When’s best to travel by car or train in the UK this Christmas?

With industrial action expected to hit the railways and the roads, a guide to when might be a good time to travel

It is that time of year when millions of people will travel to see friends and family, take a well-earned break, or make a last-minute dash to the shops to pick up a Christmas present.

The festive getaway could be trickier than usual this year as Britain has been hit by wide-ranging industrial action across the transport network.

Based on planned strike dates, here is an indication of when might be the best time to get away this Christmas.

When will roads be the busiest?

The AA is estimating 17m cars will travel on 23 December and Christmas Eve and that people can expect congestion and lengthy delays – so it is best to avoid these two days if possible.

The survey of more than 12,000 drivers by the motoring group reveals the two days when fewest cars will be on the road in the run-up to Christmas are likely to be Sunday 18 December and Monday 19 December.

These two days also do not coincide with any strike action that could impact roads or rail, so an early getaway would be best if possible.

Members of the RMT union at Network Rail have planned industrial action from late Christmas Eve until 27 December that will mainly affect engineering works.

However, Great Western Railway has warned travellers the train network “will shut early” on 24 December and there could be “significant disruption” because of the industrial action.

South Western Railway has urged customers to only travel if “absolutely necessary” on 24 and 27 December.

The AA has warned that the planned strike action on Christmas Eve “may add to the getaway mayhem” as more people take to the roads.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) who work for National Highways as control room staff and traffic officers will strike in London and the south-east on 22, 23, 24 and 25 December.

The PCS said the action “risks bringing the road network to a standstill”. National Highways said no roads would be closed as a result of the industrial action and it has “well-rehearsed resilience plans in place”.

Which roads will be the busiest?

The AA predicts these could be the most congested roads:

  • M25

  • M5 between Bristol and Weston-super-Mare

  • M6 around Birmingham

  • Stretches of the M1 smart motorway from Luton northwards

  • M60 and M62 in north-west England

  • M4 and M27 in Hampshire.

What should you do before you set off by car?

Edmund King, AA president, said “many breakdowns are preventable” and “checking your vehicle before you set off” is the most important thing to do.

He said: “Tyres (including the spare, if you have one), fuel, EV range, oil levels, coolant and screenwash checks should be made as a minimum. Likewise, keeping water, high-protein food or chocolate, warm clothes, coats and a hi-vis jacket will help keep you going should the worst happen.

“While the 23 December and Christmas Eve look set to be the busiest travelling days, planned industrial action by rail service staff may lead to increased levels of cars on our roads.”

What about rail?

As mentioned above, strike action could affect services in the run-up to Christmas. Despite that, Network Rail said 95% of the rail network would be open for travel during the festive period.

However, a number of important infrastructure upgrades are taking place over the festive period, so passengers should try to plan journeys in advance.

Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said: “We’ve worked closely with our train operators to ensure the vast majority of the network is open for business over the festive period so people can travel by rail to spend time with their families and friends.

“However, some of these key upgrade projects will have an impact on services, so we’re asking passengers to plan their journeys before travelling.”


Joe Middleton

The GuardianTramp

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