Christmas travel disruption: Millions of rail passengers face chaos during holidays

Exclusive: Travellers to and from London, Cardiff and Edinburgh will bear the brunt of the closures 

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 06 November 2019 12:21 GMT
Boxing clever: a previous 26 December at Paddington station in London
Boxing clever: a previous 26 December at Paddington station in London

Millions of rail passengers face disruption to journeys across Britain over Christmas and New Year as a result of engineering work.

Many travellers to and from the capitals of England, Wales and Scotland will be adversely affected.

Once again, the worst effects will be felt to and from Paddington station in London, the terminus for the West of England, the Cotswolds and South Wales.

The main cause is work on Crossrail. The east-west line through London was due to open in December 2018, but is way behind schedule.

“It’s best to travel by Monday 23 December,” says GWR, which runs most services to and from the terminus.

Paddington and Southwest England

All lines will be closed from Christmas Eve to Friday 27 December inclusive, because of track and overhead wiring work in the Southall area close to Heathrow. ​

Only Underground trains will run, and they will be suspended on Christmas Day along with all other rail services nationwide.

GWR long-distance services to Exeter, Plymouth, Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea will start and end at Reading. South Western Railway was planning to run extra services between Reading and London Waterloo, but these are likely to be disrupted by strike action.

After 23 December, no Night Riviera sleeper trains will run between Paddington and Penzance for the rest of the year.

“Services will resume on Wednesday 1 January,” says GWR.

Although some Paddington services will start up on Saturday 28 December, only two of the four lines from the station will open due to track work between London and Reading.

Heathrow Express and TfL Rail links to Britain’s busiest airport will also be affected, with a reduced service from Saturday 28 December.

Problems for travellers to and from South Wales will be exacerbated by the closure of the line west of the Severn Tunnel.

The main link between England and South Wales passes through the tunnel. It will close from the end of service on Christmas Eve through to Friday 3 January.

Work will take place at various locations between Severn Tunnel Junction and Bridgend, west of Cardiff.

Buses will replace trains between Bristol Parkway, Newport, Cardiff Central and Bridgend.

Some Valley Line services will run through Cardiff Central, but CrossCountry links from Birmingham will be replaced by buses.

King's Cross and Northeast England

On the East Coast main line, the morning of Friday 27 December will bring disruption at a time when many passengers would plan to travel after a two-day shutdown.

Trains will be disrupted up to lunchtime to and from the southern terminus, London King’s Cross area, closing some lines on Friday morning. LNER, Grand Central and Hull Trains services will be cancelled or run with extended journey times.

Thameslink and Great Northern services will also be affected.

Network Rail says: “Major upgrade work will take place, upgrading and simplifying the track layout around the station for the first time in 40 years.

“Two new lines will also be added, increasing the number of services that can run to/from the station, as well as allowing for faster train services.”

Southeast England

The High Speed One line from London St Pancras to Ashford in Kent and beyond will be closed from the last trains on Christmas Eve, re-opening on Sunday 29 December. Other, slower trains will continue from Victoria and Charing Cross.

On Greater Anglia, New Year’s Day will be the worst affected. Track work at Colchester will sever the main line between London Liverpool Street and Norwich. There will also be disruption from 27 to 31 December.

The Stansted Express service will run on Boxing Day – when most UK rail services are suspended – but only between the Essex airport and Tottenham Hale, on the Victoria Line of the London Underground.

Journeys to and from Liverpool Street station will take longer between 27 and 29 December due to line closures at Bethnal Green in east London.

Southend and its airport will once again be disconnected by rail from London, due to the long-running work on overhead wires.

Buses will replace trains between Shenfield and Southend Victoria, and also between Wickford and Southminster, from Friday 27 December to New Year’s Day inclusive.


In Scotland, services west and north from Edinburgh will be disrupted from the end of service on Christmas Eve to 29 December because of work at Haymarket station – the station serving the west side of the city centre.

No trains will run from the capital to Glasgow or Carlisle, with bus replacement services for some or all of the journey.

Most cancellations will be of ScotRail trains, but some long-distance trains to Aberdeen and Inverness will start and end at Haymarket.

CrossCountry and LNER will not run north or west of Edinburgh.

Northwest England

First Trenitalia and Transpennine Express passengers on the West Coast main line will also be affected.

Network Rail always undertakes major projects over the festive season because passenger loads are typically halved.

Kevin Groves, chief spokesperson for Network Rail, said: “Thousands of rail workers will be working throughout the Christmas and New Year period to deliver more reliable infrastructure, better facilities and improved services for passengers.

“The vast majority of the network will be open as usual but a few routes will be affected, so we advise passengers to check their journeys before travelling this Christmas.”

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Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “For passengers wanting to travel over the Christmas period, engineering works could be a major inconvenience, especially if it means having to use rail replacement bus services or make longer, unfamiliar journeys

”Investment in maintenance and improvement is necessary, and people understand that. But our research is clear: passengers want to be kept on the train wherever possible, they want to know before buying a ticket if part of the journey will be by bus, and they want plenty of staff on hand to signpost and to help.”

Between now and Christmas there will be a number of significant projects causing delays and cancellations, with the East Coast main line disrupted next weekend between Peterborough and Doncaster, and Liverpool Lime Street station closed on 2 and 3 November for a signalling upgrade.

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