South Western Railway has plunged festive travel plans into more disarray after cancelling trains into London amid staff shortages caused by Covid.
The rail firm said it would only run services between the Tier 2 areas of Exeter and Basingstoke, but not to the capital, which is under the harshest of restrictions, up to and including December 24.
As a result, passengers will have to take other services between Basingstoke and London, which are likely to be overcrowded, further adding to concerns over the spread of the virus.
It is the second firm to make such an announcement after South Western said it was scaling back services up to Christmas as a result of Covid-enforced staff absences.
South Western Railway has plunged festive travel plans into more disarray after cancelling trains into London amid staff shortages caused by Covid
London Euston railway station was quiet on Friday night as some travellers waited for trains to the Midlands and the north of England
A deserted London Euston station on Friday night, which would normally be packed for a Christmas getaway
Many warn that the five-day Christmas reprieve will see intense pressure placed on the nation’s rail network between December 23 and 27.
Travellers can only make journeys outside that period when up to three households can mix in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
It emerged last week that most of the network will be shut on Boxing Day, sparking fears of a chaotic rush of millions travelling to beat the bubble deadline.
SWR said: ‘Due to a high number of our train crew either testing positive for Covid-19 or being required to self-isolate, we have made the difficult decision to start and terminate all West of England line services at Basingstoke until Thursday 24th December.
‘Regrettably, we have also had to cancel services between Salisbury and Bristol Temple Meads and Yeovil Junction via Westbury.
‘We apologise for the impact this will have on passengers, as we aim to ensure sufficient crew numbers are available to keep services running between Exeter St Davids and Basingstoke.
‘We will be monitoring this situation carefully and doing all we can to provide sufficient capacity in the run-up to Christmas, while protecting the safety of our passengers and staff.’
While many may have been expecting chaos on the roads in the days running up to Christmas, normally busy routes were relatively quiet yesterday as it emerged just a quarter of drivers are planning a journey by car over the festive period.
Only 7.9million cars are expected to take to the roads when compared to around 17million who planned to travel last year, according to a recent AA survey.
The Christmas getaway is expected to begin in earnest on December 23 – from when people are allowed to travel and form their five-day Christmas bubbles.
The A14 in Cambridgeshire was quiet yesterday with many discouraged from traveling amid a nationwide surge in coronavirus infections.
The great Christmas getaway looked very different today with just a quarter of drivers planning a journey by car over the Christmas period. The A14 in Cambridgeshire was quiet yesterday with many discouraged from traveling amid a nationwide surge in coronavirus infections
Only 7.9million cars are expected to take to the roads, compared to around 17million who planned to travel last year, according to a recent AA survey. Pictured: The A14 last year
Key routes connecting London with Edinburgh and Cardiff, as well as major cities including Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield are just some of the lines affected by closures on Boxing Day
Photos taken in the morning showed very few cars on the three-lane main road, in stark contrast to last year when pictures showed it thronged with traffic.
The Prime Minister announced on Thursday that swathes of the country would be placed into Tier 3 – the highest level of restrictions, meaning 68 per cent of England’s population – 38million people – will be subject to the top bracket from tomorrow.
The Cambridgeshire drivers may also have been discouraged by news that the county’s city of Peterborough is one of the regions which will be going in to Tier 3, although the rest of the county will remain in Tier 2.
It comes as a separate survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed more than half of UK adults are intending to spend Christmas at home with their family, rather than planning social activities such as meeting in pubs, cafes or bars – as they did last year.
The Government has tried to provide more options for travel over the period, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last week announcing £3 million of funding to provide up to 80,000 more seats on coach services.