Christmas travel plans will be disrupted by rail engineering works, government admits

People wearing protective face masks are seen arriving at Waterloo station, the busiest train station in the UK, during the morning rush hour, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, September 7, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville
People have been warned to consider their Christmas rail travel plans carefully. (Reuters)

People have been told to consider avoiding travelling by train at Christmas because of planned rail engineering works.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said on Tuesday that people should “look very carefully” at their festive travel plans.

A number of engineering works are scheduled between Christmas and New Year, while coronavirus restrictions to ensure social distancing mean even less capacity on trains.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Shapps said: “I would appeal to people to look very carefully at their Christmas travel plans.

“It may well be the case that very, very long planned engineering works are scheduled. A lot of them take 18 months or two years to plan.”

In a separate interview with BBC Breakfast on Tuesday, he said people should contemplate not travelling by train at Christmas because of the rail network’s “limitations”.

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He said: “We have got to understand there are limitations to the network caused by, for example, things like the need on some trains to pre-book tickets at this time, in order to prevent overcrowding.

“So we are going to be appealing to people to look very carefully at the transport route they take and of course even making a choice about whether they travel at all.

“It is the reality of the situation we’re in; we will try to do everything we can with the network to make it as good as possible, but I think it is worth people being aware that busy times of travel is a problem.”

The government and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are expected to announce in the coming days how the tougher tiered coronavirus restrictions revealed by prime minister Boris Johnson on Monday could be eased to allow extended families to spend Christmas together.

Shapps said he is in “close contact” with transport leaders of the devolved governments to make Christmas travel plans, which he expects will be finalised “later this week”.

He added that England’s new tiered areas will be revealed on Thursday.

Watch: Grant Shapps says COVID tier areas will be revealed on Thursday

Engineering work will be carried out by Network Rail from 23 December to 4 January.

Projects include track renewals, bridge replacements and improvements to signalling and overhead line equipment.

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 £1.2bn upgrade of the East Coast Main Line continues.

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

People wearing protective face masks pass a social distancing sign at Waterloo station, the busiest train station in the UK, during the morning rush hour, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, September 7, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville
There will be a 'significantly reduced service' at London's Waterloo Station over Christmas. (Reuters)

The operator, which runs trains between the capital and Scotland, is also telling passengers to “avoid travel” on Christmas Eve and from 31 December to 3 January because “services will be very busy with reduced capacity”.

Network Rail said there will be a “significantly reduced service” at the UK’s busiest railway station – London Waterloo – between Christmas Day and 3 January.

This is to enable work to be carried out on lines approaching the station in a bid to improve punctuality. Vauxhall and Queenstown Road stations will be closed over the period as part of the project.

The installation of a new signal gantry will disrupt services through Bristol Temple Meads from 27 December until 10 January.

Passengers are advised to check journey details before travelling.

Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said: “Our frontline workers have continued to work tirelessly throughout the pandemic to maintain and upgrade the railway for those who need it and this festive period will be no different, with thousands of workers out delivering significant improvements across our infrastructure.

“While the majority of the rail network will be open as usual for passengers, some routes will be affected by these works, so we’re asking people to check before travelling.”

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