Bad weather, travel chaos – it must be a bank holiday

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The Independent Online

A great bank holiday getaway is expected today as the combination of school half-term breaks, bad weather, rail failures and congestion on the roads encourages people to escape abroad.

Almost two million holidaymakers are expected to fly to sunnier climes amid claims by travel experts that the industry is still strong despite gloom about the economy. But a less pleasant weekend looks set for those who stay in the UK, with 18 million cars due on the roads and more than 30 sets of engineering works on the railways announced for this weekend, including on the West Coast Main Line.

Meanwhile, thundery showers are expected, particularly across the south of England on Sunday, as wind and rain lash Britain from the Channel. "It is a clear divide this weekend but the rain will head north, how far it will get we are not sure yet. If you want to have a barbecue this bank holiday a canopy may be in order or it may be time to find an indoor activity," a Met Office spokesman said.

Traffic and travel chaos will be made worse by major sporting events, including the Football League play-offs at Wembley, the Scottish FA Cup Final in Glasgow, the England v New Zealand Test in Manchester and the Rugby Union Heineken Cup Final in Cardiff. Network Rail has warned that nearly 20 per cent of train lines will be closed over the weekend, with more than 4,000 workers carrying out £45m of improvements.

The AA said the M25 in Kent, Surrey and Barnet, and the M6 and the M1 northbound, would be the worst affected roads.

The motoring organisation also claimed that rising petrol prices would cost British travellers an extra £110m this weekend compared with last year, with a 29 per cent increase in diesel and a 17 per cent rise in petrol prices since 2006.

However, Justin Fleming, the president of the Association of British Travel Agents, sounded an optimistic note yesterday. "Much has been talked about the credit crunch, but there is real strength in the travel industry as shown by the number of people leaving the country this weekend," he said.