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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Simon Calder

Christmas rail travel: Which trains are running from December until the second week of January?

Simon Calder

With many hundreds of trains being cancelled even on a day with no strikes, rail passengers in Britain face the most relentless disruption to journeys in a lifetime.

Between Thursday 22 December and Sunday 8 January, The Independent calculates that up to a quarter of a million trains will not run as they would in normal times – as festive engineering work and staff shortage exacerbate the worst strike action since the 1980s.

The leading cause of disruption is the sustained series of strikes by members of the RMT union. In the past six months workers for Network Rail – the infrastructure provider – and around a dozen train operators have walked out on 12 days.

In addition, a planned RMT three-day strike in October was called off hours before it was due to begin; tens of thousands of trains did not run because they could not be reinstated.

The next strike, involving only Network Rail staff, begins at 6pm on Christmas Eve and continues to 6am on 27 December.

Even when it ends, many travellers will find their journeys impeded by planned engineering work.

In some locations this will continue until Monday 2 January – as the wind-down of train services begins ahead of the next round of RMT action. The strike will involve 48-hour walk-outs on 3-4 and 6-7 January. Sandwiched in the middle: a strike by train drivers belonging to the Aslef union, who are also engaged in a long and bitter dispute.

Assuming no further strikes are called, 8 January will see a gradual resumption of services with a full schedule theoretically in place from Monday 9 January

Even on non-strike days, an overtime ban by the RMT is exposing structural weaknesses in some train operators. Chiltern Railways has closed down its entire Midlands network until 9 January, while South Western Railway and West Midlands Trains are running vastly reduced schedules.

The scale of disruption is unprecedented. This is how it will play out each day.

Thursday 22 December

Rail passengers between London, the West Midlands, northwest England, north Wales and southern Scotland face delays and crowded trains. Avanti West Coast has cancelled at least 40 expresses to and from London Euston for Thursday, blaming a shortage of crew. Axed services include five each way between the capital and Manchester Piccadilly, and the same number to and from Liverpool Lime Street.

Ahead of a strike by members of the Unite union working for East Midlands Railway, travellers between London, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield will have no trains northbound after 7.35pm on Thursday.

Friday 23 December

This is the last vaguely “normal” day until the New Year. East Midlands Railways will have a drastically reduced schedule, with only one train each hour on key intercity lines and limited operating hours.

More cancellations can be expected on Avanti West Coast, blamed on a “shortage of train crew”. Even though the train operator has stepped up staffing on the lines between London, the West Midlands, northwest England and southern Scotland, The Independent understands that higher-than-normal sickness levels are causing many short-notice cancellations.

Saturday 24 December

“Do not travel unless your journey is essential” – that is the warning from the rail industry. With the East Midlands Railways strike continuing, all links from Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield to London are cancelled.

Elsewhere, train operators are racing to get rolling stock and staff back to depots before the national walk-out by Network Rail staff begins.

Last trains from many locations are in the morning, with all services ending by mid-afternoon. The earliest “last train” is at 7.48am from London King’s Cross to Sunderland on Grand Central, arriving in the Teeside city at 11.26am.

Advance tickets for Christmas Eve can be used on any other day up to 29 December.

Sunday 25 December

No trains have run in the UK on Christmas Day since the 1980s.

Monday 26 December

Some train operators had planned to run limited Boxing Day services, but all have now been cancelled.

The most serious impact was on more than 20,000 Eurostar passengers who have had their trains cancelled because of the RMT/Network Rail strike.

Tuesday 27 December

The RMT strike ends at 6am. Services will slowly resume, though key operators will continue to run a sharply reduced schedule. Last trains on South Western Railway from the UK’s busiest station, London Waterloo, are at around 9.30pm until the second week of January.

The West Coast main line between Birmingham and Wolverhampton will be closed due to upgrade work.

Wednesday 28 December

By now the engineering works are making their presence felt. London Liverpool Street station will be closed completely from 25 December to 2 January inclusive, with complicated journeys involving the London Underground and bus replacement services.

Thursday 29 December

At York, track renewal work at one of northern England’s busiest stations from 25 to 31 December will cause significant reductions to services as well as longer journey times.

The main operator on the East Coast main line, LNER, will run hourly between London King’s Cross, Newcastle and Edinburgh via an alternative route, with slightly longer journey times.

Friday 30 December

“Frantic Friday” will see trains that are running particularly busy as travellers seek to reach their destination in good time for New Year celebrations. Many passengers in the Midlands will be impeded by reduced timetables on Chiltern Railways and West Midlands Trains, which are being blamed on the RMT overtime ban.

Saturday 31 December

“Early close down,” warns Avanti West Coast. But one bright spot: Southeastern plans extra late-night trains from London to Kent.

Sunday 1 January

The New Year does not get off to a great start for users of East Midlands Railways. A skeleton service will run between 7.30am and 6.30pm, with some branch lines closed completely. “No Rail Replacement Bus services will be provided,” says the train operator.

Monday 2 January

Rail services nationwide start winding down early ahead of the next round of strikes.

Tuesday 3-Wednesday 4 January

More than 40,000 members of the RMT union working for Network Rail and 14 train operators will walk out for 48 hours. About half the national network will be closed, with around one in five trains running on the portion that is open.

Thursday 5 January

The normal early disruption after an RMT strike will be barely discernible, as train drivers belonging to the Aslef union and working for 15 train operators walk out. “A number of companies still have their hands tied by the Department for Transport and aren’t able to negotiate a reasonable deal with Aslef members,” the drivers’ union says.

So far this year Aslef has staged five national strikes. On key intercity routes and many commuter routes almost all services are annulled. Expect near or total closedown on Avanti West Coast, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Greater Anglia, Great Northern, Thameslink, LNER, Northern, Southeastern and TransPennine Express.

Yet in the nations of Scotland and Wales many trains will run – ScotRail and Transport for Wales are not in dispute with Aslef, and the strike at Network Rail is taking a day of respite.

Friday 6-Saturday 7 January

The RMT action resumes, in particular aiming at wrecking travel plans on the first Saturday of the New Year. While passenger numbers since the coronavirus pandemic remain alarmingly low, at weekends more people are using the trains than ever. The union aims to end its action with the most devastating effect.

Sunday 8 January

Assuming no further strikes are called, this will see a gradual resumption of services – except on Chiltern Railway where the Midlands network is remaining closed.

Monday 9 January

Normal service resumes – we hope.

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