Snow storm causes US travel chaos

A major winter storm that has been tracking across the USA is causing serious travel disruption and is expected to bring still more chaos to northern and eastern states.

Thousands of travellers have been stranded at airports due to the wholesale cancellation of flight schedules. The US Midwest has seen the most disruption until now, but the east coast is bracing itself for disruption along its entire length, from Florida to New England.

Flightaware.com has reported that 360 flights have already been cancelled on Thursday December 27, while 1,780 flights were cancelled on Wednesday. The worst affected areas on Wednesday were Indianapolis, Dallas-Fort Worth, Chicago, Washington, New York and Cleveland.

News station, WFAA, carried a statement from Cynthia Vega, spokeswoman for Dallas Fort Worth international airport, saying, ‘(Tuesday’s) rapid snowfall, ice and winds required us to implement a de-icing program and severely hampered our ability to safely service aircraft as we normally would.’

At least six people are known to have died due to the severe weather, which is expected to continue moving across the country through Thursday and into Friday, bringing further disruption to the northeast. A statement on the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration website reads, ‘A potent storm system will continue to move through the northeast United States. Additional heavy snowfall will be focused from Upstate New York and Lake Ontario into New England through Thursday night or Friday Morning, where widespread accumulations over a foot are expected. As much as two feet of total snow is possible in central Maine. This will lead to hazardous travel conditions.’

 

World’s longest high-speed rail line opens in China

The world’s longest high-speed rail line was opened yesterday in China.

The 1,428-mile line from Beijing to Guangzhou commenced operations on December 26, and immediately reduced the travel time by rail between the two cities to an impressive 8 hours, from the previous duration of nearly 24 hours.

The dramatic improvement is made possible by trains that that are capable of travelling at 186mph, as they journey through five provinces and visit thirty-five cities. State news claims that 155 pairs of trains will operate on the route every day, but older trains will also remain in service.

However, the massive project has not been without its problems, with a bullet train crash claiming forty victims, heavy rain causing a section of rail to collapse, and corruption leading to the sacking of one official.

The project’s cost has also been astronomical, and the railway ministry is one of China’s heaviest borrowers, believed to be GBP190bn in debt, and having lost GBP874m in the first half of this year. Although the total cost of the line has not been revealed, the section between Wuhan and Guanzhou was reported by the Chinese media to have cost in the region of GBP11.56bn.

The high cost of the line means that travellers will be made to carry the burden in ticket prices. Standard seats cost GBP86, while business class tickets cost GBP270, more than a month’s wage for an average Chinese worker.

The opening of the line is only the latest development in China’s on-going plans to expand its rail system. It is intended that the Beijing-Guangzhou line will eventually be extended to Hong Kong.

 

Chinese to scrap QE2

The QE2, once the pride of cruise company Cunard’s fleet, is to be sold to the Chinese for scrap.

The GBP20m scrap deal follows the apparent collapse of a proposal to bring the ship back to the UK from its present mooring in Dubai, with the intention of turning it into a floating 5-star hotel. Investors had intended to moor the ship on the Thames, opposite the O2 Arena, and had presented a proposal to Dubai World, the owner of the vessel since its purchase for GBP64m in 2007.

However, it now appears that a separate deal has been done with a Chinese breaking yard, and the Daily Mail has reported that a twenty-strong Chinese crew is already on board the ship.

The newspaper quoted Roger Murray of QE2 London, saying, ‘We have been told the ship is going to be put into a dry dock before being taken to an unknown destination in the far east. That is a tragedy because it almost certainly means the QE2 is being sold as scrap. Our investors were going to give GBP20 million for the ship itself, plus GBP60 million for renovation and the cost of bringing the ship back to Britain. But the ship could raise as much as GBP20 million as dead weight scrap, and the Chinese cash would be immediate.’

Alaric Errington, a spokesman for Equity in Finance, the organisation that was leading the investment consortium behind the QE2 London bid, said, ‘This is a fantastic opportunity and we put forward a very commanding commercial proposition that was designed to give Dubai a future return. The QE2 is an icon but our proposal also makes business sense. The cost of renovating the QE2 and bringing it back to the UK is no more than acquiring land in central London to build a luxury hotel.’

Selling the vessel for scrap appears to be at odds with the agreement signed in 2007 by Istithmar, part of the state conglomerate, Dubai World, which included a clause that the ship would not be sold on for at least 10 years, but Dubai World believe that ‘a contract modification could be agreed’, according to the report.

The UK hotel project had the potential to create up to 2,000 new jobs.