'Stay local and book early,' transport tsar tells Chrstmas travellers

‘Stay local and book early’: transport tsar says he does not expect ‘terrible scenes’ on Christmas trains because of shop closures and car journeys but urges people to ‘be careful’

  • Sir Peter Hendy suggested people should ‘stay local’ during the festive period
  • Stressed train network is not expecting ‘terrible scenes’ during the getaway
  • Ex-TfL chief grilled by MPs over the safety of people travelling to see loved ones

People planning to travel over the festive period should avoid long journeys and book early, the Government’s transport tsar said today. 

Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy suggested people should ‘stay local’ during the festive period, even though the train network is not expecting ‘terrible scenes’ of crowded trains and stations.

He faced MPs today amid confusion over advice for the festive period, when social distancing rules are to be relaxed over five days to allow yup to three households to mix freely.

Boris Johnson told the Commons that families will not be ‘criminalised’ for celebrating in bubbles – but Scotland and Wales ordered tighter restrictions amid growing fears of the impact of allowing people greater freedom.

Sir Peter, the former head of Transport for London (TfL), was grilled by MPs on the Transport Committee over the safety of people travelling to see loved ones at Christmas.

He told them: ‘One ought to say ”be careful”. One ought to say ”stay local” because that’s the tone of the message from Government, stay local if you can.’

Sir Peter, the former head of Transport for London (TfL), was grilled by MPs on the Transport Committee over the safety of people travelling to see loved ones at Christmas. 

He suggested people should ‘stay local’ during the festive period, even though the train network is not expecting ‘terrible scenes’ of crowded trains and stations

Sir Peter said that ‘some elements’ of Christmas travel behaviour were the same every year, with many people only undertaking local journeys by car.

He also said that the impact of subdued shopping plans after Christmas would also have an impact. 

‘December 23 would always have been the busiest day and on Christmas Eve those that travel on December 24 the public transport services tail off in the late afternoon, and if you travel after lunch there is virtually no-one on them,’ he told the committee.

‘Boxing Day is going to be very subdued this year because the three biggest generators of travel on Boxing Day are retail, which is curtailed and people’s desire for it is curtailed because of the restrictions; sporting events, many of which, if they go ahead, will have no audience at all; and air travel where people go to airports and there isn’t as half of much of that for obvious reasons.

‘December 27 is the day people will go back and bookings are quite heavy and has put a lot of effort into monitoring bookings and ensuring that services will run.’

This afternoon Mr Johnson stressed the risks of fuelling a surge in coronavirus cases as he claimed there had been ‘unanimous’ backing for the five-day festive easing after days of wrangling between the UK nations.

The PM said the plans remained in place despite urging everyone to ‘exercise extreme caution’ – after ministers suggested waiting until Easter to celebrate.

The Transport Committee heard the Government has announced up to £3 million funding to provide up to 80,000 more seats on coach services over Christmas.

‘If you turn up on a major station on Christmas Eve morning and find the train you want is booked, the railway will get you back because by mid-afternoon the trains are almost empty,’ Sir Peter said.

‘If you are planning to travel in advance and you know the trains are going to be full at the time you are travelling, then there will be an alternative, which is to go to National Express, megabus or one of the other operators, and book a ticket and they will be able to cope.’

Sir Peter said asking people to book ahead was a ‘reasonable request’ in order to allow transport operators to plan services.

He described introducing reservations on services that are not usually reservable as a ‘far too great a burden to institute at this time’.

Majority of Britons believe Christmas SHOULD be cancelled, poll finds 

The majority of Britons believe Christmas should be cancelled this year amid plans to loosen restrictions over the festive period, a poll has found.

A YouGov poll of 3,856 adults found 57 per cent think the current rules should be maintained over Christmas – instead of allowing bubbles of up to three households to mix.

Tory MPs are increasingly nervous about the UK-wide proposals, after respected medical journals the BMJ and HSJ warned the ‘rash’ move will ‘cost lives’ and must be axed.

Health committee chair Jeremy Hunt said the government should be listening to the concerns ‘very very carefully’.

And the British public appear to agree – as just 31 per cent said they wanted the plan for ‘bubbles’ to go ahead. Separate Ipsos MORI research found 49 per cent thought the rules were not strict enough.

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