Passengers rushed to catch the last trains before Christmas as the latest strikes decimated rail services and hit ridership for last-minute shopping in city centres.
Millions of people faced disruption on Christmas Eve getaway trips on Saturday due to the latest RMT walkout and the knock-on effect on road traffic.
The AA predicted that nearly 17 million cars would be on Britain’s roads on Saturday, leading to severe congestion on major roads.
Pressure on the roads increased due to industrial action on the railways.
A walkout by thousands of members of Network Rail’s Railway, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union led to trains stopping early and some routes having no service all day.
Network Rail said trains would stop running around 3pm on Christmas Eve and warned passengers to avoid traveling on Saturdays unless ‘absolutely necessary’. He said there would be “significantly reduced services on the rail network”.
The early closure means that the last departures on some long-distance routes were before 1 p.m. The trains will not restart until December 27.
The impact of the train strikes is expected to increase pressure on the roads on some of the busiest travel days of the year.
Figures show the strikes have also had an impact on the number of people traveling to central London and other UK city centers for last-minute Christmas shopping.
Diane Wehrle, information director at Springboard, which tracks retail footfall, said: “Central London and other city centers across the UK are still feeling the loss of shoppers due to the labor strike. railways, with footfall 14.9% lower than last Saturday in central London and 13.2% lower in other city centres.
However, the strikes appear to have pushed shopping into local high streets, she said, meaning footfall in UK retail destinations “has been remarkably resilient”.
She said: “During the period up to midday on Christmas Eve, footfall in UK retail destinations was remarkably resilient given the travel challenges faced by shoppers due to rail strikes.
“Traffic across all UK retail destinations was 1% higher than on December 23 and 9.2% higher than the previous Saturday, when there were also rail strikes. This pattern Footfall is unusual for Christmas Eve, as footfall typically peaks on December 23 and is then lowest on Christmas Eve as people travel to their Christmas destinations.
“Last Saturday’s increase is the result of consumers not being able to reach their chosen shopping destination due to the Dec. 17 rail strikes, and many people would have chosen to travel yesterday to avoid the possibility of unable to reach their chosen destination.
“By far the biggest jump in footfall from last Saturday of 26.4% occurred in retail parks, which is clearly the result of customer demand for food and groceries. malls, attendance was also higher than last Saturday (7.4%) and 2.1% higher in high streets.
As people looked for alternative ways to get to their Christmas destinations, some coach passengers took to social media to complain about overcrowding at Victoria Coach Station in the morning.
One passenger wrote on Twitter: ‘I understand things are more stressful this year due to the strikes but @megabusuk and Victoria Coach Station today is chaos. Huge crowds, horribly disorganized and no emergency or information from staff. Absolute stuffing.
Hundreds of travelers poured through the main entrance to Euston station on Saturday afternoon to bring the last trains out of the capital.
Doctoral student Amy Saunders, 31, said the disruption to her trip to see her family for Christmas was stressful, but expressed sympathy for the striking railway workers who she said would find the situation just as difficult.
Ms Saunders, who was waiting at London’s Euston station to catch a train to Northampton to see her father after her Avanti West Coast train was cancelled, said she would be frustrated if she couldn’t get there, but that she would “find something”.
“I have friends in London, if I need to I’ll tell them ‘hey, I’m just crashing on your sofa’. I guess I’d be frustrated, but it would be fine.
She added: “I am supposed to be on an Avanti West Coast service which has been cancelled. I don’t know why this one is delayed, so a little stressful, but I’m sure I’ll get there.
“I support the strikes and I’m sure it’s just as stressful for everyone who works here trying to get everyone home for Christmas, and they wouldn’t need to strike if their working conditions work were not intolerable.”
The RAC and transport analysis firm Inrix said the worst Christmas Eve traffic on major roads was expected between noon and 1 p.m.
The AA said a recent survey showed just under a third of UK adults said they would drive to see family and friends before Christmas, when they would usually use the train.
“The pre-Christmas traffic nightmare is getting worse,” said AA President Edmund King.
The motoring group advises drivers to check traffic on their route before setting off.
Meanwhile, Border Force strikes were continuing at six UK airports, but as of Friday, minimal disruption was reported.
There was little disruption on the first day of the walkout on Friday as members of the armed forces were deployed to check passports and passengers posting on social media shared similar experiences on Christmas Eve.
A passenger at Manchester airport said it was ‘the fastest I’ve ever been through’ with ‘no queues anywhere’ while someone who flew into Gatwick described ‘not a queue” adding that “for once it was a pleasure”.
It followed a difficult day on the roads on Friday as many drivers battled a swath of heavy rain that moved from southern England and Wales to southern Scotland and Ireland North.
National Highways said a 10-mile queue had built up due to the closure of the M25 from Junction 11 (Woking, Surrey) to Junction 12 (the M3) while standing water was evacuated.
Heavy traffic stretched for three miles on the M20 as the westbound section of Junction 4 (Leybourne, Kent) was closed after a serious accident on Thursday.
On Boxing Day, traffic will pick up with around 15 million trips as people visit friends and family
Mr King said: “We expect Christmas Day to be quieter with shorter local journeys.
“On Boxing Day, traffic will pick up with around 15 million trips as people visit friends and family.”
Examples of the last Saturday train times before the strikes included 10:45 a.m. for Leeds to London, 11 a.m. for London to Edinburgh and 12:48 p.m. for London to Manchester.
East Midlands Railway operated only an “extremely limited service” between London St Pancras and Corby, with no trains on routes such as London St Pancras-Sheffield and London St Pancras-Nottingham.
No South Western Railway trains ran on several routes to and from London Waterloo, including Reading, Twickenham and Dorking.
No trains run on British Railways on Christmas Day.
The normal limited Boxing Day schedule has been scrapped due to the strike, while services will start later than usual on December 27.
Christmas is a key period for maintenance work on the railways.
Network Rail has planned a £120million program of over 300 projects over the festive period this year.
He said “about 85%” of this work will continue despite the action of the RMT.