URGENT plans are being prepared to prevent a transport meltdown over Christmas as ministers are urged to put on more trains and scrap engineering works.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is being told he must put on more trains as the nation heads home for the festive season over the five-day relaxation of coronavirus rules.
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A Christmas travel tsar has been appointed in a bid to avoid transport chaos during the festive period.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy will scrutinise whether train, air and road networks are ready for millions of people making trips over the five-day window when coronavirus restrictions are eased.
He will be able to tell operators to change timetables and report to the Government about any problems he thinks will pop up.
Rail operators are particularly worried about December 27, sources told the Telegraph.
That date will have a watered-down timetable due to it falling on a Sunday, and is likely to be extremely busy as people return from seeing family on Christmas Day.
The Department for Transport said he had been asked to "rigorously scrutinise the winter preparedness plans of all transport operators to ensure journeys are smooth and safe".
Earlier this week, Mr Shapps warned people to "look very carefully at the transport route they take” when people cross the country.
He added:" We have got to understand there are limitations to the (train) network caused by, for example, things like the need on some trains to pre-book tickets at this time, in order to prevent overcrowding.
It is the reality of the situation we're in, we will try to do everything we can with the network to make it as good as possible, but I think it is worth people being aware that busy times of travel is a problem.
"So we are going to be appealing to people to look very carefully at the transport route they take and of course even making a choice about whether they travel at all.
"It is the reality of the situation we're in, we will try to do everything we can with the network to make it as good as possible, but I think it is worth people being aware that busy times of travel is a problem.”
He also warned there would still be significant disruption on the network from planned engineering works – which cannot be changed.
Yesterday the Railway Industry Association (RIA), hit back over the request to stop essential upgrades.
Their Chief Executive Darren Caplan said: “The work that rail suppliers deliver over the Christmas period is essential to ensuring our railways continue to run effectively and reliably.
"Despite recent reports suggesting this work is unnecessary, the vast majority of the rail network, around 95%, will be unaffected by these engineering projects, and the work that does take place is vital to keeping the network moving for the future.
“We should all be grateful that this Christmas, whilst we are spending time with our families, railway workers across the country will be working hard, as they have done through this whole challenging year.
"The rail supply sector, working in particular with Network Rail, will ensure our network continues to run for the benefit of communities in all parts of the UK."
In a letter, the Lib Dems warn that it will be “simply dangerous for trains and stations to be overcrowded” adding the government lack of action “risks causing chaos and needlessly putting lives at risk.”
Lib Dem MP Sarah Olney said: “Being able to see loved ones this Christmas will mean a lot to millions right across the country, but people must be able to travel safely. Failing to prepare for a surge in travelling will be disastrous.
“The trains and stations are notoriously rammed around Christmas time in normal years – Ministers must learn from their ridiculous 10pm curfew and ensure that we do not see our trains and stations mobbed in the lead up to Christmas day.
“The Liberal Democrats are clear – the Tories must have a plan to increase the number of trains so everyone can travel safely, but must also cancel all non-essential engineering works during the Christmas period.”
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