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Fires shut down main rail line from Heathrow to London during busy holiday travel

Skift Take

The cancellations will cause a huge backlog of passengers waiting at either end of the rail line, and a multitude of missed flights could impact connecting flights throughout the day.

— Samantha Shankman

London Heathrow airport’s main rail link to the U.K. capital was closed on what is expected to be the hub’s busiest day of the holiday season after fires and waterlogging damaged signaling equipment.

The branch route to Heathrow is shut after water penetrated a line-side transformer at its junction with the Great Western main line yesterday, causing a fire, while a second blaze damaged gear at Acton, closer to London’s Paddington station.

Engineers worked through the night to rectify the faults and routes should open again today, according to Network Rail, which runs Britain’s tracks. Two of four lines to Paddington remain closed, limiting services to southwest England and Wales, and people are advised to check websites before travelling.

“It’s not just a case of flicking a switch,” Network Rail spokesman Chris Denham said. “The systems need to be brought back gradually. Much of the line-side equipment is quite old, dating from the 1960s, and is scheduled to be replaced.”

London Heathrow is expected to attract 105,000 departing passengers today, the most during the Christmas period, as some Britons opt to spend the holidays abroad and overseas visitors fly out to be with friends and family.

BA getaway

British Airways, the biggest operator at the airport, said 111,000 travelers will be flying today across its network.

The Paddington station page on Network Rail’s website showed 14 cancellations in the hour to 10:15 a.m. local time, including all trains run by Heathrow Express, which depart for Europe’s busiest airport every 15 minutes, and of slower Heathrow Connect services.

Trains to the west of England and south Wales operated by FirstGroup Plc’s First Great Western unit are also affected, with departures such as the 9:30 a.m. to Bristol canceled.

Six services are shown as likely to run on time, including the 10:06 a.m. to Penzance, 275 miles from London.

The London subway’s Piccadilly line, which connects with Heathrow, is running normally, said Steve Taylor, a spokesman for Transport for London, which oversees bus and Tube services.

Editor: Chad Thomas.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Jasper in London at cjasper@bloomberg.net. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net.

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