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London's winter woes

Nigel Roddis / Reuters

Vehicles travel through snow on the A168 road near Topcliffe, northern England on Dec. 1. Heavy snow grounded all flights at Gatwick airport on Wednesday, while the worst early winter weather in almost two decades also caused severe delays on roads and rail lines up and down Britain.


A traveller shelters from the snow as he waits for a train at Clapham Junction in south London on Dec. 2.

By Nina Saada, NBC News London

LONDON – Name three things that begin with the letter ‘S’ and can each bring central London to a standstill: snow, subway strikes and students.

Roll all of those together and what do you get? A good description of Londoners' miserable week so far: record-breaking snowfall in U.K.’s capital, yet another strike by subway workers and another student demonstration.

And to top it all off, Londoners’ daydreams of hosting the 2018 World Cup have just been crushed – they lost their bid to Russia!

The white stuff has forced London's Gatwick Airport to close until Friday, train services to grind to a halt and schools and businesses to shut their doors, and caused traffic pile-ups have trapped people in their cars for hours

Luke Macgregor / Reuters

Passengers wait in front of check-in desks at Gatwick Airport in southern England on Dec. 2.

As temperatures drop to around 24 degrees Fahrenheit in and around London and as much as six inches fall in some parts of the capital’s suburbs, millions are settling in for the big freeze.

Packed train
Given the tales of transport chaos I had heard, I felt lucky to squeeze onto a packed train as it pulled away from the platform at London’s Paddington Station.  

The young lady sat opposite me hadn't been so lucky.

"I've been travelling for seven hours on a journey that should only haven taken me three, and I still have two more hours to go," said Bristol University student Bea Bishop.

Despite her mammoth journey, 22-year-old Bishop was just pleased to be getting back to campus in time for her morning class.  Apparently she wasn’t one of the thousands of students who boycotted class and took to the streets earlier in the week.

While most people have been trying their best to keep warm and stay out of the cold, thousands of students have been standing outside holding placards and challenging the freezing weather, the government and the police force this week.

Despite the frigid weather, protesters turned out for their third mass demonstration against the government’s plans to triple university tuitions to $14,000 Wednesday. Call it youthful imperviousness to cold. 

Luke MacGregor / Reuters

Demonstrators march through the snow during protests about student fees in London on Nov. 30.

Lee Griffiths, a student dancer, had been training hard in the studio all day – only to get stuck in the middle of an angry protest at Kingston University on the outskirts of London.

“Hundreds of people were marching in front of my bus. Things looked like they were getting out of hand and there were police everywhere. My bus was stuck behind the protest march so it took me nearly an hour rather than 20 minutes to get home,” she said.

The 21-year-old has not felt the urge to join in with the protest.

“This is my second year of university so these changes don’t really affect me, but as far as I can see the radicals are ruining it for those who want to protest peacefully,” she said. “I don’t want to be involved in that.”

Chaotic misery
With the snow bringing travel to a standstill and student demos upsetting the balance, the city’s frosty air has a tinge of chaotic misery. Throw in another tube, or subway, strike and you’ll understand why.

Luke Macgregor / Reuters

Traffic lines up around the M25 in Kent as snow causes travel chaos in southern England on Dec. 1.

Hundreds of thousands of Londoners started work late on Monday. For those who did make it in on time, their usual mode of transport was doubly as crowded or the commute doubly as long. On Monday staff on the underground tube transport network went on strike for the fourth time since August. 

Thousands of London Underground maintenance workers, drivers and ticket hall staff had walked out in a dispute over job cuts and safety. The 24-hour industrial action forced the closure of 50 tube stations and caused widespread disruption across the city. Commuters had to either force their way onto packed buses, trains and boats, or face freezing temperatures and walk to work.

Social networking sites were as busy as London bus stops, with people voicing their complaints about the disruptions on Twitter.

“Harrymarr” tweeted that thanks to the Tube strike he had “resorted to sleeping in the office – what has my life come to?” And “Chrishealeynz,” quipped “with #Tubestrike yesterday & the #snow today, the City of London is like the set of #28dayslater.”

And getting to work won’t get much easier if the subway unions have anything to do with it: Tube workers are threatening more action, possibly for three days in a row next time and possibly over the Christmas period.

Oh yeah, students are vowing that they're determined to demonstrate until the government rethinks the rise in fees. 

Unfortunately for Londoners, their only hope is that the snow is due to stop falling soon.