The Christmas Eve getaway…but we can’t get away: Rail passengers are STRANDED and told NOT to travel as staff go sick and CrossCountry strike cancels services across the country from Scotland to Plymouth
- CrossCountry warns passengers there will be no trains running on many routes today due to RMT rail strike
- UK roads expected to see busiest festive period for five years as people travel to be reunited with families
- Rail disruption between Stockport and Manchester today affects multiple operators through North West
- Signal failures hit services between Birmingham New Street and Redditch, and Havant and Portsmouth
- Have YOU been affected by Christmas getaway travel chaos? Email [email protected]
Rail services disrupted on Christmas Eve in Britain
STRIKE ACTION ON CROSSCOUNTRY
Industrial action by the RMT union means CrossCountry services have been cancelled between:
- Aberdeen and Edinburgh
- Glasgow Central and Edinburgh
- Leicester and Stansted Airport
- Cheltenham Spa and Cardiff Central
- Newton Abbot and Paignton
- Plymouth and Penzance
CrossCountry services have been reduced between;
- Edinburgh and Plymouth
- Manchester Piccadilly and Bournemouth
- Birmingham New Street and Leicester
A person being hit by a train between Stockport and Manchester Piccadilly yesterday caused disruption into this morning for the following routes:
- Avanti West Coast between Manchester Piccadilly and Crewe / London Euston
- CrossCountry between Manchester Piccadilly and Reading
- East Midlands Railway between Liverpool Lime Street and Nottingham / Norwich
- Northern between Barrow-in-Furness / Blackpool North / Liverpool Lime Street / Chester and Manchester Airport; and also between Manchester Piccadilly and Rose Hill Marple / Buxton / Hadfield / Sheffield / Stoke-on-Trent / Crewe
- TransPennine Express between Edinburgh / Redcar Central / Cleethorpes / Hull / Sheffield and Manchester Piccadilly / Manchester Airport
- Transport for Wales between Manchester Piccadilly and Crewe / Chester / Holyhead / Cardiff Central
- West Midlands Railway services affected between Birmingham New Street and Redditch due to a fault with the signalling system
- Delays between Havant and Portsmouth Harbour for those using Great Western Railway, South Western Railway and Southern services
Millions of Britons faced travel chaos this morning on the first Christmas getaway since 2019 after rail strikes cancelled services, other lines were hit by signal failures and traffic analysts predicted the busiest roads in years.
CrossCountry, which runs trains between major cities such as Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle and Leeds, said there would be no services on many routes today. It urged people to avoid travelling today and on New Year’s Eve due to industrial action by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT).
UK roads are also expected to see their busiest festive period for five years as people travel to be reunited with their families. A survey of nearly 2,000 people in Britain for watchdog Transport Focus indicated that 44 per cent plan to travel to spend Christmas with loved ones.
And travellers using London Heathrow, Britain’s busiest airport, on Boxing Day also face issues as it will not be served by Tube or train links due to engineering work.
It comes as hundreds of trains continued to be cancelled across the UK as operators were hit by Covid-related staff absences. Almost one in 20 trains were cancelled on Monday, and eight operators this week warned of the likelihood of last-minute cancellations.
An estimated 5.3million journeys by people embarking on overnight stays or day trips will take place on Christmas Eve with major roads set to be busiest between 11am and 2pm, according to RAC analysis.
Although demand for rail travel is at around 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, thousands of people are travelling by train to spend Christmas with loved ones.
There was also disruption into this morning between Stockport and Manchester Piccadilly after a person was hit by a train yesterday – with East Midlands Railway, Avanti West Coast, Northern, Transport for Wales and TransPennine Express all affected by the incident.
There was also disruption today on West Midlands Railway services between Birmingham New Street and Redditch due to a fault with the signalling system.
A similar issue in Hampshire also caused delays on the south coast between Havant and Portsmouth Harbour for those using Great Western Railway, South Western Railway and Southern services.
Some train companies have urged travellers to take earlier services due to the possibility of upheaval during the final rush to travel before Christmas.
The RMT said managers and senior conductors backed the Crosscountry strike over the training of employees to take on roles normally reserved for guards.
The firm will operate no trains today between Aberdeen and Edinburgh; Glasgow Central and Edinburgh; Derby and Nottingham; Leicester and Stansted Airport; Cheltenham Spa and Cardiff Central; Newton Abbot and Paignton; or Plymouth and Penzance.
Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, said: ‘CrossCountry need to understand that they already have trained and competent guards that are available and ready to work. Our members have made it clear that they will not put up with this attack and that is why they are taking action over Christmas and New Year.’
Travellers have been warned that Heathrow will be cut off from the rail and Tube network on Christmas Day and Boxing Day due to engineering work. Network Rail said it is conducting signalling, track and HS2 work between Paddington and Slough on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, which means no trains will be able to serve Heathrow.
UK train services do not normally run on both of these days, apart from a handful of airport transfers on Boxing Day. The Government’s work-from-home guidance which came into force again earlier this month and fears over the Omicron variant have led to a significant reduction in rail passenger numbers in recent days.
Over the past week, train journeys were only at 53 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, down from 70 per cent in the week to 24 November when the omicron variant first emerged. Cancellations have been blamed on staff illness and isolation because of Covid, with almost 9 per cent of staff absent in the last week.
Some 370 engineering projects are being carried out on the railways in the coming days, which will also disrupt services. Other train routes affected by engineering work over the Christmas period include:
- Southern’s Gatwick Airport trains will operate to and from London Bridge instead of London Victoria between Christmas Day and January 3;
- Leeds will have a reduced service between December 27 and January 3, including a ‘very limited’ service on January 2.
- No services between London King’s Cross and Finsbury Park on Christmas Day or Boxing Day;
- CrossCountry trains will not call at Bristol Parkway between December 27-31. Some Great Western Railway services to and from Bristol Temple Meads will also be affected.
The RAC, which surveyed 1,400 drivers, predicts it will be the busiest Christmas getaway on the roads in five years. A separate survey by the watchdog Transport Focus suggests the majority of those planning a getaway this year intend to travel by road, with only one in 10 using public transport.
Rail passengers stand on the concourse at London Euston train station yesterday while waiting for service information
Passengers at London Victoria train station yesterday as some make their way home for the Christmas holidays
Christmas getaway traffic is pictured at a standstill on the A282 in Dartford, Kent, yesterday
Large queues on the M25 in Leatherhead in Surrey yesterday as the Christmas rush begins
Yesterday, a car fire on the M5 northbound between junctions 19 and 20 near Clevedon brought traffic to a standstill
Passenger levels are expected to be significantly higher at UK airports than last year when the UK was placed in lockdown, but will still be well below pre-pandemic levels.
Gatwick Airport expects nearly 750,000 passengers between December 18 and 31, which is nearly seven times more than last year but less than half of what it saw before the virus crisis.
The rail operators to have warned of delays or cancellations due to Covid so far
LNER: Between London, Lincoln and Leeds – because of ‘an increased level of absence in drivers and train managers due to coronavirus’
Avanti West Coast: Between London and Scotland ‘subject to short-notice cancellations and alterations due to the impact of Covid-19 on train crew availability’
CrossCountry: CrossCountry said it is ‘expecting widespread disruption to our services this week’, with services likely to start later and finish earlier, and some trains could have fewer carriages than normal
ScotRail: Has cancelled services due to staff shortages
Northern: Has warned of disruption due to staff sickness
Southern: Has warned of disruption due to staff sickness
TransPennine Express: Has warned of disruption due to staff sickness
Greater Anglia: Said it was cancelling services because of a lack of demand
Transport for London: Said about 500 of its frontline staff were currently off work due to Covid
Liverpool John Lennon Airport said it expects around 40,000 passengers to pass through between Christmas Eve and January 3, which is around 40 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
The airport was hoping demand would be at around 70 per cent to 80 per cent of normal before the new restrictions were introduced.
Bristol Airport is anticipating it will be used by more than 100,000 passengers between December 21 and 31. One of its busiest days will be December 27 when approximately 12,000 passengers will fly in or out of the airport.
Though the number of people heading abroad is higher than last year, it remains way down on pre-pandemic levels.
Eurostar and Brittany Ferries both said they experienced an increase in cancellations after France announced a ban on UK arrivals for tourism and business trips last week.
Hundreds of rail passengers were pictured waiting at London’s Euston station yesterday. Others complained that their services were cancelled, with rail operators urging them to get on other trains.
During rush hour, a car fire on the M5 northbound between junctions 19 and 20 near Clevedon brought traffic in both directions to a standstill on Thursday. There were no reported injuries.
Families landing from abroad face being cut off from trains on one of Heathrow’s busiest days of the year and from Tubes for a whole week due to engineering work.
Meanwhile, Transport for London is suspending the Piccadilly line between Heathrow and Acton Town in West London for seven days from Christmas Eve.
Rail firm LNER, which operates services between London and cities such as Leeds, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh, has taken out 16 trains a day until December 24 due to ‘an increased level of absence in drivers and train managers due to coronavirus’.
The rail operator also said may have to make more cancellations at short notice for staffing reasons.
The UK Rail Delivery Group has said that around one in 20 services were cancelled in the past week – up from an average of one in 40 – with passengers urged to check their train is running before they leave home.
Passengers face being crammed into carriages in the coming days because of reduced timetables caused by staff shortages, raising concerns of an increase in transmission of the virus.
Almost 10 per cent of railway staff are off sick or isolating, while TfL says around 500 of its frontline staff are currently off work due to ‘Covid-related illness’.
Train companies have blamed the wave of cancellations on staff sickness and isolation requirements, with almost 9 per cent of staff absent over the last week. On Monday, 13 per cent of UK trains were either cancelled or delayed.
Night Tube strikes to continue until summer
Strikes by London Underground drivers in a row over Night Tube rotas will continue for the next six months, a trade union has announced.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said its members will stage overnight walkouts on the Central and Victoria lines from 8.30pm on Fridays and Saturdays until June 2022.
New rosters for the Night Tube are being imposed on drivers, according to the union. Strike action has been carried out since the Night Tube was restarted during the last weekend in November after being suspended in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Talks have been held between the union and Transport for London but the row remains deadlocked.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘If London Underground and the Mayor (Sadiq Khan) thought this fight for progressive and family friendly working practices was going away they need to think again.
‘Our members have been re-balloted and have delivered a solid mandate for action, and it’s the failure of London Underground and Sadiq Khan to address the grievances at the heart of the dispute that leaves us no option but to confirm the programme of action today.
‘RMT has repeatedly put forward cost neutral proposals that would repair the damage unleashed by deleting 200 driver posts and which would dig London Underground out of this mess. They have ignored us, and that approach will have severe consequences for Londoners in the New Year. We remain available for further talks.’
London Underground’s director of customer operations Nick Dent said: ‘We’re disappointed that the RMT is continuing to push for strike action that would cause unnecessary disruption at a time when our customers need us most. We urge the RMT to join us for talks so we can work together to resolve this dispute.’
TfL insists the changes do not involve any drivers losing their jobs, and mean they would be expected to work an average of up to four Night Tube weekends per year.
More than one in 20 trains were cancelled in the seven days before Monday, up from the annual average of 2.9 per cent.
Operators on Tuesday pleaded with travellers to book on to earlier services, while warning of last-minute cancellations in the days ahead.
Train companies say they are taking extra measures to ensure people can get where they need to be, such as running longer trains, cancelling non-safety-critical training to prioritise services, and providing better information about busy trains.
Seb Gordon, director of external communications at industry membership body the Rail Delivery Group, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that 19 out of 20 trains had still run over the last week and operators are running as many trains as they ‘possibly can’.
He said: ‘We think that, at the moment, that in the Christmas week, when people are trying to get away – fewer people than in a normal year but lots of people still trying to get away – we think it’s important to prioritise running as many trains as we can even if that means there’s a few more of those frustrating short-notice cancellations.
‘But obviously, as we get further into this wave of the pandemic – we hope will not materialise in the way that people are anticipating – it may be that we decide actually we need to prepare for a lower level of staffing over a longer period of time and we will reduce the timetable.
‘Obviously the Government’s announcement today of the reduced isolation period is going to really help.’
CrossCountry said it is ‘expecting widespread disruption to our services this week’, with services likely to start later and finish earlier, and some trains could have fewer carriages than normal.
A spokeswoman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said: ‘Like everyone else, our staff are susceptible to the virus but as we showed last year during the pandemic, we will ensure that key workers can get to where they need to be.
‘We aren’t able to run every train as planned at the moment but we know people want confidence that their train is going to turn up so we will be working hard to give clear, accurate and timely information and people should check before they travel.’
Anthony Smith, chief executive of independent watchdog Transport Focus, added: ‘It’s better for some services to be temporarily withdrawn on a planned basis than to have chaotic last-minute cancellations.
‘These are harder for passengers to deal with and more likely to lead to overcrowding. Passengers need clear, reliable information to plan their journeys. Anyone who has already bought tickets must be told and offered alternatives or their money back.’
Have YOU been affected by Christmas getaway travel chaos? Email [email protected]
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