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Getaway hit by delays and floods
The great Christmas getaway continued to be stalled as rail failures and floods wrecked travel plans for millions.
A major signalling problem in west London meant services in and out of Paddington were severely delayed, as only two of the four railway lines in and out of the station were in use and the Heathrow Express was also unable to run.
The evening rush-hour on the roads, during what was expected to be the busiest 24 hours of the seasonal getaway, was also hindered with tailbacks on the M6 near Cheshire and the A19 near Cleveland due to flooding on the road.
The effects of the heavy rain in recent days also caused chaos on a number of rail routes, leading to replacement buses between Liskeard and Looe in Cornwall as well as Chester and Wrexham General, and services in Derby and Nottingham were also disrupted. Train services near Gatwick Airport in West Sussex were affected by a major signalling problem caused by an overnight fire at Preston Park near Brighton.
Motorists had to contend with floods in Reading, Bedford, Nottingham, Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire and Egginton in Derbyshire, causing long queues on non-flooded roads.
By early afternoon congested spots included the M25 in Essex, while travellers trying to reach Gatwick by road were held up by a sliproad jam on the M23 close to the airport. Major congestion also built up on the M2 in Kent, the M4 in Gloucestershire, the M6 in Warwickshire, the M60 in Greater Manchester and the M77 in Glasgow.
First Great Western, which operates train services in and out of Paddington, warned that passengers should expect "significantly increased" journey times due to the signal failure at Hayes and Harlington in west London.
The cancellation of the Heathrow Express led many of the 123,000 departing passengers forced to take the Tube to the west London airport instead. It also caused delays and cancellations to Paddington services, with those travelling to Cardiff, Reading, Bristol and Bedwyn in Wiltshire among those affected.
The rail company warned that flooding is also expected to disrupt services to the South West between Taunton, Exeter St Davids, Plymouth and Penzance from the start of service on Saturday.
Heathrow was due to handle a further 114,000 departures on Sunday and 88,000 on Christmas Eve. British Airways was also having its busiest day of the holiday period today, with 111,000 travellers getting away for the Christmas break. BA will handle nearly 31,000 passengers on Christmas Day, with the airline carrying nearly 1.6 million in the period up to January 7.