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Germany

Fresh snow falls as travel woes plague Europe

With Christmas just a few days away, travelers remain stranded around northern Europe. Thousands have been spending their nights in airports hoping their flights will take off.

Passengers wait at Heathrow Airport

A backlog of passengers are filling airports and train stations

Fresh snowfall overnight caused further setbacks at Frankfurt Airport, with no planes taking off or landing on Tuesday morning. Around 130 departures, and a further 130 arrivals, were canceled at Germany's biggest air terminal.

One of the airport's three runaways was reopened, allowing the first plane of the day to land at 8:28 a.m.

Brussels Airport and London Heathrow, the world's busiest airport, continued to experience disruption. It was running a reduced number of flights on Tuesday.

Eurostar services from London to Paris and Brussels had also been hit. Speed restrictions mean that fewer trains were running.

Eurostar asked "all customers booked to travel before Christmas to refund or exchange their tickets free of charge, if their travel is not essential."

Thousands of passengers spent Monday night waiting in airports and train stations, as the countdown to Christmas shortens.

Airports struggle

Airports were experiencing a backlog of passengers after hundreds of flights were cancelled over the weekend.

passengers waiting at Heathrow Airport

December is one of the most popular times to travel

At Frankfurt, some 340 of the 1,340 takeoffs and landings were canceled on Monday, while at London Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport, a very limited service began again on Monday after a weekend of almost total standstill. Many other airports opened for a few hours before closing again.

The Berlin airport operators said they did not expect services to return to normal before Christmas.

The German transport minister, Peter Ramsauer, has suggested to local authorities that they allow flights at night, in order to clear the backlog of passengers. The British authorities have already withdrawn the ban on night-flights until December 24, Christmas Eve.

Trains disrupted

Trains around Berlin were seriously delayed on Monday due to heavy snowfalls in the region. Throughout the country, frozen switches led to considerable problems. A number of trains were canceled and, among those that ran, delays of over an hour were frequent. Speed limits were introduced on high-speed tracks to prevent damage to train undercarriages from blocks of ice.

The company operating almost all of Germany's long-distance trains, Deutsche Bahn, continued to warn passengers that trains were likely to be very crowded.

"There are likely to be considerable bottlenecks on major lines because of the cancelation of flights," they wrote on their website.

Throughout much of Europe, railways were similarly disrupted. Even in southern Sweden, which is used to heavy snow, 100 of 350 train journeys were cancelled on Monday.

Restrictions on the roads

pedestrians crossing a street in Berlin

Getting around on foot has been the only option for many people

On the roads too, the weather has caused serious disruption. The authorities imposed a travel ban on buses and trucks in Paris. In parts of Germany trucks weighing more than 7.5 tons were at times banned from freeways after a series of accidents in which tractor-trailers skidded and blocked the carriageway. In the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, there were 200 kilometers (125 miles) of traffic jams during the Monday morning rush hour.

The police have been complaining that many drivers are still using summer tires, in spite of the icy conditions. The chief executive of the Association of Local Authorities, Gerd Landsberg, told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that, after the costs of last year's heavy winter, local governments would have to cut back on clearing the roads. He said drivers would have to get used to driving on snowy roads, as they do in Scandinavia.

Although it's expected that the weather will warm on Thursday, another cold spell is forecast in time for Christmas, although it is not expected to bring much snow.

Author: Michael Lawton, Thomas Sheldrick (dapd, dpa, AFP, AP)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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