Rail works set to cause Christmas travel chaos cannot be delayed for the festive bubble period or they could run over for two years, the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said.
In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, Mr Shapps warned some major engineering upgrades due to start over the festive break have been planned for years and delaying them could cause issues for months on end.
His comments come as the Government announced on Thursday it was adding dozens of extra services and hundreds of additional train carriages to minimise disruption to travel plans over the festive period.
Ministers are also in discussions with the coach industry over laying on more services to take pressure off the railways while over 770 miles of roadworks are being cleared to free up motorways and A-roads.
The measures come after the Government revealed last week that up to three households would be allowed to form a bubble between December 23 and December 27, but warned all travel had to be completed within the five days unless there were exceptional circumstances.
The announcement prompted fears there will be packed carriages as passenger groups pointed out that no trains run on Christmas Day and very few on Boxing Day, effectively leaving people only three days to make their journeys.
December 27 was highlighted as a particular bottleneck as engineering works that traditionally start on Christmas Day will further reduce services, such as the upgrade of the East Coast Main Line, which will close lines from King’s Cross.
Asked why such projects could not be postponed until after the travel bubble, Mr Shapps said: “Engineering works can take two years to plan so the implications of simply not doing them would be literally pushing a major upgrade two years behind timetable.
“We’ll ultimately end up regretting it in the end, so what we have tried to do is amend things so work better.”
Many of the increased services revealed on Thursday are on lines anticipated to be busier due to disruption from engineering works, such as the Chiltern Railway and East Midlands Railway.
Network Rail is also slightly delaying the East Coast Main Line works so they begin on Christmas Day rather than Christmas Eve.
It was also announced that works on the West Coast Main Line will end now earlier so services can run from 10am on December 27.
However, following the announcement, the shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said ministers needed to go further and “ensure engineering works do not clash with the limited window”.
Mr Shapps told The Telegraph he anticipated the entire transport network would be “busy” over the five days as he recognised that people were eager to see their relatives over Christmas.
The Transport Secretary said he understood people’s desire to be reunited with loved ones they may not have seen for almost a year, adding his family had not seen his in-laws since the before the pandemic.
However, he urged people to carefully plan their Christmas journeys and try to avoid busier times on trains and roads.
He said: “I have not seen my in-laws in 2020 at all but they will be coming down to see us for the first time (over Christmas).
“I think it is reasonable to expect that the transport network as a whole will be pretty busy. One of the things I want to do is highlight that and ask people to try and plan their journeys ahead of time as much as possible.”