UK markets closed
  • FTSE 100

    6,735.71
    -66.25 (-0.97%)
     
  • FTSE 250

    20,615.59
    -160.16 (-0.77%)
     
  • AIM

    1,173.12
    -10.50 (-0.89%)
     
  • GBP/EUR

    1.1248
    -0.0014 (-0.12%)
     
  • GBP/USD

    1.3583
    -0.0108 (-0.79%)
     
  • BTC-GBP

    26,618.77
    -145.44 (-0.54%)
     
  • CMC Crypto 200

    701.93
    -33.21 (-4.52%)
     
  • S&P 500

    3,768.25
    -27.29 (-0.72%)
     
  • DOW

    30,814.26
    -177.26 (-0.57%)
     
  • CRUDE OIL

    52.04
    -1.53 (-2.86%)
     
  • GOLD FUTURES

    1,827.70
    -23.70 (-1.28%)
     
  • NIKKEI 225

    28,519.18
    -179.08 (-0.62%)
     
  • HANG SENG

    28,573.86
    +77.00 (+0.27%)
     
  • DAX

    13,787.73
    -200.97 (-1.44%)
     
  • CAC 40

    5,611.69
    -69.45 (-1.22%)
     

Easing Covid controls could lead to Christmas travel chaos, warns Labour

Simon Murphy and Gwyn Topham
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

Ministers have been urged to set out plans to prevent travel chaos over Christmas as families race to see each other when Covid-19 restrictions are temporarily eased.

Boris Johnson is expected to detail a UK-wide relaxation of curbs on Tuesday to let a number of households gather for a period of up to five days, potentially starting from Christmas Eve.

On Monday the prime minister said families would need to make a “careful judgment” about visiting elderly relatives because “this virus is obviously not going to grant a Christmas truce – it doesn’t know it’s Christmas”.

Given the limited window for travel to see family, it raises the prospect of gridlocked roads and packed trains, risking further spreading of the virus. Planned railway upgrade works over the period could compound any problems.

Labour urged the government to come up with a plan to explain how the transport network would cope.

The shadow transport secretary, Jim McMahon, said: “It’s imperative the government quickly produces a fully worked through transport plan to ensure we don’t see any Christmas travel chaos on our roads and rail network as many families will be travelling across the country at a similar time to see each other ... On our public transport, ministers must explain how they are going to keep staff and passengers safe at all times, with capacity on the network to meet demand.”

default

Asked about people returning to Scotland for Christmas, the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said there had been discussions on “what advice might we need around public transport because clearly capacity … is limited because of things like physical distancing, so we need to factor that into our thinking if people are going to be able to travel a little bit more freely”.

Manuel Cortes, the head of the TSSA transport union, said: “It’s really important the government works with us and rail operators on how travel over the festive period is going to work. The last thing we need is to see numbers of passengers increase in a way that dilutes the safety measures which have been put in place to stop the spread of the virus.”

One of Britain’s two main north-south rail arteries, the east coast mainline from Scotland to London, will be partially closed for most of the Christmas period as part of ongoing upgrades.

King’s Cross station, the London terminus for cities including York, Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh, will be closed entirely from 25-30 December. However, the east coast operator LNER’s trains will run as usual north of Peterborough. LNER said it expected trains around Christmas to sell out fast and urged customers to plan ahead.

default

With the east coast works having been planned for two years, there is little chance of change for a Covid restriction-free travel window. Railway engineering at Christmas has been a perennial source of tension, not least since overrunning works at King’s Cross meant the station could not reopen as planned in December 2014, causing chaotic scenes for passengers and leading to a parliamentary inquiry.

However, it is normally the least disruptive time for engineering, with no trains running on most networks on Christmas or Boxing Day. About £137m worth of works are planned this year, slightly less than average, with the majority of the railway beyond the east coast remaining open.

Network Rail dismissed fears of crowding, even if a short window is given for travel, with passenger numbers currently at a fraction of normal levels and having remained well down at the height of summer without restrictions. LNER already requires reservations for travel and the system could potentially be extended to other long-distance services.

Overall levels of car use are much higher as a proportion of pre-lockdown traffic, but the AA said many journeys were localised, rather than on motorways. A survey of 16,000 members of the motoring organisation this month found only 28% felt more motivated than usual to drive to see relatives at Christmas, with 40% having already cancelled travel plans.

Edmund King, the AA president, said: “Any announcement of five days of festive freedom will now complicate trip planning. The 28% who felt it’s even more important to share the season with friends and family this year are likely to embrace the gift of a restriction lift.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Since the outbreak of the pandemic we have provided billions to operators to ensure the services passengers depend on continue to run, and issued comprehensive guidance to help passengers and staff travel safely. We continue to work closely with operators to ensure that the public can travel with confidence.”