Christmas travel UK: New measures announced to ease disruption

3 December 2020, 12:22

Some 778 miles of restrictions on motorways and A-roads in England will be cleared ahead of the festive period
Some 778 miles of restrictions on motorways and A-roads in England will be cleared ahead of the festive period. Picture: PA

By Matt Drake

New measures aimed at easing travel disruption over Christmas have been announced by the Department for Transport, following the appointment of Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy as covid Christmas travel tsar.

Lifting hundreds of miles of roadworks and shortening rail engineering work are among measures aimed at avoiding Christmas travel chaos unveiled by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

Some 778 miles of restrictions on motorways and A-roads in England will be cleared ahead of the festive period.

The closure of London King's Cross station on Christmas Eve for major engineering work has been postponed from the afternoon until the end of service, to ease congestion for people making getaway journeys.

The West Coast Main Line will reopen earlier than planned on December 27, allowing a full Sunday service to run from 10am rather than midday.

Longer trains will also run on the route during the Christmas period.

Admin fees of up to £10 for changing Advance tickets bought for specific trains before Covid tiers were announced on November 26 are being waived to encourage people to comply with the new restrictions.

Watch: Matt Hancock hails approval of vaccine on LBC, saying 'help is on its way'

Explained: Who will get the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine first in the UK?

Ministers have written to local authorities in England to request they lift as many roadworks as possible and ensure bus services run reliably, to ease traffic on local roads.

Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy was appointed Christmas travel tsar last week.

The UK Government and devolved administrations have agreed a temporary easing of coronavirus restrictions, allowing three households to mix in a bubble from December 23 to 27.

December 19 - the last Saturday before Christmas Day - is expected to be the worst day for shopping traffic.

Mr Shapps said: "With many people carefully considering whether to travel to see loved ones this Christmas, we're taking steps to try to ease journeys.

"Clearing 778 miles of road works and postponing rail upgrade works will ease congestion, minimise disruption and allow extra services to run.

"That action is backed by scrapping the admin fees for changing Advance rail tickets, ensuring a strong staff presence to help people on their way."

He said Sir Peter is carrying out a "rigorous assessment" of transport services to ensure "everything possible is being done to help".

He added: "We ask everyone to closely consider their journey, plan and book ahead, be patient, and be considerate of fellow passengers - and particularly staff who have worked so hard all year - by following the guidance carefully, including keeping space and wearing a face covering on public transport."

Sir Peter said: "The measures announced today will help ease congestion, boost capacity and minimise disruption for travellers.

"I will continue to work closely with all operators and offer recommendations that will see people home safely for Christmas."

There is expected to be fewer than one in four drivers planning a journey by car over the festive period.

The AA said its research indicates there will be just 7.9 million motorists on the road this Christmas, compared with around 17 million last year.

The poll of 16,500 drivers indicated that December 24 will be the busiest day on the roads, with 48% of those planning a Christmas trip travelling on main roads or motorways on that day.

Congestion hotspots over the festive period are expected near shopping centres close to motorways, such as Cribbs Causeway, Bristol; Blue Water, Kent; and the Trafford Centre, Manchester.

Traffic could be lighter than normal in town and city centres due to the cancellation of Christmas markets.

AA president Edmund King said many people are choosing not to travel over Christmas despite restrictions being eased as they are "wary of risk to their loved ones" or "unable to choose who to include in their small Christmas bubble".

He went on: "With tier restrictions in place, many may opt to stay local, so we'd like to see councils remove as many roadworks as possible to help ease the flow of local traffic.

"We welcome efforts by Highways England to remove some 750 miles of roadworks on main roads and motorways.

"On balance, despite the reduced use of public transport and the five days of festive freedom, we don't predict a total free-for-all on the roads."