Christmas travel chaos: Motorways face busiest festive period in 5 YEARS as Covid staff shortages cancel trains

BRITS are set to gridlock the motorways over the next few days in the busiest festive getaway in five years as Covid staff shortages spark chaos on public transport.

Drivers are expected to see the most severe bumper-to-bumper traffic since Christmas 2015 with a whopping 18 million cars set to hit the roads this week.

With Boris Johnson confirming Christmas can go ahead lockdown free, the AA expects December 23 and 24 to be the busiest days on the road as Brits travel up and down the country to visit family and friends.

As the Omicron variant continues to surge, major train stations have been eerily quiet as staff shortages cancel trains and cautious workers choose to work from home and avoid public transport.

Train operators have seen a significant drop in passengers following the PM's work from home order – with Greater Anglia even removing trains from its timetables due to plunging numbers.

With no new Covid restrictions to be brought in before the festive weekend, the AA estimates some 18 million cars will swarm the UK roads in the days leading up to the big day.

New research from the RAC and data firm INRIX expects Christmas Eve to be a "frantic festive Friday" – with a massive 5.3 million car journeys made on December 24 alone.

Next-busiest is set to be December 23, with 4.1 million trips expected.

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The AA's head of roads policy Jack Cousens told The Sun: "The influence of Omicron is now being felt, so our breakdown stats have stayed reasonably low as people decided to cancel events and not travel.

"That said, Thursday and Friday could be busy as people take the decision to see their family others for a shorter period – two to three days as opposed to a week or so."

Traffic on the M25 clockwise between J7 and J16 is set to be severe in the middle of the day on December 23, while the M40 south between J11 and J9 will fill up on December 22.

And the Christmas Eve rush will be most intense between the A303 at West Solstice Park and the A36, the RAC and INRIX warned.

The data also predicts rush hour on Tuesday, December 21 will be crammed on the M6 north between J5 and J10a.

RAC breakdown spokesperson Rod Dennis said: "Despite the increasing prevalence of the Omicron Covid variant, our research shows that the vast majority of drivers are still determined to do Christmas properly this year – in sharp contrast to 12 months ago."

Inrix analyst Bob Pishue has suggested leaving later in the day as roads will begin to clog up during the early afternoons.

He said: “With kids out of school and many Brits taking extended time off for the holidays, drivers can expect moderate delays around the UK, but heavier congestion on motorways in and out of the cities.

"Leaving later in the day is recommended, as roads will begin to clog up during the early afternoon."

Meanwhile, rail passengers have been urged to check train services before they travel amid concerns of disruption caused by surging Omicron cases.

Major rail operators including Avanti, which runs the west coast mainline, and CrossCountry, said they are being forced to cancel services due to self-isolating staff.


CrossCountry said Brits should expect "widespread disruption" this week, and called for passengers to travel "sooner rather than late" to avoid being caught short.

Dozens of trains are being cancelled by the company each day.

Avanti West Coast has removed all peak ticket restrictions over the festive period in a bid to spread demand.

Seb Gordon, director of external communications at industry membership body the Rail Delivery Group, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that operators are running as many trains as they "possibly can".

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 Government's announcement today of the reduced isolation period is going to really help."

On Tuesday, confirmed cases of the new more infectious strain dipped slightly with 90,629 reported along with 172 deaths.

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