UK

Christmas getaway traffic remains steady on UK roads

Traffic on the M1

Roads have been "fairly steady" on Friday as travellers go home for Christmas, after warnings that it could have been the season's busiest day.

The AA motoring group had expected roads to be busiest from early evening onwards but said drivers had prepared well.

On the rail network, a record number of engineering works begin later.

Parts of the UK were hit by high winds of up to 91.5mph as Storm Barbara took hold.

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Weather

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Media captionStorm Barbara threatens 90mph winds in Scotland this evening

Wind gusts of more than 70mph were recorded in northern England on Friday, the Met Office said, and there were gusts of 75mph in Wales as Storm Barbara swept across the country.

In Scotland, high winds have resulted in power cuts, school closures and poor travelling conditions. A wind gust of 91.5mph was recorded at Scalpay Bridge in the Western Isles at about 16:00 on Friday.

A Met Office amber warning for wind remains in force for northernmost Scotland.

In Northern Ireland, nearly 1,000 homes were without power on Friday evening.

However, Christmas Eve will see mild air sweep through the UK overnight and Christmas morning is expected to be very mild - reaching up to 15C (59F) .

This is expected to give way to a spell of windy weather, with the strongest winds across the north of England and in southern Scotland.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Professional big wave surfer Al Mennie braves the elements in Coleraine, Northern Ireland

Temperatures in the north will turn colder later on Christmas Day and into Boxing Day morning, with the chance of blustery showers turning into snow, the Met Office said.

The weather that is due to hit the north of the UK on Christmas Day has been named Storm Conor.

Roads

The AA predicted about 12 million cars would be on the UK's roads during Friday.

John Snowling, from the AA, said: "It's likely to be very busy at peak times on the major routes as the Christmas getaway coincides with commuter traffic.

"Check the traffic reports before you leave and try to travel when it's quieter."

Rail

With 200 engineering projects taking place over the Christmas period, up to 10% of the railways are due to be affected.

Paddington station in London will be shut from Christmas Eve until 29 December to complete building work on the Crossrail line.

There will be no Heathrow Express services to or from the airport from 24 to 29 December.

Image copyright Peter Jolly/Northpix
Image caption There have been heavy snowfalls in parts of the Highlands

Services are also being scaled back at stations including London Bridge, Charing Cross and Liverpool Street in London.

There will be no Greater Anglia services between Ingatestone/Billericay and London Liverpool Street from 24 December to 2 January.

There will be no trains late on Christmas Eve between Cardiff Central, Bridgend, Newport and the Valleys, for a major re-signalling job.

The shortage of trains means the roads are expected to be busier in coming days, but 450 miles of roadworks are either being finished or removed over the holidays to ease congestion.

Meanwhile, soldiers are on standby to drive rail replacement buses in the worst hit areas of the South East, the BBC has learned.

'No choice'

Analysis: BBC transport correspondent Richard Westcott

They're damned if they do and they're damned if they don't.

Britain's Victorian railway network needs upgrading, but it's very hard to work on something that's in almost constant use, bar a few hours in the middle of the night.

So Network Rail says it has no choice but to get the really disruptive jobs done during the holidays, when the trains are half as busy as normal.

The real problems start when engineering works over-run. Like two years ago, when a catalogue of errors meant two big stations didn't re-open on time, leaving tens of thousands of passengers furious and stranded on the edge of London.

Network Rail says it's learnt from that mistake and has a comprehensive back-up plan.

Airports

Friday was due to be the busiest day of the Christmas getaway for airports, according to travel firms' association Abta.

More than 118,000 passengers will be departing from Heathrow, the airport said.

Meanwhile, planned strikes by British Airways cabin crew on Christmas Day and Boxing Day have been suspended.

Some UK flights have been affected by the hijacking of a Libyan passenger plane, which made a forced landing in Malta.

Planes flying to Malta were being diverted to the Italian island of Sicily whilst the airport was closed. The British High Commission for Malta said services had been resumed.

Image copyright Met Office
Image caption Met Office weather warnings for Storm Barbara and Boxing Day's Storm Conor

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