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April 17, 2010

Rail aids stranded air passengers

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WITH a cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland continuing to wreak havoc with air travel across most of Europe, several railways in affected countries are stepping up to help air travellers reach their destinations.
 
Airspace across much of Europe is closed until Sunday at the earliest. In light of the situation, train operators were keen to remind passengers booked on domestic flights that trains are still running, and in some cases additional services are being offered to cope with the spike in demand.
 
In Britain, Network Rail (NR) confirmed that it is assisting operators looking to run more services on the network. Virgin Trains is providing 2000 extra seats between London Euston, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow throughout Friday, while East Coast Railway provided an additional two morning and evening services between London King's Cross and Edinburgh as well as extending some of its services through to Edinburgh. East Coast reported carrying 5000 extras passengers on Thursday and plans to continue offering extra services over the weekend and into next week. Eurostar reported selling all of its 58,000 tickets to Paris and Brussels for the second consecutive day Friday. The company is operating additional trains between London and Paris on Sunday.
 

In Sweden, SJ added capacity to its night trains as well as offering extra services from Stockholm to Gothenburg and Malmo throughout Friday. SJ also offered free rebooking of tickets, subject to availability, if flights were cancelled.

Norwegian train services were reportedly extremely busy on Friday along with bus services despite Norwegian State Railways (NSB) increasing capacity on many of its morning and evening peak trains. Capacity is again set to be doubled on the Kristiansand to Oslo service tomorrow morning.

"We will continue to assess the situation throughout the weekend, but we are very pleased that we managed to increase capacity," says Mr Day Brekkan, head of NSB's southern line.

Lufthansa passengers in Germany have been offered vouchers in exchange for their airline tickets to use on German Rail (DB) services which are expected to be extremely busy throughout the weekend. volcano3.jpgThere were reports of 200m-long queues at Frankfurt airport as people waited to get onto trains, and DB says that all available trains will be in use over the weekend, but warned passengers that they might be forced to wait.

"Unfortunately we could make no preparations for this exceptional situation," says Mr Ulrich Homburg, DB board member for passenger traffic. "We ask for your understanding if services are full."

Travel is also expected to be extremely difficult in France over the weekend with French National Railways (SNCF) already running a limited service due to a strike. However, extra seats are being provided on international services.

Around 17,000 out of the 28,000 daily European flights were cancelled on Friday and about three-quarters of flights on Saturday. The cloud of volcanic ash was covering most of Europe on Saturday. Experts say the tiny particles of rock, glass and sand contained in the ash cloud could jam aircraft engines with catastrophic consequences.

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