and Saturday, when the strong winds are due to continue across large parts of the UK which could create a knock-on impact of disruption.
The AA has already warned that the festive travel rush is due to hit earlier than normal this year, on Friday and Saturday, when it expects 16.1 million and 16.4 million car journeys respectively.
Lumo 'severe weather' alert to bring cancellations
Here’s a new “severe weather” update from Lumo, which runs express trains between London and Scotland:
Due to forecast severe weather, speed restrictions will be implemented between Edinburgh and Newcastle to allow trains to travel through the affected area safely.
Additionally, speed restrictions are in place between York and Doncaster and trains will have to run at a reduced speed in the Newark North Gate area due to an object being caught in the overhead electric wires.
Trains may be cancelled, delayed by up to 45 minutes or revised.
We anticipate disruption will continue until 15:00.
Rail chaos between London and Scotland
Following the last post, here’s a list of disruption facing those travelling between London and Scotland on Thursday.
LNER trains “may be cancelled, delayed or subject to alterations” until midday on Friday, with some London to Edinburgh services starting or terminating at Newcastle or facing delays of up to 30 minutes, trains between York/Leeds and Doncaster face 20 minute delays.
Meanwhile, LNER’s Inverness trains have been scrapped and services to and from Bradford Forster Square may be cancelled or delayed by an hour due to a fallen tree.
The operator said “restrictions for tickets dated Thursday 21 December have been lifted and tickets are valid on LNER services on throughout Thursday 21 December and Friday 22 December”.
However, many of the trains on Friday will already be extremely busy.
Full list of rail alerts
On the railways, the following alerts have been issued:
- TPE said there will be speed restrictions in place from the early hours for trains running to and from Edinburgh and that it will not run services between the city and north-west England until Thursday afternoon.
- Avanti West Coast routes between Glasgow Central and Lockerbie, as well as Edinburgh and Lockerbie “may be delayed by up to 60 minutes” as a result of speed restrictions.
- CrossCountry services “may be cancelled or delayed until the end of the day”, with trains between Edinburgh and Newcastle at risk of starting or terminating at Newcastle.
- Northern services “may be delayed by up to 45 minutes” across the board, with particular disruption at Shipley and between Leeds and York due to a fallen tree.
- ScotRail has cancelled seven routes, including some out of Inverness and Glasgow Queen Street.
- East Midlands Railway services between Nottingham and Crewe are at risk of delays because of damage to the overhead electric wires between Stoke-on-Trent and Macclesfield/Crewe.
- LNER and Lumo are also warning of severe disruption on the East Coast Mainline between London and Scotland -- see the next post for more details.
Met Office warning as Storm Pia batters Britain
The Met Office has issued a yellow warning for “strong winds across a large swathe of the country” would bring “delays to road, rail, air and ferry transport”.
The weather front has been named as Storm Pia by the Danish Meteorological Institute, which is forecasting “hurricane force” winds for the country. It has moved across to Britain from the Norwegian Sea.
The Met Office’s chief meteorologist Paul Gundersen said “there’s a chance this low pressure will continue to exert its influence into Friday”, when it is expected to remain windy with heavy rain sweeping in from the west as millions of people travel.
The agency said it remains “generally rather unsettled for the weekend before Christmas, with further Atlantic frontal systems bringing rain and strong winds to parts of the UK” and the heaviest rain in the west and northwest.