Roadworks removed to ease busy Christmas roads

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionLorna Gordon and Sian Lloyd report on the festive getaway

Nearly 400 miles of roadworks have been removed ready for one of busiest days on the roads for motorists, Highways England has said.

A total of 148 schemes were lifted on Wednesday morning in an effort to free up motorways and A-roads.

However, motoring organisations warned that the next two days would still see heavy traffic on the roads.

Meanwhile, unions said rail passengers were enduring a "fortnight from hell" on Britain's "over-stretched" railways.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said travellers had already been hit with signal failures, staff shortages, overcrowding and congestion.

People travelling by rail this Christmas are advised to check for possible service disruptions with National Rail Enquiries.

Millions of people are also expected to travel by air, with major airports reporting increases on last year's festive passenger numbers, the Association of British Travel Agents said.

It said Wednesday, along with 30 December, would be a peak travel day.

Is your motorway clear? Check disruption with BBC Travel


Image copyright PA

By Richard Westcott, BBC transport correspondent

Some 95% of the rail network will be running as normal this Christmas, but Network Rail uses the break to crack on with some of its biggest projects, because the trains are so much quieter than normal.

Last year, a catalogue of errors left 115,000 people stranded and angry. It came down to silly things. Equipment didn't work. Critical safety paperwork that should have taken a couple of hours took 10. The back-up plan was laughable.

Network Rail says it's done bigger jobs since then without a hitch, and months of planning will prevent any repeat of last year.

The company boss was on holiday in Cornwall when it all kicked off last Christmas. He's not going away this year.

Follow Richard on Twitter @BBCwestcott

Christmas Eve traffic

Highways England said the removal of roadworks would leave 98% of the motorways and major roads clear for the Christmas period.

On the M5, a one-and-a-half mile stretch of works were to be cleared at Exeter and a further four-miles were to be taken away near Bristol.

Roadworks will stay lifted until midnight on Saturday, 2 January.

Christmas Eve is expected to be the busiest day for festive getaways by road, although the reduction in normal traffic could mean the roads are actually quieter than usual.

For the latest live travel advice motorists are encouraged to check the Highways England website.

Driving home for Christmas

14 million

cars will travel at least 20 miles on the last Friday before Christmas

  • 400 miles of roadworks lifted by 23 December, but 43 sets stay in place

  • 17.5 miles of work will not be lifted on the M3 near Farnborough

  • 50mph speed limits will be in force on the M1 near Luton and Leicester and on the M25 near Aveley

  • 5 miles of work on the M6 near Lancaster will also not be lifted

Getty Images
Image caption Millions of drivers will be on the roads on 18 December

'More lanes open'

Highways England spokeswoman Melanie Clarke said: "This Christmas we're clearing roadworks across the majority of motorways and major A-roads in England to help people make important journeys to see family and friends.

"Where possible, we've completed or lifted roadworks, leaving more lanes open and lifting many of the associated speed restrictions to help people travelling over the festive period."

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: "It's impossible to improve roads without some element of engineering work, but I also know how frustrating they can be. We are determined to apply common sense to our roads so we can minimise disruption."

An AA poll of more than 29,000 motorists found that 40% would drive at least 20 miles on Wednesday, and 36% doing so on Thursday.

The RAC predicted that Christmas Eve would be the busiest day for traffic with 4.1 million journeys being made.

The RMT union said rail passengers had suffered two weeks of "hell".

On Wednesday, a fault with the signalling system near Chippenham caused disruption to Great Western journeys between Bristol Temple Meads and Swindon.

A temporary shortage of train crew has caused disruption to Southern services, with some trains altered or cancelled.

Christmas rail disruption

Engineering work on major routes

2.2 million

people are expected to use trains between Christmas and New Year

  • 500 separate pieces of rail engineering work between Christmas and 3 January

  • 20,000 workers will be on the railways when services are stopped or quieter than usual

  • 95% of journeys will be unaffected, Network Rail has said

Image copyright Network Rail
Image caption Rail disruption over Christmas

Heading onto the railways? Check BBC Travel for latest incidents

More on this story