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Millions will face travel chaos over Christmas and the New Year thanks to rail strikes, airport disruption and predictions of the busiest roads in years.

CrossCountry, one of the country’s main rail operators, warned there will be few trains running tomorrow and on New Year’s Eve as the RMT union presses ahead with industrial action.

Meanwhile up to 5.3million drivers are expected to get behind the wheel tomorrow, according to the RAC – in what’s been dubbed ‘frantic festive Friday’.

And travellers using Heathrow – Britain’s busiest airport – on Boxing Day also face issues as it will be cut off from Tube and train links due to engineering works.  

RAC’s research, conducted alongside data firm INRIX, also forecast that 4.1 million leisure trips will be made on Thursday. 

Meanwhile, the in the days leading up to the Christmas weekend, AA has said it expects to see 18 million cars on the road.

The RAC’s breakdown spokesperson Rod Dennis said: ‘Despite the increasing prevalence of the Omicron Covid variant, our research shows that the vast majority of drivers are still determined to do Christmas properly this year – in sharp contrast to 12 months ago.’   

A survey of nearly 2,000 people in Britain for watchdog Transport Focus indicated that 44 per cent plan to travel to visit friends or family over the festive period. 

The poll suggested the majority of those planning a getaway this year intend to travel by road, with only one in 10 using public transport.

According to RAC analysis, there will be a total of 9.4 million journeys by people embarking on overnight stays or day trips across the UK on Thursday and Christmas Eve alone. 

Up to 5.3million drivers are expected to get behind the wheel tomorrow, according to the RAC - in what's been dubbed 'frantic festive Friday' (file photo)

Up to 5.3million drivers are expected to get behind the wheel tomorrow, according to the RAC - in what's been dubbed 'frantic festive Friday' (file photo)

Up to 5.3million drivers are expected to get behind the wheel tomorrow, according to the RAC – in what’s been dubbed ‘frantic festive Friday’ (file photo)

Heathrow Airport will be cut off from the rail and Tube network for two days over the festive period while Network Rail and Transport for London (TfL) carry out simultaneous works meaning travellers could face difficulties after they land in the UK (file photo)

Heathrow Airport will be cut off from the rail and Tube network for two days over the festive period while Network Rail and Transport for London (TfL) carry out simultaneous works meaning travellers could face difficulties after they land in the UK (file photo)

Heathrow Airport will be cut off from the rail and Tube network for two days over the festive period while Network Rail and Transport for London (TfL) carry out simultaneous works meaning travellers could face difficulties after they land in the UK (file photo)

TfL is also suspending the Piccadilly line between Heathrow and Acton for seven days from Christmas Eve meaning Heathrow passengers will be unable to rely on tube network to travel

TfL is also suspending the Piccadilly line between Heathrow and Acton for seven days from Christmas Eve meaning Heathrow passengers will be unable to rely on tube network to travel

TfL is also suspending the Piccadilly line between Heathrow and Acton for seven days from Christmas Eve meaning Heathrow passengers will be unable to rely on tube network to travel

Major roads are likely to be particularly busy between 12pm and 4pm on Thursday, and 11am and 2pm on Friday.

The RAC, which surveyed 1,400 drivers, predicts it will be the busiest Christmas getaway on the roads in five years.

The number of people heading abroad is also higher than last year but remains down on pre-pandemic levels.

Gatwick Airport said it expects to welcome nearly 750,000 passengers between December 18 and 31, which is nearly seven times more than over the same period 12 months ago but less than half of what it saw before the virus crisis.

Thursday and Boxing Day are expected to be among its busiest days for departures, with up to 35,000 passengers each day.

Popular destinations include the Irish capital, Dublin, and Cancun in Mexico.

Gatwick’s chief commercial officer, Jonathan Pollard, said the airport is ‘encouraged by the number of people looking to travel this Christmas’ but said new coronavirus testing requirements have ‘impacted some people’s travel plans over the holiday period’.

He added: ‘While we understand the need for measures to stop the spread of the Omicron variant until more scientific information on its level of harm is available, it is vital these are in place no longer than absolutely necessary.’

Meanwhile 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.

Liverpool John Lennon Airport said it expects around 40,000 passengers to pass through between Christmas Eve and January 3, which is around 40% of pre-pandemic levels.

The airport was hoping demand would be at around 70%-80% of normal before the new restrictions were introduced.

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

It comes as hundreds of trains continued to be cancelled across the country due to Covid-related staff absences. 

Almost one in 20 trains were cancelled on Monday while eight operators yesterday warned of the likelihood of last-minute cancellations.

Some 370 engineering projects are also being carried out on the railways in the coming days – leaving Leeds with a reduced service between December 27 and January 3.

The CrossCountry strikes, brought about over an employee training row, will also see no trains between Leicester and Stansted Airport, Cheltenham Spa and Cardiff Central and on some routes in Devon and Cornwall.

Some companies have urged travellers to take earlier trains due to possible upheaval.   

Meanwhile international 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.

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.

Meanwhile, TfL is suspending the Piccadilly line between Heathrow and Acton Town for seven days from Christmas Eve.

The combination of the work being carried out by Network Rai and TfL means no rail or Tube services will operate to or from the UK’s busiest airport on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. 

It comes as the rail firm LNER, which operates services between London and cities such as Leeds, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh, revealed it had 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. 

Britons are now being told to travel as soon as possible over the festive period because of growing disruption.

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 ten per cent of railway staff are off sick or isolating, up one per cent in a month, while Transport for London says around 500 of its frontline staff are currently off work due to ‘Covid-related illness’.

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

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

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

Omicron is causing staff shortages in all areas of the UK, with hospitals in parts of England with the highest infection rates predicting that one-third of NHS staff could be off sick by January. 

The NHS could set up ‘field hospitals’ in the car parks of existing hospitals, staffed by Army medics, the Guardian reports, in plans which raise further questions about the decision to close the Nightingale Hospitals. 

Meanwhile bin collections have been disrupted while at Heathrow staffing shortages caused pre-Christmas travel ‘chaos’ with delays at check-in, passport control and baggage reclaim. 

Royal Mail chiefs are also warning of delays to postal services this Christmas, with Amazon stepping in to help deliver lateral flow tests. 

In the transport sector, 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. 

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

Operators 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.  

Meanwhile, customers using CrossCountry services face disruption on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve due to a strike by RMT union members.

General Secretary Mick Lynch said Wednesday: ‘There has been a systematic attempt by Cross Country to undermine the role of the Senior Conductors and Train Managers by drafting in other staff to do their jobs.

The number of confirmed cases of Omicron in England increased by 69 per cent on the previous day's total - up 9,427 to 23,168, figures from the UKHSA showed today

The number of confirmed cases of Omicron in England increased by 69 per cent on the previous day's total - up 9,427 to 23,168, figures from the UKHSA showed today

The number of confirmed cases of Omicron in England increased by 69 per cent on the previous day’s total – up 9,427 to 23,168, figures from the UKHSA showed today

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

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‘Cross Country need to understand that they already have trained and competent guards that are available and ready to work.

‘They need to stop with their underhand measures and attempts to train up various other employees to undertake the role of the guard. This strike could be resolved if people were simply allowed to just get on with their own job and the company stopped threatening the long-term futures of our members and compromising safety as a consequence.

‘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.

‘We are in talks today with the company which gives them an opportunity to prioritise safety and settle this dispute.’

On Tuesday night the self-isolation period was cut to seven days from ten days, meaning hundreds of thousands of people currently stuck at home will now be able to see family by Christmas Day. Officials cut the quarantine time for confirmed virus cases as long as they test negative with a lateral flow two days in a row. 

The decision is also an attempt to stave off the staffing crisis being caused by Omicron, with the public sector, businesses and the NHS being hit by huge levels of absence.

As millions of Britons prepare to travel to their families for the winter holidays, rail firms have announced a raft of cancellations and delays between now and Christmas Day. 

Rail passengers are advised to check train services before they travel for Christmas amid concerns of disruption caused by surging Omicron cases.

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.’

Long distance rail services are among those most impacted.

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. 

Isolation for positive Covid cases is cut from 10 to seven days releasing up to 280,000 to enjoy Christmas and easing the crippling absentee burden on the NHS – but unvaccinated contacts must still quarantine for the full 10 days 

Health chiefs have today announced those who test positive for Covid can be released after seven days, rather than 10, providing they take two lateral flow tests at the end of that period.

Health chiefs have today announced those who test positive for Covid can be released after seven days, rather than 10, providing they take two lateral flow tests at the end of that period.

Health chiefs have today announced those who test positive for Covid can be released after seven days, rather than 10, providing they take two lateral flow tests at the end of that period.

More than 280,000 people infected with coronavirus and facing Christmas alone can now safely enjoy festivities with their families after a change in isolation rules.

Health chiefs have today announced those who test positive for Covid can be released after seven days, rather than 10, providing they take two lateral flow tests at the end of that period.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said infected patients can take the tests 24 hours apart on day six and seven of their isolation period, which if negative means they can stop quarantining.

This means the 102,875 people who tested positive on December 15, the 95,058 positive cases the following day, and a further 82,945 people who contracted the virus on December 17, will be free to enjoy Christmas together with loved ones under the new rules.

It has also been hailed as a major boost to the NHS, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid reportedly among those concerned at the number of staff who’ve been off work with the virus under the 10-day rule. 

However, unvaccinated adults who have come into contact with someone infected with Covid must still self-isolate until 10 days after their estimated date of exposure to the virus. 

 

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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.’

Public transport across the UK traditionally shuts down on Christmas Day, but services normally operate to and from Heathrow on Boxing Day, which is one of the airport’s busiest days of the year.

Heathrow introduced a £5 fee for cars dropping off passengers at terminal forecourts on November 1.

The airport has confirmed this will stay in place throughout the engineering works. 

While passengers will still be able to get dropped off for free at long-stay parking, the shuttles to the main terminals run every 15 minutes and the journey can take 5 minutes itself so extra time should be allowed.

Other routes affected by Network Rail’s engineering work over the festive 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.

Passengers can find out whether their journeys are affected through their train operator or National Rail Enquiries.

Network Rail said the 370 engineering projects it is carrying out over Christmas have been planned ‘months, and in some cases years, in advance’.

It added that more than 95 per cent of Britain’s rail network will remain open.

Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said: ‘While some essential work is taking place to upgrade our railway over the festive period, we’ve worked hard with train operators to reduce the impact on passengers as far as possible so that they can spend time with their families and friends this Christmas.

‘I’d like to thank the thousands of rail workers who will be working to keep services running, and those delivering upgrades to improve our railway and bring more reliable journeys to passengers in future.’

Source: Daily Mail UK

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