Home » The Christmas Eve Getaway…but We Can’t Get Away: Rail Passengers Are STRANDED

The Christmas Eve Getaway…but We Can’t Get Away: Rail Passengers Are STRANDED

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Rail services disrupted on Christmas Eve in Britain

STRIKE ACTION ON CROSSCOUNTRY

Industrial action by the RMT union means CrossCountry services have been cancelled between:

  • Aberdeen and Edinburgh
  • Glasgow Central and Edinburgh
  • Leicester and Stansted Airport
  • Cheltenham Spa and Cardiff Central
  • Newton Abbot and Paignton
  • Plymouth and Penzance

CrossCountry services have been reduced between;

  • Edinburgh and Plymouth
  • Manchester Piccadilly and Bournemouth
  • Birmingham New Street and Leicester

DELAYS AROUND MANCHESTER PICCADILLY

A person being hit by a train between Stockport and Manchester Piccadilly yesterday caused disruption into this morning for the following routes:

  • Avanti West Coast between Manchester Piccadilly and Crewe / London Euston
  • CrossCountry between Manchester Piccadilly and Reading
  • East Midlands Railway between Liverpool Lime Street and Nottingham / Norwich
  • Northern between Barrow-in-Furness / Blackpool North / Liverpool Lime Street / Chester and Manchester Airport; and also between Manchester Piccadilly and Rose Hill Marple / Buxton / Hadfield / Sheffield / Stoke-on-Trent / Crewe
  • TransPennine Express between Edinburgh / Redcar Central / Cleethorpes / Hull / Sheffield and Manchester Piccadilly / Manchester Airport
  • Transport for Wales between Manchester Piccadilly and Crewe / Chester / Holyhead / Cardiff Central

DELAYS AROUND BIRMINGHAM NEW STREET

A broken down train between Birmingham New Street and Sandwell & Dudley resulted in the line towards Wolverhampton being blocked, with trains delayed by up to 25 minutes or diverted via Aston.

This was affecting Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, London Northwestern Railway, Transport for Wales, West Midlands Railway services.

SIGNAL FAILURES

  • West Midlands Railway services affected between Birmingham New Street and Redditch due to a fault with the signalling system
  • Delays between Havant and Portsmouth Harbour for those using Great Western Railway, South Western Railway and Southern services
  • Transport for Wales services are disrupted between Cardiff Central and Cadoxton and Penarth

Millions of Britons faced travel chaos this morning on the first Christmas getaway since 2019 after rail strikes cancelled services, other lines were hit by signal failures and traffic analysts predicted the busiest roads in years.

CrossCountry, which runs trains between major cities such as Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle and Leeds, said there would be no services on many routes today. It urged people to avoid travelling today and on New Year’s Eve due to industrial action by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT).

UK roads are also said to be seeing their busiest festive period for five years as people travel to be reunited with their families. A survey of nearly 2,000 people in Britain for watchdog Transport Focus indicated that 44 per cent plan to travel to spend Christmas with loved ones.

And furious festive flyers slammed the UK’s biggest airports amid huge queues at immigration, parking chaos and lost luggage as airlines see seven times more passengers than last year.

Customers reported a ‘typical shower of s***’ at airfields across the country as they desperately try to make it to family for Christmas Day.

Meanwhile travellers using London Heathrow, Britain’s busiest airport, on Boxing Day also face issues as it will not be served by Tube or train links due to engineering work.

It comes as hundreds of trains continued to be cancelled across the UK as operators were hit by Covid-related staff absences. Almost one in 20 trains were cancelled on Monday, and eight operators this week warned of the likelihood of last-minute cancellations.

An estimated 5.3million journeys by people embarking on overnight stays or day trips will take place on Christmas Eve with major roads set to be busiest between 11am and 2pm, according to RAC analysis.

Although demand for rail travel is at around 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, thousands of people are travelling by train to spend Christmas with loved ones.

There was also disruption into this morning between Stockport and Manchester Piccadilly after a person was hit by a train yesterday – with East Midlands Railway, Avanti West Coast, Northern, Transport for Wales and TransPennine Express all affected by the incident.

In addition, there were problems on West Midlands Railway services between Birmingham New Street and Redditch due to a fault with the signalling system.

A similar issue in Hampshire this morning also caused delays on the south coast between Havant and Portsmouth Harbour for those using Great Western Railway, South Western Railway and Southern services.

And there were also issues on Transport for Wales services between Cardiff Central and Cadoxton and Penarth following a fault with the signalling.

Separately, a broken down train between Birmingham New Street and Sandwell & Dudley resulted in the line towards Wolverhampton being blocked, with trains delayed by up to 25 minutes or diverted via Aston. This was affecting Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, London Northwestern Railway, Transport for Wales, West Midlands Railway services.

Some train companies have urged travellers to take earlier services due to the possibility of upheaval during the final rush to travel before Christmas.

The RMT said managers and senior conductors backed the Crosscountry strike over the training of employees to take on roles normally reserved for guards.

The firm will operate no trains today 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.

Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, said: ‘CrossCountry need to understand that they already have trained and competent guards that are available and ready to work. Our members have made it clear that they will not put up with this attack and that is why they are taking action over Christmas and New Year.’

Travellers have been warned that Heathrow will be cut off from the rail and Tube network on Christmas Day and Boxing Day due to engineering work. Network Rail said it is conducting signalling, track and HS2 work between Paddington and Slough on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, which means no trains will be able to serve Heathrow.

UK train services do not normally run on both of these days, apart from a handful of airport transfers on Boxing Day. The Government’s work-from-home guidance which came into force again earlier this month and fears over the Omicron variant have led to a significant reduction in rail passenger numbers in recent days.

Over the past week, train journeys were only at 53 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, down from 70 per cent in the week to 24 November when the omicron variant first emerged. Cancellations have been blamed on staff illness and isolation because of Covid, with almost 9 per cent of staff absent in the last week.

Some 370 engineering projects are being carried out on the railways in the coming days, which will also disrupt services. Other train routes affected by engineering work over the Christmas period include:

  • Southern’s Gatwick Airport trains will operate to and from London Bridge instead of London Victoria between Christmas Day and January 3;
  • Leeds will have a reduced service between December 27 and January 3, including a ‘very limited’ service on January 2.
  • No services between London King’s Cross and Finsbury Park on Christmas Day or Boxing Day;
  • CrossCountry trains will not call at Bristol Parkway between December 27-31. Some Great Western Railway services to and from Bristol Temple Meads will also be affected.

The RAC, which surveyed 1,400 drivers, predicts it will be the busiest Christmas getaway on the roads in five years. A separate survey by the watchdog Transport Focus suggests the majority of those planning a getaway this year intend to travel by road, with only one in 10 using public transport.

Britons wait for trains at London Euston railway station during the morning rush hour today at about 8.30am

Rail passengers wait for information about their trains at London Euston train station this morning at about 8.30am

Passengers wait for their trains as they head north from London Euston railway station at about 8.30am this morning

People check their phones and drink coffee as they wait for trains from London Euston railway station at about 8.30am today

Rail passengers wait for information at London Euston railway station during rush hour at about 8.30am this morning

Passengers wait for their trains as they head north from London Euston railway station at about 8.30am this morning

Passenger levels are expected to be significantly higher at UK airports than last year when the UK was placed in lockdown, but will still be well below pre-pandemic levels.

Gatwick Airport expects nearly 750,000 passengers between December 18 and 31, which is nearly seven times more than last year but less than half of what it saw before the virus crisis.

Liverpool John Lennon Airport said it expects around 40,000 passengers to pass through between Christmas Eve and January 3, which is around 40 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. The airport was hoping demand would be at around 70 per cent to 80 per cent of normal before the new restrictions were introduced.

Bristol Airport is anticipating it will be used by more than 100,000 passengers between December 21 and 31. One of its busiest days will be December 27 when approximately 12,000 passengers will fly in or out of the airport.

London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five is busy on Christmas Eve this morning in the international arrivals hall

Two people hug in the arrivals area of Heathrow Airport Terminal Five on Christmas Eve this morning

London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five is busy on Christmas Eve this morning in the international arrivals hall

International arrivals walk through London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five on Christmas Eve morning

People wait for air passengers in the international arrivals hall of London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five this morning

International arrivals walk through London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five on Christmas Eve morning today

Though the number of people heading abroad is higher than last year, it remains way down on pre-pandemic levels.

The rail operators to have warned of delays or cancellations due to Covid so far

LNER: Between London, Lincoln and Leeds – because of ‘an increased level of absence in drivers and train managers due to coronavirus’

Avanti West Coast: Between London and Scotland ‘subject to short-notice cancellations and alterations due to the impact of Covid-19 on train crew availability’

CrossCountry: CrossCountry said it is ‘expecting widespread disruption to our services this week’, with services likely to start later and finish earlier, and some trains could have fewer carriages than normal

ScotRail: Has cancelled services due to staff shortages

Northern: Has warned of disruption due to staff sickness

Southern: Has warned of disruption due to staff sickness

TransPennine Express: Has warned of disruption due to staff sickness

Greater Anglia: Said it was cancelling services because of a lack of demand

Transport for London: Said about 500 of its frontline staff were currently off work due to Covid

Eurostar and Brittany Ferries both said they experienced an increase in cancellations after France announced a ban on UK arrivals for tourism and business trips last week.

Hundreds of rail passengers were pictured waiting at London’s Euston station yesterday. Others complained that their services were cancelled, with rail operators urging them to get on other trains.

During rush hour, a car fire on the M5 northbound between junctions 19 and 20 near Clevedon brought traffic in both directions to a standstill on Thursday. There were no reported injuries.

Families landing from abroad face being cut off from trains on one of Heathrow’s busiest days of the year and from Tubes for a whole week due to engineering work.

Meanwhile, Transport for London is suspending the Piccadilly line between Heathrow and Acton Town in West London for seven days from Christmas Eve.

Rail firm LNER, which operates services between London and cities such as Leeds, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh, has taken out 16 trains a day until December 24 due to ‘an increased level of absence in drivers and train managers due to coronavirus’.

The rail operator also said may have to make more cancellations at short notice for staffing reasons.

The UK Rail Delivery Group has said that around one in 20 services were cancelled in the past week – up from an average of one in 40 – with passengers urged to check their train is running before they leave home.

Passengers face being crammed into carriages in the coming days because of reduced timetables caused by staff shortages, raising concerns of an increase in transmission of the virus.

Almost 10 per cent of railway staff are off sick or isolating, while TfL says around 500 of its frontline staff are currently off work due to ‘Covid-related illness’.

Train companies have blamed the wave of cancellations on staff sickness and isolation requirements, with almost 9 per cent of staff absent over the last week.

On Monday, 13 per cent of UK trains were either cancelled or delayed.

An empty Northern line carriage on the London Underground during rush hour on Christmas Eve between 7am and 8am

Empty carriages on a southbound Northern line train at High Barnet in North London are pictured today at about 7.45am

A passenger sits on an Underground train as they travel into London on the Northern line at about 8am this morning

An empty platform at High Barnet station on the London Underground’s Northern line at about 7.45am this morning

The ticket gates at High Barnet station on the London Underground’s Northern line are pictured at about 7.45am today

A passenger gets on board an Underground Northern line train at High Barnet station in North London at about 7.45am today

More than one in 20 trains were cancelled in the seven days before Monday, up from the annual average of 2.9 per cent.

Night Tube strikes to continue until summer

Strikes by London Underground drivers in a row over Night Tube rotas will continue for the next six months, a trade union has announced.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said its members will stage overnight walkouts on the Central and Victoria lines from 8.30pm on Fridays and Saturdays until June 2022.

New rosters for the Night Tube are being imposed on drivers, according to the union. Strike action has been carried out since the Night Tube was restarted during the last weekend in November after being suspended in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Talks have been held between the union and Transport for London but the row remains deadlocked.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘If London Underground and the Mayor (Sadiq Khan) thought this fight for progressive and family friendly working practices was going away they need to think again.

‘Our members have been re-balloted and have delivered a solid mandate for action, and it’s the failure of London Underground and Sadiq Khan to address the grievances at the heart of the dispute that leaves us no option but to confirm the programme of action today.

‘RMT has repeatedly put forward cost neutral proposals that would repair the damage unleashed by deleting 200 driver posts and which would dig London Underground out of this mess. They have ignored us, and that approach will have severe consequences for Londoners in the New Year. We remain available for further talks.’

London Underground’s director of customer operations Nick Dent said: ‘We’re disappointed that the RMT is continuing to push for strike action that would cause unnecessary disruption at a time when our customers need us most. We urge the RMT to join us for talks so we can work together to resolve this dispute.’

TfL insists the changes do not involve any drivers losing their jobs, and mean they would be expected to work an average of up to four Night Tube weekends per year.

Operators on Tuesday pleaded with travellers to book on to earlier services, while warning of last-minute cancellations in the days ahead.

Train companies say they are taking extra measures to ensure people can get where they need to be, such as running longer trains, cancelling non-safety-critical training to prioritise services, and providing better information about busy trains.

Seb Gordon, director of external communications at industry membership body the Rail Delivery Group, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that 19 out of 20 trains had still run over the last week and operators are running as many trains as they ‘possibly can’.

He said: ‘We think that, at the moment, that in the Christmas week, when people are trying to get away – fewer people than in a normal year but lots of people still trying to get away – we think it’s important to prioritise running as many trains as we can even if that means there’s a few more of those frustrating short-notice cancellations.

‘But obviously, as we get further into this wave of the pandemic – we hope will not materialise in the way that people are anticipating – it may be that we decide actually we need to prepare for a lower level of staffing over a longer period of time and we will reduce the timetable.

‘Obviously the Government’s announcement today of the reduced isolation period is going to really help.’

CrossCountry said it is ‘expecting widespread disruption to our services this week’, with services likely to start later and finish earlier, and some trains could have fewer carriages than normal.

A spokeswoman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said: ‘Like everyone else, our staff are susceptible to the virus but as we showed last year during the pandemic, we will ensure that key workers can get to where they need to be.

‘We aren’t able to run every train as planned at the moment but we know people want confidence that their train is going to turn up so we will be working hard to give clear, accurate and timely information and people should check before they travel.’

Anthony Smith, chief executive of independent watchdog Transport Focus, added: ‘It’s better for some services to be temporarily withdrawn on a planned basis than to have chaotic last-minute cancellations.

‘These are harder for passengers to deal with and more likely to lead to overcrowding. Passengers need clear, reliable information to plan their journeys. Anyone who has already bought tickets must be told and offered alternatives or their money back.’

Meanwhile travellers hit out at bosses at Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester for causing misery when flying and arriving in Britain.

But the festive rush got off to a horrendous start on Christmas Eve, with passengers flying into and out of major UK hubs all reporting travel chaos.

Heathrow, the country’s busiest airport, was blasted by rucks of customers on social media for handling the influx of flyers poorly.

Gary Haldane tweeted: ‘Standard UK border patrol chaos at Heathrow. Six empty counters and one actually working in T5a. Maybe our plane turned up unexpectedly today.’

Heathrow replied: ‘Due to the increase of passengers Border Force are working hard to process passengers under new formalities, we appreciate your patience at this time.’

One person wrote: ‘what is the point of POD parking if POD is not working? This is same as long stay car park????’

Heathrow hit back: ‘The PODs require emergency maintenance work from time to time, and it is not always possible to determine when this will take place or for how long.

‘We work hard to ensure that any disruption is kept to a minimum and customers can amend their bookings if they wish.’

Matt Russell posted: ‘@UKBorder and @HeathrowAirport continue to be a lesson in how to *not* run an efficient logistics setup. Usual chaos T5 arrivals.’

He added: ‘Poor queue management, lack of staff helping. Sack the duty manager please.’

Heathrow said: ‘We are sorry to hear that you were affected by delays at Immigration and kindly ask you direct any feedback to UK Border Force directly using the link on their website.’

Sabir Ahmed added: ‘Had the misfortune to visit Heathrow yesterday. They kept my 87-year-old father waiting for a wheel chair for two hours and 35 minutes.

‘Members of staff going off for hours, broken phones and information staff won’t call managers. Shame on you Heathrow!’

Gatwick was also blasted online, with Glenn Hallam writing: ‘Firstly, directed from the speeding boarding queue to a slower line, although having paid for this service.

‘Consequences? Missing our lounge also paid for. Secondly, Arrive in #Prague, no luggage- Merry Christmas!’

Gatwick replied: ‘Sorry to hear about the delay. Please give us the full details about what happened at Security here so we can investigate.’

Another person posted: ‘Easyjet REFUSED 11 people (inc 77 year old) on last nights LGW-BSL flight, ALL Covid tests meeting requirements detailed on EJ website, CH & UK Gov Sites.’

They added: ‘They have NOT replied. This reflects VERY badly on Gatwick. Can you Advise?’ The airport replied: ‘The rules are set by the government and it’s the airline that check paperwork.

‘The airport itself has no involvement in this so we cannot comment on easyJets actions. I do hope they can help clarify what happened.’

Danny Ivatt said: ‘@Gatwick_Airport is utterly disgusting. The toilets stink, the ‘food’ in the lounge is from a 1970s truckstop, everything is filthy, worn and used.’

There were also problems reported at Manchester Airport, with David Kelly writing: ‘I got off a flight from Dublin on the 21st and my bag was not on the carousel I filled in a form and I still have heard nothing back.

‘I need a ref number for the airline, what the hell is going on, this is following on from the debacle that was the 18th. Help anybody.’

Dave Staiano put: ‘so it’s been almost 7 weeks since I emailed you about a refund owed to me!

‘You’ve asked me to send you a DM and yet you’ve still done nothing. Don’t think I’ve ever come across a customer care team as poor as yours. Merry Christmas.’

Another person wrote: ‘@manairport It is pretty diabolical in a pandemic you make a plane of people wait for their bags for over 90 min and the flight wasn’t even that long!’

Paul Salkeld posted: ‘Rarely do this but shocking service from Manchester Airport’s so-called ‘meet & greet’ parking service.

‘Arrived 6am on 28/11 in the snow with 2 young kids to find car park closed and deserted. Nobody around to help. The stress!

‘Since lodged two complaints – no response. Very poor.’

Paul Rooke added: ‘Yet again another shower of S***. Been waiting over an hour for my bag back, because yet again you have staffing issues!

‘Three hours to get through baggage and security Saturday and now 1hr and 1/2 and counting to leave. Don’t blame covid, spend some money and hire staff.’

Have YOU been affected by Christmas getaway travel chaos? Please email: [email protected]