Passengers still hoping to travel for Christmas by train have been warned to check timetables and leave early, with a strike ending most services at 3pm on Saturday.
Thousands of members of Network Rail’s RMT union will go on strike from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on December 27.
The last intercity trains on some long-distance routes were due to leave as early as 8 a.m. Some major routes will not operate at all, partly due to ongoing industrial action, including banning overtime at rail operating companies.
The RMT had argued it was not targeting Christmas travel when it called the latest strike in the long-running pay and jobs dispute.
However, Network Rail said the timing of the action meant all passenger trains would have to be in depots before the action started.
Emergency staff are being recruited to enable Network Rail to go ahead with most of the £120million engineering work planned over the Christmas holidays. No passenger train has ever been scheduled to run on Christmas Day. The few scheduled Boxing Day services on Eurostar, Merseyrail and Stansted Express have now been cancelled.
With major stations quiet for much of Friday, rail sources suggested many passengers had decided to travel earlier – while surveys of motorists’ organizations indicated a third had chosen to drive this year rather than taking the train they would normally choose.
The last Christmas Eve trains between Edinburgh and London were due to leave at 8am. The last trains for Newcastle and Scotland will leave at 11 a.m., and back and forth between Manchester and Liverpool around 2 p.m.
No direct trains will run between London and Nottingham or Sheffield on East Midlands Railway, which urged passengers not to travel on its services on Saturday.
Further disruption will continue after Christmas, with services starting later than December 27 due to the strike and continuing issues in the South West, Chiltern, East Midlands and elsewhere due to the RMT overtime ban.
The TSSA union will also strike for 24 hours on separate days on Cross Country, GWR and West Midland trains. Ongoing engineering work will also impact services, including on the West Coast line from London Euston and to London Liverpool Street.
There have been no signs of an imminent resolution of the dispute. The RMT has accused the ministers of “disappearing” since their meeting with union and industrial leaders nine days ago. General Secretary Mick Lynch said: “Until the government gives the rail industry a mandate to reach a negotiated settlement on job security, wages and working conditions, our campaign industry will continue.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said ministers had ‘worked hard to facilitate a fair and reasonable offer’, adding that the public ‘deserve better than to have their festive celebrations impacted by strikes’.