Britain prepares last-minute road and rail changes ahead of Christmas

Suban Abdulla
·3 min read
Tram track construction site, tracks being joined.Thermite welding of the rail joints.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps that there are plans to run longer trains on the rail network, and that rules may be relaxed to allow more types of coaches to run during that period. Photo: Getty

The UK is readying plans to reduce disruption on railways and roads due to an expected surge in travel during Christmas.

It comes after prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed that COVID-19 restrictions will be eased around the festive period to allow families to celebrate together.

On Monday, Johnson announced a time-limited "dispensation" from coronavirus measures, which will see restrictions loosened. But, the PM warned that if Britain "blows it with a big blowout Christmas,” the UK will pay for it in the New Year.

Johnson’s COVID-19 “Winter Plan” also published on Monday, sets out a fair plan to "facilitate some limited additional household bubbling for a small number of days" across all four nations in the UK.

He also announced that the second national lockdown in England would end on 2 December, with different regions and cities moving into different tiers depending on coronavirus infection rates.

Preparing Britain for the plan, transport secretary Grant Shapps has said that 500 miles of roadworks had been cleared on motorways and A-roads to ease any congestion.

Shapps also said that there are plans to run longer trains on the rail network, and that rules may be relaxed to allow more types of coaches to run during that period.

"We recognise that people will want to be with their friends and family over Christmas," he said. "For those that choose to form a Christmas bubble, we're lifting travel restrictions across the UK for five days," he said.

READ MORE: Rishi Sunak fuels tax hike speculation as he warns public finances 'unsustainable'

Earlier this week, Shapps urged Brits to book tickets well in advance where possible, and prepare for restrictions on passenger numbers. With some advanced fares like Avanti West Coast, which runs trains on the West Coast Main Line, going on sale from 13 December.

While the government has yet to unveil solid plans, it is expected that details will be published in the coming days once there is a clearer picture of passenger demand.

The government plans to use ticket booking websites and journey planning services such as Google Maps, to monitor demand for road and rail travel.

The chairman of Network Rail, Sir Peter Hendy, has been tasked by the government to assess the winter preparation plans of all transport operators. Hendy will examine whether road, rail and air links will be fit for purpose when festive travel is crunched into the period from 23 December to 27 December.

On Wednesday, chancellor Rishi Sunak issued a stark warning on the economic damage of the pandemic.

Sunak fuelled speculation of tax hikes in years to come as he warned Britain’s soaring spending and borrowing levels were “unsustainable.”

He said UK government borrowing would total £394bn ($525bn) this year at around 19% of GDP, the highest level in peacetime history. The economy will be about 3% smaller than expected in the March budget, he added.

He said it was the government’s “responsibility” to return the public finances to a “sustainable” fiscal position as the economy recovered.

Watch: Why tax rises may be inevitable in Britain