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Ministers call for action over fuel prices

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

A debate by MPs over the price of fuel will involve a number of ministers asking that the government works harder to make sure that costs are kept under control amid public outcry. An e-petition demanding that the price at the pumps is cut has been signed by around 100,000 people.

George Osborne has already scrapped the fuel tax escalator, and in March reduced the duty on fuel by 1p. However, ministers want guarantees that future planned tax hikes on fuel are reassessed. They are also calling for guarantees that when oil prices fall, any savings are passed back to motorists.

Tory MP Robert Halfon explained that current fuel prices were damaging small and medium businesses, and also meant that some people were handing over around 10 per cent of their pay packet in order to continue driving. He is asking fellow ministers to discuss how fuel tax rates are affecting economic growth and the country’s level of unemployment.

The Treasury has said that at times when the cost of fuel is high there will be a cap, meaning that they cannot rise higher than the price of inflation. At these times, the oil companies will be responsible of paying for any short falls through taxation.

Campaign for Better Transport spokesman, Richard Hebditch, said one of the main problems was that Britons remained too reliant on their cars, and that more investment was needed in making that public transport systems better. He added that it was economically dangerous to still be so reliant on foreign oil supplies.

Investigation into M5 crash focuses on firework display

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

The investigation into the M5 crash which took place last Friday night could take weeks, according to Justine Greening, the transport secretary. She was speaking to MPs when she confirmed that the incident had resulted in seven people dying, and 51 being injured. The pile up involved a total of 37 vehicles.

Avon and Somerset Police have said that they are currently focusing their investigation on a nearby firework display. The fireworks were being let off not far from the carriageway at Taunton Rugby Club. Police suspect that there was a large amount of smoke being produced, and that it caused treacherous driving conditions on the night.

Anthony Bangham, assistant chief constable, said that police would be interviewing all those who had attended the display to find out what conditions were like leading up to the crash. He explained that smoke was extremely difficult to drive through and that it may have been combined with already foggy conditions.

Among those who lost their lives were Pam and Tony Adams, from Newport. According to Canon Andrew Willie, the pair had been together since falling in love when they were teenagers. Both were in their 70s.

Lorry drivers Terry Brice, from Bristol, and Kye Thomas, from Cornwall, also died in the accident. Both worked for the same haulage firm, Samworth Brothers. Another colleague received injuries in the pile-up. Director Mark Samworth, said it was the top priority to make sure that the victims’ families were being given everything they needed at an extremely difficult time.

ScotRail reveals plans to avoid winter disruption

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

The severe weather last winter caused disruption on transport networks across Scotland. ScotRail is hoping that by employing a number of new measures this year it will be able to avoid a repeat of the chaos on the trains. The operator has unveiled a £2 million package of measures, including tunnels made of plastic, which can be heated and used to defrost trains, and ‘power showers’ which will be employed for the first time to remove ice from undercarriages.

ScotRail is also hoping to improve on the way in which it communicates with its passengers. Staff are to be issued with smartphones so that information, including delays to services and cancellations, can be relayed as quickly as possible. A lack of communication was one of the things rail customers were particularly angered by last year.

Keith Brown, Scotland’s Transport Minister, said he welcomed the preparation by ScotRail. He particularly praised the investment in service resilience and concentration on better communication.

Managing director at ScotRail, Steve Montgomery, said lessons had been learnt during last winter, and the new investment in minimising disruption showed a commitment to the customer.

Around 70 trains were damaged last year as ice, which had accumulated on the underside of carriages, fell off and bounced back from the tracks. Repairs and safety checks then had to be carried out meaning the trains had to be pulled out of service. It is hoped that the new high-pressure power showers, a Finnish invention, will reduce the problem over the coming winter months.

Flood warnings issued as downpours expected

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Some parts of the UK can expect heavy downpours today as the authorities warn of localised flooding. Flood warnings have been put in place for Bridlington, in East Yorkshire, and Scarborough, in North Yorkshire. Flood alerts have also been issued by the Environment Agency for coastal areas and rivers in Devon and Cornwall.

According to MeteoGroup forecaster, Bill Payne, the heavy rain which has been falling across the south of the country is moving to the north-east and will push into Scotland this evening. Orkney and Shetland can also expect some strong winds.

Although 50mm of rain fell in a 12 hour period in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire yesterday, the Environment Agency has lifted a flood warning for nearby Haverford West. Temperatures in the south-east and across East Anglia are expected to hit highs of 16C.

Floods have been causing transport disruption, including road closures and the suspension of rail services, in Ireland. Some shops and homes have been left underwater, and Dublin City Council implemented an emergency plan to evacuate the worst hit areas. Ferries to the city were cancelled as were flights in and out of the airport.

The search has been resumed for a police officer who was swept away by flood waters in the mountains of Wicklow. He had been helping people on the River Liffey when the incident occurred. The flooding has been caused by the equivalent of 30 days worth of rain coming down in just 24-hours. Many commuters making their way home through Dublin yesterday did so through flooded streets.

Missing yachtsman may have be cannibal victim

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

A German tourist visiting French Polynesia with his girlfriend may have been eaten by cannibals. Stefan Ramin went missing last month after landing on the island of Nuku Hiva.

According to reports, he set out on a hunting expedition with a local guide, but failed to return. The guide told Heika Dorsch, Mr Ramin’s girlfriend, that he had been involved in an accident on the trek into the mountains.

Ms Dorsch attempted to raise the alarm, but claims that as she did so the guide, who has been named as Henri Haiti, tied her  to a tree before fleeing. The local police and the army are now conducting a manhunt.

The authorities say that a campfire has been discovered on a remote part of the island along with clothing and burnt remains including melted fillings, teeth and bones. The evidence has been transported to Paris for forensic analysis.

The German foreign ministry said that it was in contact with the island’s authorities. Deborah Kimitete, Nuku Hiva’s deputy mayor, said the situation was unbelievable. She added that this was the first time that anything like this had taken place on the tropical island.

Ms Dorsch and Mr Ramin set sail from Germany in 2008. They landed on Nuku Hiva on 16 September and had planned to sail around French Polynesia for a number of months. On his Facebook page, Mr Ramin said he was interested in travelling, diving, surfing and kitesurfing. A local on the island reportedly said that he was well known to the people in a local village.

Heath-wick high speed rail link plans revealed

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Ministers are considering plans to link Gatwick and Heathrow airports via a high speed railway service. The idea is to create a virtual hub, currently being called Heathwick, which could help to tackle the problem of diminishing capacity at airports in the south east. The trains would travel at up to 180mph meaning the journey time between Heathrow and Gatwick would be just 15 minutes. The project has been budgeted at £5 billion.

The track, which would mostly be underground, would follow the M25 and could stretch beyond Heathrow to RAF Northolt. Gatwick bosses have said that they welcome the scheme and look forward to examining it further. However, BAA, which owns Heathrow, said there were enormous political, technical and financial hurdles to be crossed.

Ryanair and easyJet said they would oppose the project. Both are worried that if a hub is created then low-cost carriers could be forced away from Gatwick. Ryanair boss, Michael O’Leary, dismissed the idea as prohibitively expensive and predicted that it would not be constructed in his lifetime.

Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airlines Group, British Airways’ parent company, said it was almost impossible to say how much the Heathwick project would cost or how long it would take to complete. He added that the government could end up regretting not going forward with constructing another runway at Heathrow.

Boris Johnson has said he will support further examination of the Heathwick proposals. However, the mayor added that he still thinks the best way of increasing capacity in the south east is through the building of a brand new Thames Estuary airport.

British Airways offers advanced passenger safety training

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Members of British Airways’ Executive Club are being offered the opportunity to attend an advanced safety course. For around £125, customers will be taught advanced techniques which they can use in the case of an emergency. The session lasts for around four hours and shows trainees how best to evacuate their seats and where life jackets are actually stored and how to put them on.

The course culminates in customers being shown how to get out of the cabin in the event of an emergency. British Airways’ course coordinator, Andy Clubb, explained that people felt more confident when travelling with an airline when they had better knowledge of how to react if the worst happened.

He added that as well as being able to look after themselves, the course meant that travellers would be better able to look after their fellow passengers in an emergency. He went on to say that other passengers would react better if they saw people behaving positively, rather than panicking, after a crash.

Apparently, most airline disasters are survivable and it is the confusion following a crash which results in casualties. The course has been instigated after a request from BP. The company sends its workers around the globe and it said that some of the airlines its employees used did not always have the best safety standards.

British airlines have an extremely good safety record. The last crash which had any fatalities was in 1989 when 47 people died on board a British Midland jet in Leicestershire.

Virgin contacts regulators over BA Heathrow slots

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Virgin Atlantic owner, Sir Richard Branson, has said that he will consult with regulators about British Airways’ decision to purchase six landing and take-off slots from troubled BMI at Heathrow. BA is already holds more slots than any other airline at the London hub by far. According to a statement made by Virgin, Sir Richard is concerned that BA is looking to strip the key assets from BMI which will result in unattractive leftovers being put up for sale.

The Virgin boss has been interested in BMI for about a decade and the airline said its interest had been renewed after owners Lufthansa recently announced that they were looking for a way of disposing of the British carrier.

Virgin said it had not entered into the bidding for the six Heathrow slots because it understood that they were being leased, not sold. BA has since announced that it has purchased the slots.

The European Commission and the Office of Fair Trading will now be asked by Virgin Atlantic to become involved in the matter. A spokesman for Lufthansa said the German flag carrier was still examining a range of possibilities for the disposal of BMI. He added that the sale of the slots to British Airways had not affected the value of the carrier because they were not part of its core activities.

Lufthansa has declined to say whether it is in negotiations with any airlines over selling further slots at Heathrow. BMI has been a loss maker since Lufthansa took control in 2009.

British Airways seeks Boeing 747 replacement

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

British Airways is to look to planemakers Boeing and Airbus for replacements for its fleet of 747 jumbos. The flag carrier has 55 of the older aircraft, the largest number of any airline on the planet. According to Alexander Grant, fleet manager for BA, the carrier will be comparing the merits of the wide-body Airbus A350-1000, the Boeing 787-10 and the Boeing 777-9X.

Talking at a conference being held by the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading, Mr Grant said that all of the aircraft would be entering into a competition before the end of 2011 so that BA could best assess how to meet the challenges of the future.

Philip Allport, a spokesman for British Airways, said that the carrier currently has five 747s in storage while 50 are in active service. He added that some of those planes would be displaced after BA took delivery of 12 Airbus A380s starting in two year’s time. There are also 24 787-8s and 787-9s on order, although specific delivery dates are yet to be confirmed.

BA’s parent company, International Airlines Group, has ordered eight Airbus A330s in a deal which at list price is worth $1.8 billion. The planes are intended for Iberia, IAG’s Spanish offshoot. Willie Walsh, chief executive of the airline, said that economies of scale will be achieved through further orders.

British Airways’ fleet of 747-400s are capable of carrying 345 passengers in a configuration which accommodates four classes. It is hoped that the new 787-10 will begin to fly commercially by 2016.

Travel disruption as strong winds batter the UK

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

An ambulance driver has been killed after a tree was blown down by strong winds and his passenger has been injured. The incident took place in County Durham on the A688 as Hurricane Katia battered much of the UK. The Met Office issued weather warnings and has advised some areas that flooding may occur as rail, road and ferry travel was faced with disruption.

The worst of the weather has hit the north of the country with homes in Dumfries and Galloway and Ayrshire being left without power. Several cars have been crushed on an industrial estate in Langley Moor in the North East after winds ripped the roof from a building.

The Tour of Britain’s second stage which was due to see cyclists taking to the roads in Cumbria and Lancashire has been cancelled. A spokesman for the event explained that highway officials and the police had said it was not safe to continue.

Delays to rail services to Newcastle from King’s Cross have been experienced after a tree was blown down onto the line between Darlington and Durham. Other delays across the north of England and Scotland have seen bus replacement services operating. A number of ferry crossings on the Irish Sea have been cancelled along with Scottish sailings to Cumbrae, Islay, Arran and Oban.

Traffic has also been disrupted with high-sided vehicles denied access to the Severn Bridge and the Britannia Bridge and speed restrictions being put in place on the Forth Road Bridge and the Tay Bridge in Scotland.