Commuters were hit with the first of an expected five days of snow and travel chaos today as the “Beast from the East” enveloped London in sub-zero temperatures.
The vortex of cold air from Siberia will leave parts of the UK colder than the Arctic Circle this week with forecasters predicting further heavy snowfall and temperatures feeling as cold as -9C on Thursday.
Rail commuters heading south-east from the capital were urged to complete their journeys by 6pm today in anticipation of the severe conditions.
More than 100,000 tonnes of grit was ready to be used in London to keep main roads, bus routes and roads leading to hospitals and fire stations open.
Travellers heading into London this morning suffered disruption with delays on the Circle, Metropolitan and Hammersmith and City lines due to power problems and signal failures.
South Western, which carries more than 300,000 passengers a day, a third into mainline Waterloo, warned of delayed and cancelled services to come. It said “Poor weather conditions including snow and ice have been forecast… we will be taking appropriate action overt the next few days.”
South Eastern, which operates services into Charing Cross, Cannon Street and London Bridge, said passengers should aim to get home before 6pm today: “Whether it snows or not, poor conditions caused by severe storms, frost or ice can hamper our ability to run trains safely.”
Greater Anglia, which includes services into Liverpool Street, said all its trains would stop running from 10 pm tonight because of the “Beast from the East”. For tomorrow and Wednesday a reduced service will operate between 6 am and 10 pm – with decisions later on further cancellations for the remainder of the week.
Empty trains will run throughout the nights this week in an effort to keep the tracks clear.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “We will have extra staff working around the clock in order to keep main lines as clear as possible but while we will do everything we can to keep people moving, some lines may be closed and services will be subject to delays and cancellations.”
The UK’s rail watchdog said train companies should “do more” to understand the frustrations of passengers.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said: “We know there can be frustration when trains are cancelled and timetables altered for snow that doesn’t appear or is lighter than predicted – the industry needs to better communicate why the decisions are made when they are.”
Gareth Powell, TfL managing director of surface transport, said “everything possible” was being done to keep rail, Tube and bus services running.
The Met Office has issued yellow ‘be aware’ warnings for snow for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday ahead of the “coldest week in five years”.
Met Office Meteorologist Alex Burkill said: “Tonight it’s going to be cold again, dropping to -3C or -4C with largely clear skies for much of the night before tomorrow morning when we will see a few snow shower towards the east of London, including eastern parts of the M25.”
He said snowfall could be “quite frequent and persistent” on Tuesday, while further wintry showers were expected for Wednesday.
“On Thursday, it will be windy and feel very cold. The temperatures will barely climb above freezing but it will feel as if it is between -5C or -10C,” he added.
“Significant snow is forecast overnight into Friday coming from the South West. A few centimetres of lying snow is expected for people waking up on Friday morning.”
Dr Thomas Waite, of Public Health England’s extreme events team said: “It’s critical that if you know anyone over 65, with young children or who has heart or lung conditions, that you keep an eye on them and think what help they may need. Staying warm by heating your home to at least 18C can be crucial to staying well.”