London faces a chaotic New Year's Eve unless talks today avert a 24-hour strike on the Tube that is due to start at noon on 31 December.
The RMT rail union is planning a further 24-hour stoppage on London Underground starting at 6.30pm on Sunday 8 January - spreading disruption over two days.
The New Year's Eve stoppage would wreck plans to run free Underground trains from 11.45pm on New Year's Eve until 4.30am on New Year's Day. As both sides prepared for talks at the conciliation service Acas, the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, claimed the union was reneging on an agreement signed a year ago and there was no question of renegotiating it.
Last December, the RMT agreed a deal that would, in effect, create a 35-hour week for Tube station staff. Bob Crow, the RMT general secretary, said yesterday's vote by RMT members, by a majority of 5-1, in favour of strike action had been taken in protest at management's attempt to force more than 200 safety- critical staff to change jobs under cover of the 35-hour deal. The union argues that London Underground is cutting back on the workforce by transferring many employees into unfilled posts and their actions have implications for safety.
Mr Crow said the RMT headquarters was shutting down for Christmas at 5pm today and would not reopen until 1 January, so management had "better get a move on" if they wanted to settle the dispute.
A London Underground spokesman insisted there would be no staff cuts. " We and the RMT agreed to implement a shorter working week, as long as it came at no extra cost to the Tube farepayers. This means some staff being redeployed from ticket offices to station platforms and ticket halls, which can also boost reassurance for our passengers and security."
There will be no services on the Tube on Christmas Day and only the Heathrow Express will run on the national rail network.
On Boxing Day, there will be strictly limited services on London Underground and on the national system some services will run in south London and Glasgow. Only six of the 27 train operating companies will run any trains on Boxing Day.
Meanwhile, the rush to get away for Christmas was well under way last night.
As a record 2.3 million people headed abroad for the festive period, those left at home were promised colder weather - but only a small chance of a white Christmas. The RAC said traffic was expected to peak today, with people likely to leave work early to start their journeys.
The RAC said major routes were likely to be very congested today, particularly the M1, the M3, the M4, the M5, the M6, and the M25. A-roads where jams can be expected include the A303 westbound in the Amesbury area in Wiltshire, the A14 both ways between Huntingdon and Cambridge, the A550 at Queensferry west of Chester in Cheshire, and the A1 Newcastle western bypass.
The Highways Agency said that, from today until 2 January, it was lifting roadworks at more than 20 English motorway and trunk road sites, but restrictions would remain on some other major roads.
Airports were busy yesterday, with as many as 500,000 people travelling to and from the seven UK airports operated by BAA, with 210,000 using Heathrow and 100,000 Gatwick.
More than 500,000 passengers will fly in and out of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen airports during the festive season.
British Airways is carrying more than one million passengers in the Christmas and New Year period, with New York the airline's top long-haul destination, followed by Hong Kong and Miami. Paris is BA's number one European destination.
Battling the Christmas rush
Travellers' hotspots during the festive period
Estimated number of passengers over the festive period:
Heathrow 1,500,000; Gatwick 650,000; Stansted 480,000; Manchester 200,000; Edinburgh 155,000; Glasgow 150,000; Birmingham 125,000; East Midlands 70,000; Aberdeen 65,000; Luton 50,000; Southampton 35,000
No services on Christmas Day except for the Heathrow Express which will run throughout the festive period. On Boxing Day, few trains will run, but there will be services in south London and parts of Glasgow.
Rail services will be disrupted today on the following routes: Manchester Piccadilly to Crewe, Coventry to Birmingham New Street and Sheffield to Doncaster.
Scotland - A92 at B946, Dundee; A76 Kirkonnel to North Cumnock ; Jct 1 M90; A90 toll booths at Echline England - M3 Winchester, Jct 8-9; Tower Hill, slight delays ; M4 Maidenhead, Jct 8-9, slight delays; M271 Southampton, Jct 2, Upton Lane, slight delays; M3 Basingstoke, Jct 6-7, Hackwood Road, slight delays ; M4 Jct 20-19 Bristol moderate delays possible ; M32 Jct 19 M4 to Jct 2 M32 moderate delays possible; M5 Jct 19 to 20 Bristol moderate delays possible; M5/M4 Junction moderate delays possible; M60 Jct 5-8 moderate delays possible; M1 Jct 34 Tinsley Viaduct, Sheffield slight delays; M53 Bidston Moss Viaduct, Wirral slight delays to heavy goods vehicles; M62 Jct 21 Rochdale slight delays; M57 Sefton junction between M57 and M58
Wales - A5 Glyn Bends; A40 Llandovery; M4 Jct 36-37Reuse content