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Snow and ice | Engineers battle to restore power and transport links

Snow road

Engineers have been working day and night after more than 100,000 homes were left without power, roads were closed and trains and flights were cancelled as swathes of the UK were submerged in snow and ice yesterday (Monday).

Western Power Distribution said it successfully restored electricity to 99,500 customers early on Monday morning, while almost 7,000 remained “off supply” at around 11am, mainly in the West Midlands. Engineering teams were responding to a number of incidents caused by the extreme weather, a spokeswoman said, including trees toppling on to power lines.

British Airways cancelled about 60 flights from Heathrow this morning, with other airlines also affected by the severe weather and the knock-on effect on plane and staff locations. “We are working with our airline partners to return aircraft to where they need to be and full service recovery remains the focus,” said Heathrow in a statement.

A section of the A5004 in the Peak District was among 20 roads closed at lunchtime on Monday, according to the AA. The RAC said it expected seven breakdowns a minute as snow and ice made driving treacherous.

Highways England insisted it had taken into account a lack of traffic on the roads when gritting. “Our teams have been working round the clock to do our best to keep motorways and major A roads clear,” said a spokesperson.

“The salt we use works by lowering the freezing point of moisture on the road surface so it has to be colder before it turns to ice. To become really effective, dry salt has to be activated by traffic which crushes it and draws in moisture to form a salt solution (or brine). To speed this up our gritters spread concentrated brine which activates the salt more quickly.

“Our specialist contractors have a range of tools, including weather station and road condition data, to assess the amount of salt and brine mixes to use for different road and weather conditions. The amount also changes if temperatures are particularly low, if there is heavy rain, or if there are fewer motorists on the road.”

Trains were being cancelled between Newport and Hereford this morning after trees fell on the line, as were services between London and Milton Keynes. The National Rail website said: “Sunday’s snow fall combined with low temperatures overnight has resulted in poor rail conditions across the West Midlands railway network.”

Network Rail said teams had been out clearing snow from lines. “Our cold-weather vehicles and machines are in position at depots across Britain, including 10 snow and ice treatment trains fitted with snow ploughs, hot-air blowers, steam jets, brushes, scrapers and heated track de-icer,” said a spokesperson.

A ferry heading from Calais to Dover ran aground shortly after departing on Sunday, according to Reuters.  A P&O Ferries statement said a “full investigation” had been launched.

The Met Office has warned of ice forming in parts of the UK into Tuesday morning. More than 20 flood warnings were in place over the last two days although most had been removed by the Environment Agency by Monday lunctime. People in the mid-Bristol Avon area were still being told at that time that melting snow could contribute to flooding.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, called for investment to improve the UK’s resilience to bad weather.

“Passengers and road users want to see transport networks that are as resilient as possible in bad weather,” he said. “If parts of the railway or roads are closed, provide the information that lets people make an informed choice. And if people do get stranded, look after their welfare.

“In the short-term, it’s crucial that people have the information they need. In the long-term investment is key.”

Former council highways director David Gardner called for a UK-wide review.

”Despite the tremendous efforts put in by all those involved in dealing with winter maintenance, the recent winter weather illustrates once again that the UK still needs a review… and development of a more comprehensive winter maintenance strategy, in the same way as that developed following the 2007 floods,” he said.

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