Labour demands Government plan to avoid Christmas travel ‘chaos’

Labour has urged the Government to suspend peak rail fares and provide mass coronavirus testing for transport workers to avoid travel “chaos” and ensure families are “kept safe” during the festive period.

The party is demanding Transport Secretary Grant Shapps present a “comprehensive travel plan” to Parliament on Monday covering the lifting of travel restrictions from December 23 to 27.

The UK Government and devolved administrations have agreed a temporary easing of coronavirus rules over Christmas, allowing three households to mix in a bubble for these five days.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said on Friday that Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy had been appointed as a Christmas travel tsar who will scrutinise whether rail, air and road networks are prepared for the surge in travel when restrictions are temporarily relaxed.

Labour claimed that more than two million people travelled by train between Christmas and New Year in previous years, with millions more making car journeys.

It called on the Government to suspend peak fares between December 23 and 27 to minimise the risk of overcrowding on trains either side of peak hours.

The party also urged mass Covid-19 testing for transport workers, including train staff, bus drivers and highway personnel.

Planned engineering work on the East Coast Mainline should be delayed from December 27 to help people return home, Labour also argued.

It said Highways England should also postpone non-essential road maintenance to reduce congestion and travel delays.

Labour shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: “Families will be looking forward to travelling to see one another this Christmas after a really tough year.

“However, we cannot afford to be complacent. The virus still poses a very serious risk to people’s health.

“That’s why ministers need to come to Parliament on Monday with a comprehensive travel plan to ensure families travelling across the country are kept safe and chaos on our roads and rail network is avoided.”

He added: “This is too important for the Government to ignore or leave until to the last minute. This is about protecting lives and livelihoods.”

The DfT has said it will publish measures aimed at easing travel disruption next week, which will take into account analysis of demand for advance train tickets and public surveys.

Christmas getaway
Christmas getaway

Mr Shapps has urged people to plan their journeys “very carefully” and “where possible book well in advance”.

He said: “As some advance tickets go on sale and people begin to plan their journeys, we are closely assessing demand on the network and have already taken actions to minimise potential disruption.

“We are currently developing a plan focused on tackling disruption – including running longer trains and relaxing rules to allow more types of coaches to run.”

Cheaper advance train tickets for Christmas travel went on sale on Friday, about eight weeks later than usual, due to delays in finalising timetables during the pandemic.

Capacity on board trains is restricted to allow social distancing, with some operators preventing passengers from boarding without a pre-booked ticket.

Engineering work could increase strain on the rail network over the festive period, which includes the closure of London King’s Cross station for six days from Christmas Day.

London North Eastern Railway, which normally uses the station for its Anglo-Scottish trains on the East Coast Main Line, is warning that alternative routes will be “very busy and should also be avoided”.

The RAC said its breakdown team was planning for the roads to be busy over “the five days of Christmas”.