Engineering work to hit rail services on first weekend after stay-at-home lockdown restrictions lifted

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Rail services will be disrupted by engineering work just days after England's stay-at-home order is lifted.

Network Rail has urged passengers to "minimise travel" as it announced it will carry out 600 projects costing a total of £116m over the Easter weekend.

The government-owned company does much of its major upgrade work during bank holidays to reduce the impact on commuters.

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But Easter is the first such weekend after England's stay-at-home order is removed as part of the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Outdoor gatherings of up to six people or two households will be allowed for the first time since the third national lockdown began on 5 January.

Services on the West Coast Main Line will be disrupted by track renewals, including between London Euston and Milton Keynes, Rugby and Birmingham, Crewe and Wigan, and Preston and Penrith.

There are also signalling replacements in Greater Manchester, Preston and Warrington.

Other routes affected by Easter engineering work include the East Coast Main Line in and out of London King's Cross, between London Liverpool Street and Shenfield, and in the Kingston, Richmond and Twickenham areas of southwest London.

Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said: "While the majority of routes are unaffected, anybody who needs to travel by train over Easter should check their journey in advance."

Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: "By undertaking projects of this magnitude now we are making the most of our railways being quieter.

"I urge passengers to minimise travel over the Easter weekend, but for those that need to, remember to plan ahead and avoid the busiest routes."

Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy said last month that weekend rail closures could be scrapped if demand for leisure travel surges when lockdown restrictions ease.

He admitted there is "no point" in carrying out engineering work on dates when trains would be packed.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of passenger watchdog Transport Focus, said: "Operators need to make it clear which services are affected by engineering works and how.

"It's also important that they continue to reassure passengers that it's safe to travel if they need to do so.

"This includes providing accurate information on capacity and how busy services are expected to be."