Festive journeys to be an ordeal in the gales

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TRAnsport chiefs have warned those travelling on Christmas Eve to take precautions and expect delays because of severe weather which has claimed the lives of two people.

A man died in Ambleside, Cumbria after falling into a swollen river yesterday and a woman’s body was pulled from a river in Bethesda, north Wales as heavy rain and gales swept across much of the UK.

Rising water levels from the River Ouse bring floodwater into riverside roads in York City centre

Rising water levels from the River Ouse bring floodwater into riverside roads in York City centre

With the stormy weather expected to push east overnight, Met Office forecasters issued a 22-hour yellow warning for wind across the Yorkshire region to last throughout Christmas Eve, with gusts of up to 75mph.

The warning was scheduled from 2am this morning but travel disruption had already begun yesterday.

There were cancellations on the rail network throughout the afternoon as speed restrictions – imposed as a precautionary measure – led to a reduced service.

The number of cancellations was expected to rise this morning as the severe weather was forecast to continue battering the southern counties overnight.

In West Yorkshire, a fallen branch affected services on the overhead line between Shipley and Saltaire yesterday.

Robin Gisby, managing director of operational services for Network Rail, said the next 24 hours would be a challenge but said his “fundamental concern” was to get everyone where they wanted to be for Christmas.

He said: “It won’t be an easy task given the forecast conditions and disruption is likely – but I want to be very clear that our priority is running as many trains as we can safely, rather than worrying about hitting the timetable bang on.”

He said hundreds of engineers and other staff will be across the network, ready to react quickly to any problems, removing debris and fixing equipment where necessary.

Additional staff have been drafted in to help passengers at East Coast stations and rail users were advised to check before travelling today.

A spokesman said: “East Coast sincerely apologises to customers for the inconvenience caused, especially as it is very conscious many people will be travelling just before Christmas. The company has been urging passengers to travel as soon as possible throughout the day, to reduce the numbers originally expected to make journeys this evening.”

A yellow warning for wind was issued for yesterday in the East Riding of Yorkshire, where delays were caused on the A15 on the south bank of the Humber Bridge when a lamppost blew down in the increasing winds.

The Environment Agency issued a flood warning yesterday afternoon for the River Swale in Richmond, North Yorkshire, and rising levels from the River Ouse brought floodwater into riverside roads in York City centre.

Bosses at the agency urged people to check for the latest flood updates before any journeys today – and not to drive through dangerous flood water.

David Jordan, director of operations at the Environment Agency, said: “Unsettled weather is set to continue throughout the Christmas period, with heavy rain and wind affecting many parts of England, so people should check the flood forecast on the Environment Agency website to help plan – and sign up to flood warnings.”

No problems were reported on the road network yesterday but the Highways Agency urged drivers take care in the severe weather conditions.

John McTaggart, head of on-road services, said: “We’re working closely with the Met Office. Road users are urged to check traffic and weather conditions before setting out and to heed any advice such as speed restrictions. Be aware of sudden gusts of wind, and give high-sided vehicles, motorbikes and bicycles plenty of space. In the event of persistent high winds we may need to close certain bridges to traffic for a period, so please be alert for warnings and follow diversions.”