‘Surge’ in travel expected as families form Christmas bubbles

By Ted Hennessey, PA
·3-min read

A “surge” in travel is expected over the five-day Christmas period as families form their festive bubbles with loved ones.

The UK Government and devolved administrations have agreed a temporary easing of coronavirus restrictions, which will allow three households to mix in a bubble from December 23 to 27.

Trains, roads and coaches are expected to be busier as many people look to make the most of the opportunity to spend Christmas with family and friends.

Coach operator National Express said it is increasing its services to meet demand in the run-up to Christmas.

Chris Hardy, managing director of National Express UK Coach, said: “This is still very much a limited network, equivalent to around 20% of our normal services with a focus on major cities, towns and airports.

“However, as England moves into regional tiers, students are encouraged to make their way home during the designated travel window and guidance is released about what we can do over Christmas, we expect demand for travel in December to grow.

“We are increasing our services in early December and then again later in the month as we get closer to Christmas.

“All decisions are being made in consultation with the Department for Transport (DfT) regarding the requirement for a national coach network to keep the country safely moving.”

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union has said it expects a “surge” in passengers over the five days.

Coronavirus – Thu Nov 5, 2020
The number of passengers using train services over the five-day period could increase (Victoria Jones/PA)

General secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT supports the railway in playing its role in ensuring that people can see their loved ones this Christmas and I will be seeking urgent discussions with all the train companies and Government to ensure that this is carefully and properly planned to protect the safety of both workers and passengers.‎”

Rail industry body the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said that although there is “no concern” of overcrowding on train carriages, thousands of services are expected to run daily to cope with more passengers.

Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions for the organisation, said: “Rail companies are working together with the Government to ensure that passengers can travel with confidence over the festive period and thousands of services will continue running daily up to and after Christmas.

“The latest information is on train operator websites and we are asking people to book ahead, avoid busy times and check before they travel.

“Through our safer travel pledge we are cleaning more often and providing better travel information, and we’re asking people to help others by washing their hands regularly and wearing a face covering, unless exempt.”

Overcrowding on carriages became a concern after it was announced that engineering work by Network Rail would take place from December 23 to January 4.

Most of the railway will stay open, but some lines will be closed to allow the work to take place.

London King’s Cross station will be closed for six days from Christmas Day as a £1.2 billion upgrade of the East Coast Main Line continues.

London North Eastern Railway has warned that “alternative routes will likely be very busy and should also be avoided”.

However, the AA has said it was not “overly concerned” that traffic congestion could occur on roads, suggesting many families had cancelled plans to spend Christmas together.

Edmund King, AA president, said: “Two fifths of drivers who had already cancelled festive travel plans may have been wary of risk to their loved ones – or perhaps secretly happy to avoid a visit to the in-laws.”