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Last updated: December 24, 2012 12:19 pm
“Unprecedented” levels of rain and flooding have caused prolonged misery for those attempting Christmas travel, with floods knocking out whole sections of regional rail.
The heavy rain that caused four severe flood warnings this week meant that some replacement buses for affected rail services were also disrupted.
No severe flood warnings - which indicate a danger to life - were still in force on Monday morning but there were 126 flood warnings across the UK, with more than half in the Midlands.
Network Rail, which operates Britain’s rail infrastructure, described the level of rain this year as “unprecedented in modern times”.
The Met Office predicts that 2012 may be one of the five wettest years on record once December’s total rainfall is calculated.
The southwest of England, Wales and Scotland are worst affected, even as the bad weather eased for much of the rest of the country. Bands of heavy rain were moving north-easterly across Scotland, with another outbreak of rain forecast for the south of the UK later on Christmas eve.
Homes were evacuated in towns near Exeter and near Aberdeen, while a woman was rescued in Devon in the early hours of Sunday as her car was swept away by flood water.
First Great Western, which operates train services in and out of London Paddington to the southwest of England and Wales, warned people not to attempt to travel west of Taunton, such was the extent of disruption in the region to its trains and replacement buses. Three temporary plastic dams were constructed to ease the flooding on the tracks.
Trains from London to Exeter are terminating at Tiverton, with trains unable to operate between Taunton and Plymouth. No trains are running between Bristol Parkway and Swindon while trains between Paddington and Swansea are being diverted, adding up to 45 minutes to journey times.
Wales also remains badly affected, with no trains running between Cardiff and Bridgend and only a limited number of replacement buses.
“Safety is our priority and where flooding has submerged tracks or damaged structures we cannot allow trains to run,” said Robin Gisby, Network Rail’s director of network operations. “Our engineers have been out at vulnerable locations since the rains began and through the night to monitor the situation, and we are doing all we can to help operators get passengers to where they want to get to.”
It was not just the bad weather that disrupted rail travel: while the southwest of the UK remained near-inaccessible to rail passengers, those travelling to the northwest were hit by scheduled engineering works on Virgin Trains’ West Coast mainline service – the franchise at the centre of a political fiasco over the awarding of its operating contract – which runs trains as far north as Glasgow.
Meanwhile, the effects of a fire on Friday were still being felt on Sunday on the line between Brighton and London, which serves Gatwick airport, resulting in a reduced service.
Despite all the problems to rail infrastructure, the AA was not forecasting significant numbers of people forced on to Britain’s roads as a result. Christmas falling on a Tuesday also meant that festive travelling was spread across the weekend.
But the motoring group did forecast travel woes on the roads for Christmas eve, “particularly around [shopping centres] like Bluewater in Kent or Sheffield’s Meadowhall, where commuters and shoppers will meet”, said an AA spokesman.
“The key point about Monday is that it is a normal working day for some people so there will be a rush-hour either end of the day, plus then people travelling for Christmas and people out doing last-minute Christmas shopping,” he added.
Notorious hotspots such as the western section of the M25, the M6 from its toll to the junction with the M62, and the M4 from London to as far west as Newbury were all expected by the AA to be congested on Monday.
Additional reporting by Hannah Kuchler
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