Easter exodus getting under way

Hampshire Chronicle: Up to 16 million cars will be on the move over the bank holiday Up to 16 million cars will be on the move over the bank holiday

The big Easter getaway has begun, with Channel Tunnel passengers enduring a nightmare start to the holiday.

Two separate incidents have led to hours-long delays to those taking Folkestone-Calais shuttle trains and high-speed Eurostar services between London and Paris and Brussels via the tunnel.

The first problem came earlier today when a fatality near Lille in northern France involving a French high-speed train resulted in diversions and delays to Eurostar trains.

Then, just as Eurostar services were getting back to normal, a Eurotunnel passenger shuttle train broke down in the tunnel leading to further delays to Eurostar services and long hold-ups of up to four hours for shuttle-train passengers.

Eurostar has had to cancel six trains today - two from London to Paris, two from Paris to London, one from London to Brussels and one from Brussels to London.

The Channel Tunnel trouble came as millions took to the roads at the start of the holiday, with the weekend likely to see as many as 16 million cars on the move.

Around 3.4 million Britons are set to take an Easter break in the UK involving at least one overnight stay, providing an £800 million boost for the UK economy.

In addition, around 6.5 million Britons are planning day trips over the holiday period.

For those staying at home Good Friday is expected to be the best day of the holiday for weather, with cooler, cloudier and rainier conditions due as the weekend goes on.

An estimated 1.6 million Britons are heading abroad for the holiday, with Spain and its island s, Turkey, Tunisia and Florida, among the most-popular destination.

Engineering work on the railways will affect services to and from a number of major hubs over Easter, including London's Charing Cross, London Bridge, Paddington and King's Cross stations.

Southampton Central and Sheffield are among other major stations where services will be affected over the weekend.

Rail industry body the Railway Delivery Group said work was planned carefully to ensure the vast majority of passengers are not disrupted.

The group added that this Easter would see 20% fewer bus replacement services needed than last Easter.

The Channel Tunnel problems also led to long hold-ups on coast-bound roads in Kent, with delays on the M2, M20 M25 and A20.

P ort of Dover officials warned those heading for the port to take ferry services to allow plenty of time for their journeys.

Eurostar said the last train of the evening from St Pancras left at 9.30pm.

A spokesman said some people were stuck at stations and they would be reimbursed for the cost of their stay in hotels.

Average delays to people's journeys had been two hours, he said.

"Although the factors that have caused this are out of our control, we apologise to passengers who have been affected by this," he said.

The Eurostar spokesman said 14 out of the 44 trains due to leave from different starting points today had been cancelled.

Eurotunnel said the problem was resolved and it would run services through the night to try to clear the backlog which had built up through the afternoon and evening.

"Tomorrow is another very busy day and we want the service to be in proper shape in the morning," a spokesman said.

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