Passenger trains on Christmas Eve will finish by 3pm because of strikes, Network Rail has warned, with the last long-distance departures between many big cities leaving in the morning.
The last train from Edinburgh to London will leave at 8am, and from Manchester to London at 12.15pm. Last trains either way between Manchester and Liverpool will leave at about 2pm. No trains will connect the capital and Nottingham or Sheffield on Christmas Eve.
Full timetables for the last trains before Christmas will be published on Tuesday but rail bosses said it was clear that schedules would be severely hit, despite the RMT union saying it was not targeting festive travellers in its next strike.
Northern Rail has advised passengers not to travel on 24 or 27 December due to the strike.
Thousands of workers, including key signalling staff, will not sign on for shifts between 6pm on 24 December and 6am on 27 December, when Network Rail had planned about £120m-worth of engineering works.
Traditionally no trains run on Christmas Day and only exceptional services operate on Boxing Day. All of those due to run, including Eurostar, Merseyrail and the Stansted Express, have now cancelled their 26 December trains.
Advance tickets for 24 December across the network can be used in the preceding three days or up to 29 December. Long-distance travellers can also cancel and rebook without charge, to try to ensure a seat.
Andrew Haines, the Network Rail chief executive, said: “RMT suggestions that their planned strike action over the festive period is not targeting Christmas would be laughable were the consequences not so painful to so many people, including on Christmas Eve.
“The RMT is causing needless misery to its own members, to the railway and to the country’s economy. I am so sorry that our passengers are having to bear the brunt of the RMT’s needless strike when a fair offer is on the table and when only a third of the workforce have rejected it.
“Our offer guarantees jobs and gives everyone a decent pay-rise of 9% and more. Two of our three trade unions have already accepted and the RMT needs to think again.”
The RMT declined to comment.
Network Rail said the 6pm start of action by the RMT meant passenger trains would have to be back in depots by then, while engineering trains would be have to moved into position earlier than normal.
It said the strike, compounded by industrial action short of a strike or an overtime ban at train operators, meant some services could not run at all on Christmas Eve.
English train operating companies, which are directly contracted to the Department for Transport, have to negotiate pay deals separately from Network Rail and appear to be even further from a resolution, after a first formal offer was flatly rejected by the RMT.
Unions have accused the government of sabotaging the deal by inserting controversial clauses requiring driver-only operation, and are continuing to uphold the overtime ban on trains that was dropped by Network Rail.
Chiltern and South Western, two of the operators worst affected by the overtime ban, which started on Sunday, have cut back timetables and are running shorter hours and routes.
Services that remain running have been severely affected and delayed. According to Bloomberg, only one train had arrived at London Marylebone station, served by Chiltern, before 10am on Monday, and 38 at Waterloo, South Western’s London hub, compared with 120 last Wednesday – a day that was also disrupted by the previous day’s strikes.
Elsewhere, Northern has warned passengers to expect disruption throughout the overtime-ban period until 2 January. West Midlands services will be curtailed on some routes and London Northwestern trains will not operate at all on 28 and 29 December, when further strike action by the TSSA union will also affect the operator.
A further four days of rail strikes are due to start on 3 January. No more talks between employers and unions have yet been scheduled to resolve the long-running dispute over pay and conditions.