The wonderful holiday of Christmas continues on Saturday as millions of people travel across the UK to be with friends and family this festive season.
But strikes mean that journeys home could be severely hampered by industrial strikes on roads, railways and airports, as Britain’s transport network reaches breaking point.
What is the situation on the railway?
Rail commuters have been urged to travel only if it is “absolutely necessary” because thousands of Network Rail’s Rail, Navigation and Transport (RMT) members will be out from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on December 27th.
The union said the industrial strike would mostly affect planned engineering work, but Network Rail confirmed that trains would stop running around 3pm on Christmas Eve.
A number of train operators have warned travelers to travel only if it is “absolutely necessary”, as some tracks will not run at all, and other services will be limited.
The overtime ban – an industry strike far from a strike – could further disrupt services when they are in high demand on Saturday afternoon. It has already wreaked havoc on the schedules of some lines on non-strike days, with around 4,000 trains canceled each day.
Limited train services will almost certainly have a significant impact on the number of drivers. The RAC survey indicated that nearly half of the people affected by railway strikes this month planned to drive themselves or get a lift from someone else.
On Friday, the RMT accused the government of “disappearing”, with no further talks planned since meeting last week with Railways Minister Hugh Merriman and industry leaders.
Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said the union was causing “undue misery to its members, to the railways and to the country’s economy”.
What about the roads?
AA predicts that 16.5 million people will travel by road on Christmas Eve and has warned of long delays and traffic jams on motorways and major A roads.
AA has designated traffic hotspots as: M25; the M5 between Bristol and Weston-super-Mare; the M6 around Birmingham; stretches of the ‘smart’ M1 motorway from Luton northwards; M62 and M60 to the North West and M4 and M27.
The car group warned that the aforementioned rail strikes could “add chaos” by hindering confidence in the use of public transport.
Jack Cousins, the AA’s head of road policy, said: “We would advise those heading in their cars to be prepared for some congestion, particularly on popular roads commuting from London.
“The rail strikes have convinced more people to travel by car this year, and while hundreds of miles of roadwork have been removed to ease the pain, it may not be enough to keep the waiting lists at bay.”
Transportation analytics firm Inrix said it expects road trip times to be about 14% longer than the same period last year.
The pressure on the roads before Christmas could be exacerbated by industrial strikes from National Highway employees.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union who serve as control room clerks and traffic officers will continue their four-day strike on December 24 and 25.
The Department of Public Services said the measure “threatens to bring the road network to a standstill” and road safety campaigners said they were “extremely concerned” about potential delays in placing warning signs on the roads.
National Highways said that no roads would be closed as a result of the industrial action, that it had “well-thought-out resilience plans” and that the strikes involved a small number of front-line employees.
What happens at airports?
Border Force officials joined the industrial strike wave hitting the country on Friday and will strike every day for the rest of the year, except for December 27.
Travelers have been warned to expect delays amid fears that long lines at passport control could trap people on planes, disrupting subsequent departures.
About 1,000 members of the PPCS union employed by the Home Office to operate passport kiosks are on strike at Heathrow, Birmingham, Cardiff, Gatwick, Glasgow and Manchester airports, as well as the port of Newhaven in East Sussex.
The Ministry of the Interior has recruited trained military personnel to check passports. Heathrow and Gatwick, the two largest airports in the country, said their immigration halls were operating as normal on Friday.
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