The great Christmas getaway continues on Saturday as millions of people travel across the UK to celebrate the holiday season with friends and family.
But strikes mean trips home could be seriously hampered by industrial action on roads, rail and airports as Britain’s transport network is stretched to the limit.
How is the situation on the train?
Rail travelers have been urged to only travel if “absolutely necessary” as thousands of members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail will disembark from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on December 27.
The union said industrial action would mainly affect planned engineering work, but Network Rail has confirmed trains will stop running around 3pm on Christmas Eve.
A number of train operators have warned passengers not to travel unless “absolutely necessary” as some routes have no service at all and others have limited service.
An overtime ban – industrial action on the verge of a strike – could further disrupt busy Saturday afternoon services. It has already wreaked havoc on timetables on some routes on non-strike days, as around 4,000 trains were canceled each day.
The restricted train services will almost certainly affect the number of riders. An RAC poll found that nearly half of the people affected by rail strikes this month planned to drive or have someone else take them.
On Friday, the RMT accused the government of “enforced disappearances” as no further talks were scheduled since last week’s meeting with Railway Minister Huw Merriman and industry leaders.
Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said the union was causing “unnecessary misery for its own members, the railroad and the country’s economy”.
What about the streets?
The AA predicts 16.5 million people will be on the road on Christmas Eve and has warned of long delays and congestion on major freeways and federal highways.
The AA has identified the traffic hotspots as follows: the M25; the M5 between Bristol and Weston-super-Mare; the M6 around Birmingham; Sections of the M1 ‘smart’ motorway from Luton north; the M62 and M60 to the north west and the M4 and M27.
The car group warned that the aforementioned rail strikes could “intensify the flight chaos” by undermining confidence in using public transport.
The AA’s head of road policy, Jack Cousens, said: “We are advising those driving their cars to prepare for congestion, particularly on popular routes out of London.
“The rail strikes have persuaded more people to travel by car this year and while hundreds of miles of roadworks have been removed to ease the pain, it may not be enough to keep the queues out.”
Traffic analysis company Inrix expects journey times on the road to increase by around 14% compared to the same period last year.
The pressure on the roads ahead of Christmas could be further exacerbated by industrial action by National Highways workers.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, who work as control room staff and traffic officers, will continue their four-day strike on December 24-25.
The PCS said the action “risks bringing the road network to a standstill” and road safety activists said they were “very concerned” about potential delays in putting up warning signs on roads.
National Highways said no roads would be closed as a result of the industrial action, that there are “well-rehearsed resilience plans” and that strikes have affected a small number of frontline workers.
What happens at airports?
Border Force officials on Friday joined the wave of industrial action that swept the country and will strike every day except December 27 for the rest of the year.
Travelers have been warned to expect delays amid fears long queues at passport control could result in people being detained on planes, disrupting subsequent departures.
Around 1,000 members of the PPCS union, employed by the Home Office to run passport offices, are on strike at Heathrow, Birmingham, Cardiff, Gatwick, Glasgow and Manchester airports and the Port of Newhaven in East Sussex.
The Interior Ministry has drafted in military personnel trained to check passports. Heathrow and Gatwick, the country’s two busiest airports, said their immigration halls were operating normally on Friday.