The scramble to race home for Christmas before further Covid restrictions are imposed has triggered travel chaos today, with furious rail passengers complaining of train cancellations and a car fire bringing one of Britain’s busiest motorways to a standstill.

More than 18million vehicles will hit the roads today and Christmas Eve to see family and friends over the holiday, with the RAC estimating that 5million alone will head out tomorrow on what is being dubbed ‘frantic festive Friday’.

But CrossCountry last night warned that rail strikes will see a reduced number of trains running tomorrow and on New Year’s Eve.

Due to engineering works, Heathrow Airport will not be accessible by Tube and Train links for Boxing Day travellers.

Today’s rail passengers complained about cancelled trains, and operators encouraged them to take other routes. However, the prospect of packed carriages has sparked fears of a Covid ‘super-spreader’ among travellers. 

These scenes could lead to an increase in Covid cases or even worsen the crisis as Omicron is established.

A car fire broke out on the M5 northbound at junction 19 near Clevedon, and brought both traffic lanes to a complete halt. The incident resulted in no injuries. After the vehicle is taken off, it will remain on the M5 hard shoulder. National Highways and emergency service teams will evaluate whether or not the road should be resurfaced.

The RAC forecasts that this Christmas will be busiest in five years. Only one-tenth of those polled said they would use public transportation. Major roads will be especially busy today between 12pm to 4pm, as well as tomorrow morning between 11am and 2pm.

Gatwick Airport has said it expects to welcome 750,000 passengers between December 18 and 31 – nearly seven times more than over the same period last year. Boxing Day, today and Boxing Day will be its busiest day with as many as 35,000 passengers per day. Cancun and Dublin are two of the most popular destinations.

Bristol Airport anticipates that it will host more than 100,000 passengers in December 21-31. The airport’s busiest day will be December 27, when 12,000 passengers will fly into or out.

According to Liverpool John Lennon Airport, it anticipates that around 40,000 passengers will pass through its doors between December Eve and January 3.

While the number of foreigners traveling is up from last year’s, they are still far below pre-pandemic levels. 

One in twenty trains had to be cancelled Monday. Eight operators spoke yesterday about possible last-minute cancellations.

Network Rail also stated that it will conduct signalling, track, and HS2 work on Paddington and Slough over Christmas Day and Boxing Day. This means no trains can serve Heathrow.  The following routes are also affected by Network Rail’s engineering work:

  • Southern’s Gatwick Airport trains from London Bridge to London Victoria will now operate between December Day and January 3.
  • Leeds will offer a reduced service from December 27 to January 3. This includes a very limited service on January 2.
  • On Christmas Day and Boxing Day, there are no services between London King’s Cross & Finsbury Park;
  • CrossCountry trains are not scheduled to call Bristol Parkway from December 27 through 31. There will be no Great Western Railway service to or from Bristol Temple Meads. 
During rush hour, a car fire on the M5 northbound between junctions 19 and 20 near Clevedon brought traffic to a standstill

Traffic was halted due to an accident on the M5 Northbound near Clevedon between junctions 20 and 19.

The vehicle remains on the hard shoulder of the M5, with emergency services and National Highways teams will assess whether the road needs resurfacing once the car is removed

Once the car has been removed, the vehicle will be left on the M5 hard shoulder. National Highways team members and emergency services will determine if the road is in need of resurfacing.

Rail passengers complained that trains have been cancelled, with rail operators urging people to get on other services

Rail passengers reported that the trains were cancelled. The rail operators encouraged people to use other services.

Heathrow Airport will be cut off from the rail and Tube network for two days (file photo)

Heathrow Airport’s Tube and Rail network will be shut off for two days (file Photo).

Covid has so far caused delays and cancellations in rail transport according to the railway operators

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

Avanti West Coast:London to Scotland:’subjected to short-notice cancellations or alterations due to Covid-19’s impact on crew availability 

CrossCountry: CrossCountry stated that it expects widespread disruption in its services this week. Services are likely to begin later than usual and end earlier. Some trains may have fewer cars than normal.

ScotRail:Services cancelled due to shortage of staff

Northern: Staff sickness has been warned about disruption

Southern:Staff sickness has been warned about disruption

TransPennine ExpressStaff sickness has been warned about disruption

Greater Anglia:It claimed that it had to cancel services due to a shortage of demand

Transport for London Covid had caused the departure of approximately 500 frontline employees.

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.

CrossCountry strikes resulting from employee training disputes will result in no trains being operated between Leicester Airport and Stansted Airport and Cheltenham Spa. There are also no trains operating between Cardiff Central and Cardiff Central.

Some businesses have advised travellers that they should take early trains because of possible disruptions.  

Family members arriving from overseas may be cut off trains and Tubes on Heathrow’s busiest day of the year, or for up to a week because of engineering works.

TfL will suspend the Piccadilly Line between Heathrow & Acton Town until December 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’.

According to the rail operator, it may be necessary to cancel more trains at short notice due staffing issues.  

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.

Because of staff shortages and reduced timelines passengers will be forced into cars in coming days. This raises concerns about an increase in virus transmission. 

Almost ten 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’. 

The cancellations were attributed to staff sickness, isolation and staff absences of almost 9% over the past week. Train companies blame this wave on the staff.  Monday saw 13% of UK trains cancelled or delayed. 

One in twenty trains had been cancelled during the week preceding Monday. This is more than the average annual rate of 2.9%.

Operators pleaded Tuesday with travelers to use earlier services and warned them about cancellations at the last minute. 

The train companies claim they will take extra precautions to help people reach their destinations. They may run longer trains or cancel non-safety critical training so that they can prioritise service.   

Mick Lynch, RMT General Secretary said that Cross Country had attempted to subvert the senior conductors’ and train managers’ roles by recruiting other employees to perform their duties.

Cross Country must understand they have competent and trained guards who are ready and available to help.

“They must stop using subterfugel measures to train other employees for the job of guard. The strike can be ended if everyone is allowed to do what they are supposed to and the company stops threatening our long-term safety and futures.

“Our members are not going to tolerate these attacks and this is why they’re taking actions over Christmas and the New Year.

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'

LNER Rail, which runs services between London, Leeds, York and Newcastle, said it took out 16 trains per day from 24 December to due to “an increased level in absence of drivers and train managers because coronavirus”.

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

Today’s figures by UKHSA show that Omicron confirmed cases increased in England by 69% compared to the previous day. The numbers rose from 9,427 up to 23,168

Are you affected by the Christmas vacation chaos? 


“We’re in negotiations today with the company. This gives them the opportunity to prioritise safety, and then settle this matter.” 

Seb Gordon from the Rail Delivery Group’s director of external communication, said that 19 of 20 trains have still been running over the week. Operators are also operating as many trains and trains as possible.

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 announcement made today by Government about the shorter isolation period will really help,” 

CrossCountry warned that there will be widespread disruptions to its services, including services starting later, finishing earlier and certain trains having fewer than usual carriages. 

Rail Delivery Group spokeswoman said that although staff can be susceptible, they are also vulnerable to the virus. However, as was demonstrated last year in the aftermath of the pandemics, the group will make sure key employees get where they need.

“We can’t run all trains as planned right now, but we understand that people need to be confident their train will arrive on time. We’ll work hard to provide clear and accurate information so people don’t forget to check before traveling.

Anthony Smith, Chief Executive of Independent Watchdog Transport Focus said: “It is better to temporarily withdraw some services on a plan basis rather than have chaos last-minute cancellations.

These are more difficult for passengers and can lead to congestion.

“Passengers require clear and reliable information in order to plan their travels. Anyone who bought tickets already must be informed, and they should have alternatives to their purchase or their money returned. 

  • Are you affected by the Christmas vacation travel chaos? Email