When is the best time to travel by car or train in the UK this Christmas?

It’s that time of year when millions of people travel to see friends and family, take a well-deserved break, or rush to the shops for a last-minute Christmas gift.

The festive getaway could be even more challenging than usual this year as Britain has been hit by widespread industrial hits across the transport network.

Depending on your planned strike dates, here’s an indication of when might be the best time to get away this Christmas.

When will the roads be busiest?

AA estimates that 17 million cars will travel on December 23rd and Christmas Eve and that people can expect crowds and long delays – so it’s best to avoid those two days if possible.

The Car Group’s survey of more than 12,000 drivers reveals that the two days when few cars will be on the road in the run-up to Christmas are likely to be Sunday 18 December and Monday 19 December.

These two days also do not coincide with any strike that could affect roads or railways, so getting out early would be best if possible.

Network Rail’s RMT union members planned an industrial strike from late Christmas Eve until December 27, which will mainly affect engineering works.

However, the Great Western Railway warned commuters that the train network would “shut down early” on 24 December and there could be “significant disruption” due to the industrial strike.

South Western Railway urged customers to travel only if it was “absolutely necessary” on December 24 and 27.

The AA warned that a strike planned for Christmas Eve “could add to the chaos” as more people took to the roads.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union who work on National Highways as control room staff and traffic officers will strike in London and the South East on 22, 23, 24 and 25 December.

PCS said the measure “threatens to bring the road network to a standstill”. National Highways said no roads would be closed as a result of the industrial action and had “well-thought-out resilience plans”.

Which roads will be busiest?

AA expects these to be the busiest routes:

  • M25

  • M5 between Bristol and Weston-super-Mare

  • M6 around Birmingham

  • Extensions of the M1 smart motorway from Luton north

  • M60 and M62 in North West England

  • M4 and M27 in Hampshire.

What should you do before driving off?

Edmund King, president of the AA, said that “many breakdowns are preventable” and “checking your car before you go” is the most important thing to do.

He said, “Checks of tires (including a spare, if you have one), fuel, EV range, oil levels, coolant, and screen washing should be done at a minimum. Likewise, water retention, foods high in protein or chocolate, and warm clothing , raincoats, and a windbreaker will help you keep going if the worst should happen.

“While it looks like December 23 and Christmas Eve will be the busiest days for travel, planned industrial activity by railway service personnel could lead to increased levels of vehicles on our roads.”

What about the railway?

As mentioned above, the strike could affect services in the run-up to Christmas. Despite this, Network Rail said that 95% of Network Rail will be open to travel over the festive period.

However, a number of important infrastructure upgrades take place over the festive period, so passengers should try to plan trips in advance.

Network Rail CEO Andrew Haines said: “We have been working closely with our train operators to ensure that the vast majority of the network is open for business over the festive period so that people can travel by train to spend time with their family and friends.

“However, some of these major upgrade projects will have an impact on services, so we ask passengers to plan their trips before they travel.”

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