Thousands of rail passengers will be hit with severe delays and cancellations during Christmas and New Year as some of Britain’s busiest lines are disrupted for as much as two weeks.
Only two of the network’s seven main routes will be spared from engineering works over the festive period, while the unluckiest passengers may see their journey times doubled as they are forced to use rail replacement bus services.
Disruptions will begin from 21 December and will continue until 3 January. Passengers hoping to travel between South Wales and London will be hardest hit, with no trains running between Christmas Eve and 3 January.
Trains between London and the East Midlands will also experience cancellations for more than a week. Parts of the lines between Manchester and Glasgow, and London to Glasgow will also be closed. Nine stretches of track will be shut on Christmas Eve, while 28 locations will be affected by engineering works on 27 December. Only the main lines running between London to Edinburgh, and London to the South-west, will be unaffected.
Major engineering works around Southampton will see services run by First Great Western, Southern, South West Trains and CrossCountry affected. Network Rail, which runs Britain’s rail infrastructure, was fined a record £14m in 2007 for allowing engineering works to overrun, causing disruption to tens of thousands of passengers during the New Year period.
Passenger groups called on rail firms to give those forced to use replacement bus services a discount as compensation for the longer, more cramped journeys. “Engineering work, while necessary, can cause major inconvenience to passengers. We’re calling on the industry to keep passengers on trains wherever possible,” said Anthony Smith, chief executive of rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus.
“Our research shows that passengers would prefer a journey by train taking longer than getting on a bus. Plus, why should passengers pay the same price for a rail-replacement as they would a train ticket when they’re receiving a longer, more uncomfortable journey?”
Theresa Villiers, shadow Transport Secretary, said that the Government needed to do more to hold Network Rail accountable for the disruptions. “Passengers face more misery with these closures coming on top of threatened rail strikes,” she said. “We need to give Network Rail much tougher incentives to get engineering work done as promptly and efficiently as possible to minimise the duration of line closures.”
She added that bosses at Network Rail could have their bonuses confiscated under a Tory Government if they failed to keep engineering works in check.
Network Rail said that while there were disruptions, fewer engineering works had been planned for the period than in previous years. “We will be running more trains this year than we did during the Christmas/New Year period in 2008/09,” said a spokesman. “In particular, the West Coast Main Line is practically free of disruption this Christmas.”