Congestion, strikes, staff shortages, engineering work and price rises mark end of terrible year for travel

Tens of thousands of travellers face a dismal end to 2018 and start to the new year, as strikes and staff shortages exacerbate the problems caused by planned engineering projects. For airline passengers, the return from Christmas and new year holidays could trigger congestion at the UK’s leading airports.

The whole weekend is proving difficult for Northern Rail passengers. 

The final Saturday strike of the year caused the cancellation of most services, with very few trains after 7pm. The long-running dispute involving members of the RMT union is over the role of guards and the introduction of driver-only-operation.

Northern Rail’s now-traditional staff shortage on Sunday means many services will not run in northwest England.

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“There are a number of planned cancellations to train services that customers will face on parts of our network,” Northern Rail said.

The train operator cancelled departures from Manchester Airport to Warrington, from Manchester Piccadilly to Wigan Northwestern, and services on several other routes.

Trains on the Colne-Blackpool South line are being replaced by buses. 

Northern Rail told passengers: “We are sorry for the inconvenience this will cause our customers. Please check immediately before you travel.”

Strikes will continue every Saturday in January, with many trains cancelled. “The Northern services that do run, and other operator’s services, are expected to be extremely busy,” warned National Rail.

On Sunday, London Paddington station will be closed for work connected with the late-running Crossrail project. Passengers from South Wales, the Cotswolds and the west of England will need to travel to Reading, then take a train to Slough for a bus link to Hillingdon or Ealing Broadway to connect with the London Underground.

On Monday, the final strike of the year by members of the RMT union employed by South Western Railway will cause the cancellation of many services in and out of London Waterloo – the busiest station in Britain. This dispute is also about the role of guards.

The extended engineering projects at two other key London terminals, Liverpool Street and Victoria are due to end in the early hours of Wednesday 2 January.

The main line from Liverpool Street to East Anglia has been closed since before Christmas, as has the link from Victoria to Clapham Junction – which normally continues to Gatwick Airport and Brighton.

Wednesday is also when rail fares increase across the UK by an average of 3.1 per cent, calculated on last July’s Retail Price Index (RPI).

From Swindon to London Paddington, an annual season ticket rises overnight from £8,740 to £9,016.

The unrestricted London-Manchester fare goes up by £6 to £175.

Between Edinburgh and Glasgow an Anytime single rises by 50p to £14.90 – a rise of 3.5 per cent.

But an off-peak single goes up by only 30p to £13.20, an increase of 2.3 per cent, because of a pledge by the Scottish government to keep fare rises below the RPI outside rush hours.

No trains will run in Scotland on New Year’s Day.

Most of Britain’s major airports have been relatively quiet since Christmas, though Luton and Edinburgh have experienced busy weekends.

The peak day for inbound arrivals at the UK’s biggest airport, Heathrow, is Wednesday 2 January, with most other airports expecting a surge in arrivals on Sunday 6 January.

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