Millions of people have packed out Britain’s road and rail network as they make last-minute trips to visit relatives for Christmas.
Experts had warned of “the biggest Christmas getaway for five years, including a frantic festive Friday on Christmas Eve.”
The AA estimates there will be 17.8 million cars on UK roads on Friday, as drivers making Christmas Eve journeys or last-minute trips to buy presents compete for road space with commuters.
In England, the worst queues were expected to take place in Wiltshire on the A303 and the A36, according to the RAC and traffic information supplier Inrix, with “severe” congestion reported early in the day on the M6 near Birmingham.
Edmund King, AA president, said: “We understand that this festive period will be of huge importance to so many, and the AA are on hand not only to support those who get into trouble during travels, but also to help drivers to plan and prepare as best they can.”
RAC breakdown spokesperson Rod Dennis told i: “We recommend drivers set off earlier or leave their journeys until later in the day to miss any queues – especially if they are covering a significant distance.”
Meanwhile, people travelling by train are also facing disruption, with Covid-related absences leading to cancellations across the country, while strike action by CrossCountry drivers and conductors has halted services on several key routes.
The company said it is running a heavily reduced service on Friday, with trains not operating 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.
A “limited service” is in place between Edinburgh and Plymouth; Manchester Piccadilly and Bournemouth; and Birmingham New Street and Leicester.
The cancellation of train services due to pandemic-related staff shortages continues, with LNER, CrossCountry, Avanti West Coast, Northern, ScotRail, Southern, Thameslink and TransPennine Express among those affected.
Mick Lynch of rail union RMT said: “This dispute is about a systematic attempt by Cross Country to undermine the role of the Senior Conductors and Train Managers by drafting in other staff to do their jobs.
“CrossCountry need to note the determination of our members in their action today and understand that they already have trained and competent guards that are available and ready to work.
CrossCountry added: “Due to planned strike action by members of the RMT (The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers), there is a limited timetable on Christmas Eve, with the cancellation of many of our services. Customers are strongly advised to alter their plans and where possible avoid travel on those days.”
While National Rail urges customers to “make extra room to help with social distancing”, rail firms were expecting packed carriages on trains that are in operation due to the number of cancelled services.
Meanwhile, Network Rail is preparing to begin 370 engineering projects over the Christmas and New Year period, which will also disrupt services and see reduced services on many lines.
Heathrow Airport will be cut off from the rail and Tube network on Boxing Day due to Network Rail and Transport for London doing work on key lines.
While many are travelling for Christmas, hundreds of thousands are expected to be spending Christmas in isolation with Covid-19.
According to the Office for National Statistics, an estimated 1.7 million people in the UK had Covid-19 in the week ending 19 December, the highest number since comparable figures began in autumn 2020.
Many who had hoped to see friends and family overseas, meanwhile, have already been forced to shelve their plans due to restrictions on UK travellers imposed by many countries over Omicron.
Budget airline Ryanair said it had slashed its capacity by a third due to “the impact of these recent government travel restrictions, in particular, last weekend’s ban on UK arrivals into France and Germany”.
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