So glad we are out of this rat race

Extra 2m cars on UK roads for festive shopping and visits

Traffic starts to build up on the M4 in Port Talbot, south Wales, as the Christmas getaway begins.
 Traffic starts to build up on the M4 in Port Talbot, south Wales, as the Christmas getaway begins. Photograph: Phil Rees/Rex/Shutterstock

Driving home for Christmas could best be done on Sunday, according to motoring organisations, with an additional 2.2m cars expected on the roads on Saturday for festive leisure trips, whether to shops or to visit relatives.

The M40 northbound from Oxford into the West Midlands is most likely to land drivers in traffic on Saturday, according to the RAC and traffic analyst Inrix. Delays of more than an hour are forecast from junction 8A of the M40 to the M42 link road.

Traffic generally would peak between 10.30am and 4pm, the RAC said, advising drivers to travel before 9.30am or after 7.30pm.

After a relatively quiet Sunday, traffic is expected to peak again around lunchtime on Christmas Eve, when delays of around 20 minutes can be expected on parts of the M1 in the east Midlands.

The worst of the Christmas getaway though has passed for motorists, on so-called Frantic Friday, when leisure travellers mixed with regular commuting traffic. An estimated 19 million drivers were out on Britain’s roads on Friday, according to the AA.

Queues of slow-moving traffic were adding almost an hour to inter-city car journeys north out of London on Friday lunchtime, with the M40, M6 and M1 particularly busy, while journeys west on the M4 and A303 were also slowed by around 20 minutes.

Rail services will be disrupted over Christmas for engineering works – as well as strikes in parts. Beyond the usual shutdown for 25 and 26 December, a number of key rail services will either be closed or reduced over the coming 10 days. Network Rail insisted that the majority of the railway would be unaffected, although it would be carrying out work worth £148m on 330 projects over the holiday season.

Beleaguered passengers who have not been automatically provided with a rail replacement bus could turn to the coach, with National Express set to lay on an additional seats for 50,000 passengers over the holidays – including Christmas Day, when all other public transport options have been dashed. According to Trainline, most coach bookings for 25 December have been made for a lunchtime exodus from London to Liverpool.

Among the most affected rail services will be lines out of London Paddington, with the west London station closed for an additional three days in late December. Half of London Victoria will be shut down from this Sunday until the start of 2019, as work closes one of the main lines into the station from Clapham Junction, Britain’s busiest rail interchange. The Gatwick Express fast airport service will not run for the duration.

Stansted Express services will be reduced during work on the lines east from the capital to London’s third airport. East Midlands and Thameslink trains running north of St Pancras will also be affected by engineering.

Christmas strikes by the RMT union, in the ongoing row about the future role and responsibilities of guards on trains, will disrupt Northern and South Western railway services. Northern services will come to an early end from around 5pm on Saturday and next Saturday, while the South Western network out of Waterloo will operate a reduced strike service on 27 December and New Year’s Eve.

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