The Government has admitted it has limited scope to postpone rail upgrades over Christmas, despite pledging 'to try to ease journeys' during the short window available for people to travel.
In a press release, the Department for Transport (DfT) said that ‘Over 95% of the rail network will be unaffected by engineering works.’
However, it added: ‘Rail engineering works such as the East Coast Upgrade have been planned for two years. Cancelling or delaying these works would see benefits to punctuality, safety and reliability deferred by up to two years.’
The DfT therefore announced minor changes to planned works on two key routes.
Works on the East Coast Main Line will be postponed at the end of service, ‘allowing additional services to and from Kings Cross on Christmas Eve’.
Works on the West Coast Main Line will also be completed earlier on 27 December, to enable a full Sunday service to run from 10am rather than midday.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said he had asked Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy ‘to carry out a rigorous assessment alongside transport operators to ensure everything possible is being done to help’.
He said: ‘With many people carefully considering whether to travel to see loved ones this Christmas, we’re taking steps to try to ease journeys.’
Labour said the announcement left ‘many unanswered questions’ and that the Government had not clarified whether works on the East Coast Mainline will go ahead as scheduled on 27 December - the last day on which passengers can travel home.
It has called for these works to be delayed ‘by a few days’.
Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: ‘The Government must ensure engineering works do not clash with the limited window in which people can travel and that all peak fares are suspended during the travelling period, not just leave it up to operators.
‘We must not lose sight of the fact that Covid has not gone away. Ministers must take charge of the situation to ensure passengers do not face Christmas travel chaos and risks to their health on overcrowded services.’
DfT officials said that ‘significant extra road capacity will be in place where demand is greatest’.
However, this extra capacity appears to be an increase in the amount of road works that are always removed from the strategic road network at this time of year.
Officials said an ‘additional’ 288 miles of maintenance works will be removed, making a total of 778 miles of roadworks on motorways and A-roads now cleared.
The DfT said it ministers have written to all local authorities ‘with the request that they lift as many roadworks as possible and ensure bus services are running reliably over the period, to ease traffic on local roads’.