When is the best time to travel by car or train in the UK this Christmas? | Transport

It’s that time of year when millions of people want to travel to see friends and family, take a well-deserved break or make a last-minute trip to the shops to pick up a Christmas present.

The festive outing could be more difficult than usual this year as Britain has been hit by widespread industrial action across the transport network.

Based on planned strike dates, here’s an indication of when might be the best time to get away this Christmas.

When are the roads busiest?

The AA estimates 17 million cars will travel on December 23 and Christmas Eve, and people can expect congestion and long delays – so it’s best to avoid those two days if possible.

The survey of over 12,000 motorists from the car group reveals that the two days when the fewest cars will be on the road in the run-up to Christmas are probably Sunday 18 December and Monday 19 December.

These two days also do not coincide with any strike action that might affect roads or rail, so an early escape would be best if possible.

Members of the Network Rail RMT union have planned industrial action from late Christmas Eve until December 27 which will mainly affect engineering work.

However, Great Western Railway has warned travelers that the train network “will close early” on December 24 and there could be “significant disruption” due to the industrial action.

South Western Railway has urged customers to only travel if “absolutely necessary” on December 24 and 27.

The AA has warned that the planned strike on Christmas Eve “could add to the chaos of the evacuation” as more people take to the roads.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union who work for National Highways as control room staff and traffic officers will strike in London and the South East on December 22, 23, 24 and 25.

PCS said the action “risks bringing the road network to a standstill”. National Highways said no roads would be closed as a result of the crackdown and it has “well-rehearsed countermeasures plans in place”.

Which roads will be the busiest?

The AA predicts that these could be the busiest roads:

  • M25

  • M5 between Bristol and Weston-super-Mare

  • M6 around Birmingham

  • Stretches of the M1 smart motorway from Luton northwards

  • M60 and M62 in North West England

  • The M4 and M27 in Hampshire.

What should you do before driving a car?

Edmund King, AA president, said “many accidents are preventable” and “checking your vehicle before you set off” is the most important thing to do.

He said: “Tyres (including spares, if you have), fuel, electric car range, oil levels, coolant and screen washing should be carried out as a minimum. Likewise, keeping water, protein-rich food or chocolate, warm clothes, coats and a hi-vis jacket will help keep you going if the worst should happen.

“Although December 23 and Christmas Eve look set to be the busiest travel days, planned industrial action by rail staff could lead to increased levels of cars on our roads.”

What about rail?

As mentioned above, strike action could affect services in the run-up to Christmas. Despite that, Network Rail said 95% of the rail network would be open for travel over the festive period.

However, there are a number of important infrastructure upgrades taking place over the festive period, so passengers should try to plan their journeys in advance.

Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, said: “We have been working closely with our train operators to ensure the vast majority of the network is open for business over the festive period, allowing people to travel by train to spend time with family and friends . . .

“However, some of these important upgrade projects will have an impact on services, so we ask passengers to plan their journey before they travel.”

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