UK
23/12/2013 07:30 GMT | Updated 23/12/2013 12:25 GMT

Christmas Travel Nightmare As Weather Threatens To Disrupt Roads, Trains

Travellers heading home for the holidays could be facing the nightmare before Christmas, as strong gales and torrential rain threaten to cause travel chaos.

Severe weather warnings are in place for much of the UK today until 9am on Christmas Eve, threatening to cause localised flooding across southern England and Wales.

Strong winds are expected across much of the UK, with winds of up to 80mph in coastal areas of southern England, while Scotland is braced for sleet and snow storms and icy roads, the Met Office said.

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Train operators are warning of widespread delays, disruptions and cancellations, and have made contingency plans with bus firms.

Speed restrictions are also likely on some routes, Network Rail said, and many train companies are advising passengers with tickets for today to travel earlier than their booked time, or to wait until tomorrow.

The AA has also warned that road disruption is likely, and advised drivers to avoid any flood water.

The Environment Agency urged people to check its flood forecasts and warned people to keep away from coastal promenades because of wet and windy conditions.

Six flood warnings were in place this morning, along with 73 less serious flood alerts, the majority in southern England.

The worst of the weather is expected to be clear by the end of Christmas Eve, the Met Office said.

Chris Burton, from weather forecaster MeteoGroup, said the combination of wind and rain could cause flooding, bring down trees and leave widespread disruption to rail and road travel.

He said: "The rain is going to be heaviest and most persistent across southern areas of England, the Midlands and Wales, with up to 2in (50mm) of rain falling.

"There has been plenty of wet weather in the last week or so, there is a risk of localised or even widespread flooding if the rain continues overnight tonight, as expected.

"Strong winds will continue throughout today, with gusts of 60mph across England and Wales, Northern Ireland and western Scotland. Overnight they will be even stronger, with gusts of 70mph or 80mph possible across south east England and East Anglia.

"But by first thing tomorrow morning the weather should have turned a bit less wet and windy."

Rail operators are bracing themselves to deal with disruption from debris on tracks and high winds, and many are removing ticket restrictions to allow passengers to avoid the worst of the weather problems, Network Rail said.

Passengers are advised to check with their rail operator for the latest updates on travel restrictions and delays.

South West Trains said it would be running an amended timetable from 1pm until at least 6am tomorrow, with significantly reduced speeds across the whole network, while First Capital Connect will be running reduced services on its Great Northern and Thameslink routes.

Virgin Trains said tickets for specific trains today can be used at any time, and that expected 50mph speed limits between London Euston and Birmingham New Street and between Rugby and Nuneaton this afternoon mean it will not be able to run a full service, instead operating with fewer trains.

Greater Anglia and Stansted Express services will run at a reduced speed from 6pm until the end of the day, which will limit the number of trains that can run.

Trains are not expected to run tomorrow before 10am while engineers check for damage to overhead wires, and there will be no replacement bus services.

Robin Gisby, from Network Rail, said yesterday that hundreds of engineers would be out across the rail network today and tomorrow to react to problems, remove debris and repair damaged equipment

Visitor attractions have also had to put in contingency plans due to the weather.

The Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, central London, is closed today.

A spokesman said last night: "Due to the severe weather conditions of high winds and extreme rain predicted for London tomorrow, PWR Events and The Royal Parks have taken the decision to close Hyde Park Winter Wonderland on Monday for the day.

"All ticket holders for the Lycamobile Ice Rink, Zippos Circus, Magical Ice Kingdom and the Giant Observation Wheel will be refunded for Monday.

"We are very sorry for the inconvenience caused, but Hyde Park Winter Wonderland will be open as usual again on Tuesday at 10am. For further updates please follow us @hydeparkwinter."