Britain’s Christmas Eve: Rail services interrupted

Strike Action on Crosscocountry

CrossCountry services were cancelled because of industrial action by RMT union. 

  • berdeen Edinburgh
  • Glasgow Central and Edinburgh
  • Stansted and Leicester Airports
  • Cardiff Central and Cheltenham Spa
  • Paignton and Newton Abbot
  • Plymouth and Penzance

CrossCountry Services have seen a decrease in their use between

  • Edinburgh and Plymouth
  • Manchester Piccadilly & Bournemouth 
  • Birmingham New Street, Leicester


Yesterday’s train accident between Stockport and Manchester Piccadilly caused chaos for these routes.

  • Avanti West CoastBetween Manchester Piccadilly / Crewe / London Euston
  • CrossCountryManchester Piccadilly to Reading
  • East Midlands Railway There are two main routes: Liverpool Lime Street, Nottingham/Norwich.
  • Northern Between Barrow-in-Furness/Blackpool North/ Liverpool Lime Street/ Chester and Manchester Airport; also between Manchester Piccadilly/ Rose Hill Marple/ Buxton/Hadfield/Sheffield/Stoke-on-Trent/ Crewe
  • TransPennine ExpressBetween Edinburgh/Redcar Central/ Cleethorpes/ Hull/Stockley and Manchester Piccadilly/ Manchester Airport
  • Transport for WalesBetween Manchester Piccadilly / Crewe / Holyhead/ Cardiff Central


  • Services of West Midlands Railway were affected between Redditch and Birmingham New StreetBecause of a problem with the signalling systems
  • Delayed Starts Havant Harbour and Portsmouth HarbourFor those who use the Great Western Railway, South Western Railway or Southern Services

After rail strikes, cancellations of trains and predictions of the busiest roads for years were made public, the chances of chaos in travel are higher for millions of Britons during Christmas and New Year.

CrossCountry runs trains between major cities like Birmingham, Bristol and Newcastle. However, CrossCountry said that there will be no service on all routes at present. The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has called on people not to travel today or tomorrow due to the industrial action. 

The UK is also likely to experience its busiest Christmas period in five years, as families travel to be with loved ones. Transport Focus conducted a survey among nearly 2000 people across Britain and found that 44% plan to travel for Christmas.

Travellers using London Heathrow on Boxing Day, Britain’s busiest airport will also have problems as the Tube and train lines to it are currently unavailable due to engineering.

This comes after hundreds of cancelled trains across the UK were affected by Covid-related staff absenteeisms. Nearly one-fifth of all trains cancelled Monday. Eight operators warned this week of potential last-minute cancellations.

According to RAC analysis, Christmas Eve will see an estimated 5.3 million people travel overnight or on day trips. Major roads are expected to be most busy between 11 and 2 PM.

Even though rail travel demand is only about half of what it was pre-pandemic, many people still choose to travel by train for Christmas.

Stockport to Manchester Piccadilly was also disrupted by yesterday’s train accident. The incident affected East Midlands Railways and Avanti West Coast as well as Northern Transport for Wales and TransPennine Express.

A fault in the signalling system caused disruptions today to West Midlands Railway services from Birmingham New Street to Redditch.

Similar delays occurred in Hampshire for passengers using the Great Western Railway, South Western Railway or Southern services.

Some train companies advise travellers not to wait until Christmas to get on their trains. 

RMT stated that senior managers and conductors supported Crosscountry’s strike because Crosscountry employees were being trained to assume roles not normally held by guards.

Today’s trains will not be operated by the firm between Aberdeen and Edinburgh, Glasgow Central and Edinburgh; Derby or Nottingham; Leicester Airport and Stansted Airport; Cheltenham Spa or Cardiff Central; Newton Abbot; Paignton; and Plymouth and Penzance. 

Mick Lynch (RMT general secretary) stated: “CrossCountry should understand that they have competent, trained guards available that are ready and willing to work. Our members made it clear they won’t tolerate this attack, and they have taken action to protect themselves over Christmas and the New Year. 

Heathrow is expected to be closed off from Tube and Rail networks on Christmas Day and Boxing Day because of engineering work. Network Rail stated that it will conduct signalling, track, and HS2 maintenance between Paddington, Slough, on Christmas Day (and Boxing Day), which will mean no trains can serve Heathrow.

Except for a few airport transfers on Boxing Day, UK train services don’t normally operate on these two days. Fears over Omicron and the Government’s new work-from-home guidelines have caused a substantial drop in train passenger numbers.

Train journeys have fallen to 53% from pre-pandemic levels over the last week. This is down from 70% in the week prior to the first emergence of the omicron variant. Nearly 9 percent of the staff were absent during this week, and staff sickness or isolation from Covid have led to cancellations.

Future engineering work on railways will disrupt service. There are 370 projects in progress. There are also other routes which will be disrupted by engineering work during the Christmas holiday period:

  • Southern’s Gatwick Airport trains to London Bridge will be operated instead of London Victoria from December Day through January 3,
  • Leeds will be offering a reduced service, including one on January 2, which is’very limited’.
  • There are no services between London King’s Cross Station and Finsbury Park for Christmas Day or Boxing Day.
  • Between December 27 and 31, CrossCountry trains won’t call Bristol Parkway. There will be no Great Western Railway service to or from Bristol Temple Meads. 

According to the RAC survey of 1,400 drivers it is expected that this will be the busiest Christmas vacation on roads for five years. Transport Focus also found that most people planning to go on holiday this year will travel by car, while only one percent of them plan to use public transport. 

Rail passengers stand on the concourse at London Euston train station yesterday while waiting for service information

Yesterday, rail passengers waited for information at London Euston station while they sat on the platform.

Passengers at London Victoria train station yesterday as some make their way home for the Christmas holidays

Yesterday, passengers walked from London Victoria station to make their way back home for Christmas.

Christmas getaway traffic is pictured at a standstill on the A282 in Dartford, Kent, yesterday

Christmas getaway traffic is pictured at a standstill on the A282 in Dartford, Kent, yesterday

Large queues on the M25 in Leatherhead in Surrey yesterday as the Christmas rush begins

Yesterday’s Christmas rush began with large queues at the M25 in Leatherhead, Surrey.

Yesterday, a car fire on the M5 northbound between junctions 19 and 20 near Clevedon brought traffic to a standstill

Yesterday traffic was halted due to an accident involving a car on the M5 Northbound near Clevedon.

The passenger levels at UK airports are expected to be substantially higher than they were last year, when the UK was in lockdown. However, this will remain well below levels pre-pandemic.

Gatwick Airport anticipates almost 750,000 passengers between December 18-31, which is seven times the number of last year and less than half what it experienced before the virus crisis.

Covid is causing delays and cancellations at the rail stations, according to 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-Scotland:’subjected to short notice cancellations and modifications due to Covid-19 impact on train crew availability. 

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

ScotRail:Staff shortages have caused services to be cancelled

Northern: Affirmed concern about staff sickness causing 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 front-line employees.

Liverpool John Lennon Airport reported that around 40,000 passengers will pass through the airport between Christmas Eve to January 3, which represents around 40% of pre-pandemic levels. 

Airport officials hoped that demand would remain at approximately 70 to 80 percent of the normal level before new restrictions were implemented. 

Bristol Airport anticipates that it will host more than 100,000 passengers in December 21-31. It will see approximately 12,000 people fly in and out on December 27, which will be its busiest day. 

Although the numbers of individuals traveling abroad are higher than they were last year, this is still a significant drop from pre-pandemic levels. 

Brittany Ferries and Eurostar both reported an increase in cancellations following the France ban on UK travel to France for business and tourism last week. 

Yesterday saw hundreds of rail passengers waiting in London’s Euston Station. Some rail passengers complained about being cancelled and were urged by railway operators to board other trains.  

A car fire at the M5 northbound junction 19 near Clevedon caused traffic to stop on Thursday during rush hour. The incident resulted in no injuries.   

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.

Transport for London will suspend the Piccadilly route between Heathrow, Acton Town and West London for 7 days beginning on Christmas 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.

Due to staff shortages, passengers may be forced into vehicles in order to avoid being sickened. 

Almost 10 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 blamed this for the train industry’s woes.  13% of UK train services were delayed or cancelled Monday. 

The Night Tube continues to be a popular tool until summer 

A trade union announced that strikes by London Underground drivers over Night Tube rotas would continue for six months.

Rail, Maritime and Transport union, (RMT), announced that its members would stage an overnight walkout on the Central and Victoria lines starting at 8.30pm Fridays and Saturdays, until June 2022.

The union reports that drivers will be subject to new Night Tube rosters. Since the Night Tube’s reopening in the November, after having been suspended due to coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, strike action was taken. Transport for London has been in contact with the union but talks have not taken place.

Mick Lynch, RMT General Secretary said that the London Underground and Mayor Sadiq Khan believed this fight for progressive and family-friendly working practices would disappear.

“Our members were re-balloted, have given a strong mandate for action and it is the failure of Sadiq Khan and London Underground to address the grievances that leave us with no choice but to continue the program of action.

The ‘RMT repeatedly presented cost neutral solutions that would correct the damages caused by the eradication of 200 driver posts. These proposals would help to dig London Underground out from this mess. This approach is going to have serious consequences for Londoners in 2015, as they have completely ignored us. For further discussions, we are still available.

Nick Dent, director of customer operations at London Underground said that he was disappointed by the RMT’s continued push for strike action. This would create unnecessary disruption when customers are most in need. We appeal to the RMT for talks in order to reach a mutually beneficial resolution to this dispute.

TfL claims that the changes will not result in drivers losing their jobs. Instead, they are expected to continue working on average four nights a year at Night Tube.

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

Operators appealed to travellers Tuesday to make reservations for earlier services while warning them of cancellations possible in the coming days. 

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.    

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, today’s Government announcement of a reduced 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 normal carriages. 

Rail Delivery Group’s spokeswoman stated that while staff may be vulnerable, it is not uncommon for them to contract the virus. But, like last year, when the pandemic hit, she will work to ensure key workers get the support they require.

“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. To plan their travels, passengers need reliable and clear information. Passengers who have already purchased tickets need to be informed, and they should be offered alternative options or their money back.

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