Travel update: Many East Coast trains cancelled again today

MANY East Coast rail services scheduled for Wednesday have been cancelled after a day which saw hundreds of passengers evacuated from Yorkshire-bound carriages as the icy weather consigned many travellers to a Christmas away from home.

Passengers were forced to abandon six trains on the east coast main line between Yorkshire and London on Tuesday following damage to overhead power lines near Peterborough.

This morning (Wednesday) services were running agan but with journey times extended and many scheduled trains cancelled.

There were also delays and cancellations on Northern Rail services, especially those crossing the Pennines.

There were disruptions across the rail network and more than a hundred people were stuck for six hours overnight on a train in Kent when lines froze.

Eurostar customers were facing lengthy queues, with the company asking customers not to travel unless essential.

Thousands of air passengers also remained stranded, with Heathrow operating about a third of scheduled flights.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said BAA had been offered the use of troops for snow clearing.

East Coast suspended all services out of London King's Cross for the day after severe damage to overhead power lines at Huntingdon, near Peterborough.

The company advised passengers not to travel, saying: "East Coast is advising all passengers who have arrived at King's Cross to go home and restart their journeys tomorrow."

Passengers were pictured climbing down from a train which came to a standstill outside Huntingdon before walking across the tracks.

An East Coast spokesman said four trains were brought to a halt, with 400 passengers having to evacuate.

About 80 First Capital Connect passengers also had to abandon two trains near Huntingdon.

A Network Rail spokesman said he was hoping the damage would be repaired by Wednesday morning.

At King's Cross station, passengers told of their frustration.

70-year-old great-grandmother Anne Barrow had been awaiting an East Coast train to Leeds as she made her way to Wakefield to spend Christmas with her son's family.

Having travelled from Kent this morning she arrived at the station to be met with a wall of cancellations.

The grandmother-of-10 and great-grandmother-of-two said: "Going up to Wakefield to see my son is my whole Christmas plan.

"I'm feeling very anxious because I've seen two Leeds trains cancelled already. This is a total nightmare."

As she spoke another cancellation flashed up on the board and her shoulders slumped as she realised it was her train.

"That's Christmas totally ruined. I can't come up again tomorrow; it's too much," she said, adding she did not know how she would spend Christmas now.

Mike Frankland, 52, came to London for a long weekend with his wife Denise, 47, and daughter Kate, 18.

Despite seeing a West End show and going for dinner, Mr Frankland said: "There's kind of been a shadow hanging over because of the snow.

"We've been sort of worried about how we were going to get back. We don't have anywhere to stay tonight so if there are no trains we will have to ask them to put us up."

As they waited in the cold concourse, their train back to Hull slipped from on-time to delayed, and they braced themselves for a cancellation.

Mrs Frankland, who works in local government, said: "I've got lots of shopping left do and I need to get started on getting ready for Christmas itself. We'll just have to see what happens."

Katherine Quinn flew from Michigan, one of the coldest parts of the US, to see her parents in Leeds.

She said: "Their snow has been about the same as here but they have not had the same delays like here.

"They're just set up for it - they've got lots of snow ploughs and they just keep the trains running OK."

Travelling with her three-year-old daughter Lyla, Mrs Quinn said: "I'm a bit worried about how long it all takes.

"We're looking at an hour to Cambridge and then a couple of hours by bus and then we're still only at Peterborough.

"Hopefully, everyone will be looking out for each other and nice to each other."

An enormous queue formed at King's Cross this afternoon following the announcement that a diesel train, which is unaffected by the powerline failure, was heading to Scotland via the North East and Yorkshire.

Lance Corporal Neil Odger, who returned from Afghanistan at the end of November, hoped to get on to return to Catterick Garrison in north Yorkshire.

L/Cpl Odger, of the Military Police, said: "It's this train or bust, really. I can't really do another expensive night in London."

Despite the queue, he said: "I'm pretty sure I'll get on this one. I'm not sure what I'll do if I don't."

William Dalrymple waited at King's Cross with a wheelchair for his 89-year-old mother Susan, who began her journey from Fife at 10am but had still not arrived by 5.15pm.

Mr Dalrymple, 57, said: "She's been in tears last night and this morning on the phone because she's not as independent as she used to be.

"Anything that's unexpected tends to throw her completely."

Mr Dalrymple, a teacher originally from Fife, said he knew she had reached Newcastle but had no idea whether she had continued her journey from there.

"No one can say for definite where she is. She doesn't have a mobile and so she doesn't have a way of phoning me directly.

"We have an onward journey from here to Surrey so it's a very, very long day for her."

The evacuation followed a night when more than 100 passengers were stuck between Kemsing and Otford in Kent after a Southeastern train from London Victoria to Ashford came to a halt following heavy snowfall.

The travellers were eventually rescued at 3am after another train was sent alongside as a "last resort".

Meanwhile, the EU Commission slammed Europe's air travel disruption as unacceptable and urged airports to "get serious" about better planning for bad weather.

Heathrow said it will operate about a third of scheduled flights until at least 6am on Thursday.

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews defended the airport's response to the crisis.

"When we have got every passenger where he or she wants to be, then we will crawl over every aspect of these last few days," he said.

Passengers were urged to check the airport website to see if their flight was listed for departure and then confirm with the airline before setting off.

Mr Matthews and BAA chairman Sir Nigel Rudd met Mr Hammond at Heathrow Airport today.

A BAA spokesman said: "They have explained to Mr Hammond what we are doing to try to get passengers on the move and also what we are doing to look after those who are still at the airport."

Mr Hammond said: "This is not the moment for recriminations about what happened on Saturday and Sunday.

"What we're trying to do now is focus our entire energy on providing BAA with the maximum support to get as many passengers away as possible before the holiday weekend.

"We've offered BAA the use of troops if they need additional manpower for snow clearing although they tell us they've actually got the manpower they need here.

"They are in the process of clearing the second runway now at Heathrow."

Flights from Aberdeen and Edinburgh airports were also facing delays and cancellations.

Passengers were advised to check with their airline before setting off.

Glasgow said its runway was clear with most flights operating, although there were some cancellations because of snow at other airports.

There were also disruptions at London Luton and London City airports.

Six hundred flights were scheduled at Gatwick, and around 100,000 passengers were expected to travel through the airport, with "knock-on delays and cancellations" throughout the day.

Eurostar said speed restrictions were in place on its high-speed lines, adding up to two hours to journey times.

The rail company said: "We are asking all customers booked to travel before Christmas to refund or exchange their tickets free of charge if their travel is not essential."

Disruptions also affected rail services including Northern Rail, London Midland, Chiltern, Virgin, ScotRail and First TransPennine Express.

In Yorkshire there was yet another morning of train delays and cancellations.

First Transpennine Express trains between Manchester Airport and Newcastle are running only between Manchester Airport and York.

Northern Rail is running reduced services between Leeds and Sheffield via Barnsley. The following trains are cancelled:

05:32 Huddersfield - Wakefield Westgate

06:30 Wakefield Westgate - Huddersfield

07:03 Retford - Leeds

18:36 Huddersfield - Leeds

19:19 Sheffield - Leeds

Andy Ratcliffe, forecaster at MeteoGroup, the Press Association's weather division, said Heathrow and Gatwick could expect temperatures of up to 3C today and 1-2C tomorrow.

Overnight a band of snow will develop through Wales and the Midlands, bringing the possibility of further snow flurries further south before it clears.

"There's still a lot of snow on the ground and it's not going to disappear quickly," he said.

"We're not expecting any snow after tomorrow at Heathrow and Gatwick but temperatures will stay cold so there will not be a rapid thaw.

"The cold spell will keep its grip on the country at least until the weekend."

The coldest temperature in the UK overnight was in Crosby, Merseyside, which sank to minus 17.6C (0.3F).

Robin Gisby, Network Rail's director of operations and customer services, said: "I must apologise to passengers using services on the East Coast today. I have scores of engineers on site fixing the overhead power lines and I expect some limited services to resume later this evening and a full restoration for the morning."

Prime Minister David Cameron said: "Even BAA's harshest critics have conceded that given the amount of snow that's fallen, extensive disruption is understandable.

"But if it's understandable that Heathrow had to close briefly, I'm frustrated on behalf of all those affected that it's taking so long for the situation to improve.

"There have been intensive discussions between Philip Hammond and BAA about how best to ensure that normal flying capacity is resumed as soon as possible.

"I can tell you now that snow ploughs are on that second runway as I speak and the second runway will be open by this evening."

The East Coast train company said that it was likely that its services would start and finish at Peterborough for the rest of today.

It said services were running north of Peterborough to and from eastern England, Yorkshire, north east England and Scotland.

The company went on: "However, as a result of the disruption, short-notice alterations and delays can be expected across the route."

East Coast said it was laying on 63 replacement coaches at Peterborough and Huntingdon to take passengers to/from Cambridge, where they could join connecting train services to/from London's Liverpool Street station.

It said passengers who were travelling on the four East Coast trains which were brought to a standstill in the affected area were now on the move.

All the passengers left stranded on trains since early this morning have been rescued, East Coast said this afternoon.

Several hundred travellers were caught on four trains travelling towards King's Cross after electric cables came down in the Huntingdon area.

A spokesman for East Coast said: "All four trains did come back here to King's Cross, the last just before lunchtime.

"We have no one stuck on any train at this time at all.

"It was difficult going for all those people obviously but we tried to look after them as best we could."