People hoping to reunite with their families over Christmas must make a decision about whether they travel “at all”, a Cabinet minister said today.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested that there could be a travel bottleneck as millions of people try to get to their families over the festive period.
The pandemic has meant some people have not seen their relatives for nearly a year, with hopes now pinned on the Government allowing families to “bubble” over the festive period.
The Prime Minister is in talks with the leaders of the devolved administrations to develop a UK-wide plan to let people gather for Christmas.
Mr Shapps was asked how he planned to manage the Christmas rush without trains becoming overcrowded and motorways jammed.
He told BBC Breakfast: “I want to be completely upfront with you, we are going to have to ask people to take a close look at any proposed journeys and think about the routes that they are taking.
“Traditionally over the Christmas period for example a lot of engineering work takes place. I will try to do all I can to minimise that but some of those works have been in the works as it were for 18 months or two years.”
Asked if he was suggesting people find a different route to travel home, he replied: “That’s right. We’ve got to understand there are limitations to the network caused by for example things like the need on some of the 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 are in.”
He said the Government had poured £10 billion into keeping railways running during the pandemic but a number of railway workers were off work with Covid.
Mr Shapps said he expected the Prime Minister to make an announcement on Christmas when he unveils what tier each area is going into on Thursday.
One option understood to be under consideration is allowing up to three households to mix indoors for up to five days.
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon Ms Sturgeon has signalled caution, saying that the easing of coronavirus restrictions would be “slight and careful” but that household mixing was likely to be allowed.
The Standard has heard from people already struggling to book trains and coaches from London to visit their families in other parts of the country.
National Express has a limited amount of coaches running to destinations in the north east such as Durham and Newcastle in the week before Christmas, while trains to York, Darlington and Leeds are showing as all sold out on Christmas Eve.
Tom Gillespie, 32, said: “I was trying to book a coach to Darlington on Boxing Day which I’ve done many years before and there just isn’t anything.
"Trains don’t usually run on the 26th but you could always rely on the coach. I eventually managed to get a coach to Middlesborough but it’s adding an extra 90 minutes onto the journey.”