‘Nightmare’ travel chaos after fire near rail tracks and airline IT problems

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Rush-hour commuters and holidaymakers faced “nightmare” delays and cancellations after a fire broke out next to railway tracks and an airline was hit by IT problems.

Southern and Gatwick Express trains could not run to or from London Victoria early on Wednesday morning, while British Airways (BA) cancelled flights departing from London airports after computer issues affected its check-in system.

Early-morning trains were axed after a fire started between Victoria and Clapham Junction, with lines reopening around 8am after fire crews put out the blaze.

But “heavy residual delays” were expected and commuters were advised to avoid travelling to Victoria at all, Southern said.

Tim Willcox said passengers were “seething” as he endured a “nightmare” start to a planned short break in Nice, France, with his wife Najah.

The BBC presenter was stranded on the 5.30am Gatwick Express for 20 minutes outside Victoria, put on another train which was also cancelled, and, as a result, missed his 7.25am flight.

He told PA: “Most flights are now either fully booked or have shot up in price or involve stopovers.

“I’m now on a bus, It’s just proving a bloody nightmare. I can’t afford to spend £1,000 on two flights.

“We’ve got car hire waiting, a hotel booked. We’re now looking at flying to Paris and then flying from Paris to Nice.

“There was a complete lack of communication from Gatwick Express, there was a very rude staff member who just wouldn’t answer questions. People were seething.”

Louisa Poulsen said she jumped in a taxi to Gatwick for her flight to Rome after her train was cancelled and has had to fork out an extra £115 so far.

She said: “I have a wedding to get to, so this just isn’t a case of postponing a weekend away. I think I’ll just have to get the next flight out of Gatwick but honestly it’s a lot of extra cash to cover before I get to claim insurance.”

Meanwhile, images on social media showed long queues of holidaymakers at airports and error messages on the BA app.

The airline said the systems issue had resulted in delays and cancellations from London airports.

It is offering short-haul passengers departing from Heathrow, Gatwick and London City the chance to re-book to another day between Thursday and next Tuesday.

A spokesman said: “We are working as quickly as possible to resolve a systems issue which has resulted in some short-haul cancellations and delays from London airports.

“A number of flights continue to operate but we are advising customers to check ba.com for the latest flight information before coming to the airport.”

BA is using back-up and manual systems to try to cope with the problems.

A major computer failure hit the airline over spring bank holiday weekend in May 2017, standing tens of thousands of passengers and costing owner AIG around £80 million.

The airline cancelled 726 flights due to a power failure, sparking a raft of compensation claims for flight costs, train and hotel expenses, replacement clothes and toiletries.

The GMB union blamed the meltdown on cost-cutting and the outsourcing of hundreds of IT jobs, which was denied by BA.

More recently, it has faced troubles including threatened strikes by its pilots.

The airline is also set to be fined £183 million over a cyber attack on its security systems last year in which the personal data of up to 500,000 customers was stolen.

On the trains, services will divert to London Bridge where possible, with travellers advised to Thameslink or other Southern services where available, National Rail Enquiries said.

Tickets can be used for alternative transport on London buses, some Thameslink services, and the London Underground.

The cause of the trackside fire was not stated.

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