Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Bank Holiday getaway is hit by heavy rain and rail disruption with 16million drivers preparing to hit the roads – as RAC reveals the best and worst times to travel

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The early May bank holiday weekend getaway was blighted by heavy rain and rail disruption this morning as drivers were warned to expect long delays on the roads.

Some 16million motorists will make a leisure trip by car between today and Monday, according to the RAC – with journeys on most major routes across South and South West England set to take an average of 50 per cent longer than usual this afternoon.

And road users across England and Wales were warned by the Met Office that most areas will see showers throughout today, which could be heavy and thundery.

Forecasters said conditions this weekend would remain mixed, with most areas of the UK likely to experience some rain. However temperatures will stay fairly warm, in the mid to late teens with highs of 18C (64F) in the South and 16C (61F) in the North.

Getaway traffic started to build this morning before peaking tomorrow at 3.3million journeys, according to research by the RAC and transport analytics firm Inrix.

A further 2.3million and 2.6million separate getaway trips are planned on Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday respectively, while another 5.6million are expected to be made at some point over the weekend by drivers still deciding which day to travel.

Parts of the North West, East Anglia and South West are likely to be hardest hit by traffic returning home on Monday. And those wanting to avoid the worst congestion were urged to travel before 9am or after 5pm throughout the bank holiday period. 

Drivers across Britain were advised to avoid setting off between 11am and 6pm today; 9am and 2pm tomorrow; and 10am and 3pm on both Sunday and Monday.

Meanwhile, journeys on Britain’s rail network were already being disrupted this morning ahead of engineering work and industrial action over the coming days.

Rail passengers at London King’s Cross station today as the bank holiday getaway begins

Queues at Manchester Airport early this morning as tourists wait to get inside the terminal

Queues at Manchester Airport early this morning as tourists wait to get inside the terminal 

Traffic on the A102(M) Blackwall Tunnel approach in Greenwich, South East London, today

Traffic on the A102(M) Blackwall Tunnel approach in Greenwich, South East London, today

There were delays on the London Overground between Stratford and Richmond today due to a signalling fault; while the Northern line had delays due to a train shortage and the Piccadilly line was disrupted between Acton Town and Uxbridge.

Likeliest areas for road delays this weekend 

  • M5 southbound from Bristol to Taunton – This afternoon
  • M55 eastbound from Blackpool to Preston – Bank Holiday Monday, from 11am
  • A30 and A38 eastbound from Cornwall to Exeter – Bank Holiday Monday, from 11.30am
  • A11 southbound from Norwich to Thetford – Bank Holiday Monday, from 12.15pm

Northern and TransPennine Express services between Scunthorpe and Doncaster were disrupted due to a landslip, while a speed restriction over a defective track in Hampshire between Portchester and Cosham was delaying some services on Great Western Railway, Southern and South Western Railway.

Another landslip in West Yorkshire between Pontefract Monkhill and Knottingley was delaying Northern services, while the operator’s trains between Manchester Piccadilly and Sheffield via New Mills Central were also being disrupted due to track repairs.

Looking ahead to the bank holiday weekend, the Met Office said that there was ‘still some uncertainty around the exact details of the forecast’.

The national weather service revealed that its ‘various computer models are disagreeing about the exact track an area of low pressure will take across the southern UK and therefore where will see the worst of any weather’.

Following thunder and lightning for much of southern England yesterday, today will remain unsettled with rain or showers – and while the risk of thunderstorms continues, it is lower with fewer and more isolated storms.

As for the next few days, Met Office deputy chief meteorologist Mark Sidaway said: ‘There continues to be uncertainty around the track of a low pressure system which is expected to cross the southern UK this weekend, meaning there is some uncertainty about some of the forecast details.

‘While it will remain unsettled with further showers or longer spells of rain, all areas should see some drier conditions at some point and, in any sunshine, it should feel quite warm. But for the exact details for your area stay up to date with forecast over the coming days.’

Aslef rail strike dates 

  • May 6 to May 11: Overtime ban
  • May 7: Strike on c2c, Greater Anglia, Great Northern, Thameslink, Southeastern, Southern, Gatwick Express and South Western Railway.
  • May 8: Strike on Avanti West Coast, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Great Western Railway and West Midlands Trains.
  • May 9: Strike on LNER, Northern Trains and TransPennine Express

Meanwhile drivers have been warned to expect long delays as millions of people embark on bank holiday getaways.

The busiest route is set to be the M5 southbound between Bristol and Taunton this afternoon, when journeys are set to take nearly two hours longer than normal as getaway and commuter traffic combine.

On Monday, jams are predicted on the M55 eastbound between Blackpool and Preston from 11am; Cornwall to Exeter eastbound on the A30 and A38 from 11.30am; and Norwich to Thetford on the A11 southbound from 12.15pm.

The RAC said that since coronavirus travel restrictions ended the number of drivers planning leisure trips during Early May Bank Holiday weekends is ‘well above’ the previous average of 14million.

It commissioned a survey of more than 3,000 UK motorists which suggested 39 per cent of those driving over the long weekend will spend a day with family and friends, 14 per cent intend to go shopping and 8 per cent have planned a short break with loved ones.

RAC spokesperson Alice Simpson said: ‘With Covid travel restrictions a thing of the past, catching up with friends and family is still the first priority for nearly half of drivers making leisure trips over the bank holiday.

‘Since 2022 – the first full year since mobility restrictions lifted – drivers appear to be much more eager to make the most of the May Day weekend, with the total number of getaway trips this year far exceeding the average since 2017.

‘We’re anticipating a crescendo of cars on the road over the weekend with as many as three million motorists making leisure trips on Saturday alone.

‘In addition to the majority of motorists planning day trips and short breaks, our data shows local routes to city and out-of-town shopping centres could see heavy traffic, so it’s best to head out early morning or evening if possible.’

Inrix warned that most of the worst delays were expected in the South and South West.

Inrix transportation analyst Bob Pishue said: ‘Although delays won’t be as severe as Easter, drivers should expect the lengthiest hold-ups on major roads to and from popular destinations this weekend.

‘Delays will likely peak on Friday afternoon with some areas seeing usual travel times double as holiday drivers vie for space on the roads with commuters.’

Meanwhile, journeys on Britain’s rail network will be disrupted due to engineering work and industrial action.

Network Rail said it will carry out 487 projects over the bank holiday period.

On Sunday, no trains will run between London Euston and Milton Keynes or between Glasgow and England due to work on the West Coast Main Line at Crewe, Wigan and other locations.

There will also be disruption over the weekend in Cambridge, Coventry and Liverpool.

Network Rail’s system operator director Anit Chandarana said: ‘The vast majority of the railway will be open for business as normal.

Spectators shield from the rain beneath umbrellas at the Royal Windsor Horse Show today

Spectators shield from the rain beneath umbrellas at the Royal Windsor Horse Show today

People use umbrellas to shield from the rain at the Royal Windsor Horse Show this morning

People use umbrellas to shield from the rain at the Royal Windsor Horse Show this morning

A very wet day at the Royal Windsor Horse Show today as people walk around the retail area

A very wet day at the Royal Windsor Horse Show today as people walk around the retail area

‘We know people want to travel by train and not replacement bus, and we do our best to fit as much work as we can into these closures to minimise the impact on passengers and freight customers.

See what other passengers are saying on social media: Travel expert NICKY KELVIN reveals his tips for navigating train strikes 


The planned train strikes will cause a number of disruptions to travellers’ weekend plans over the first bank holiday in May, with services across Greater Anglia, Northern, Thameslink, Southern, Southeastern and SWR all facing limited to no service.

The latest round of strike action will impact commuters and their confidence in rail travel yet again, given the fact they are continuingly having to worry about the reliability of services across the network as the Aslef union’s two-year long dispute rages on.

For those travellers who are unable to avoid travelling, I would suggest checking before they make any journey. It’s also important to remember that due to these closures, other lines may be busier than usual during peak hours so always allow extra time to make it to their final destination.

My tips to avoid the stress of getting stuck during train strike action include:

  1. Make sure you are checking in with the travel updates as you make plans;
  2. Travel after the strike days – this is an option for you to avoid cancellations all together;
  3. Find an alternative way to travel ahead of time and ahead of other passengers in a similar situation
  4. Avoid travelling during peak times as congestion will affect travel between these days;
  5. Always check ahead on National Rail and also X to see what other passengers are saying and have experienced.

NICKY KELVIN is editor at The Points Guy. For more of his tips, click here

‘The work this month will see new track laid on one of the busiest mixed-use railway in the world – the West Coast Main Line – along with work to replace worn out equipment at junctions at Crewe.

‘We’ve also got more work to build a new station at Cambridge South, which will play a key role in developing the city and its new biomedical campus in a sustainable way.’

It comes as train drivers at 16 rail companies are to stage a fresh series of strikes in their long-running pay dispute, disrupting travel in the week of the May bank holiday.

Members of Aslef will walk out on May 7, 8 and 9 at different operators and ban overtime for six days from May 6.

The union said it has not met employers or the Government for more than a year, accusing ministers of ‘giving up’ trying to resolve the near two-year dispute.

Drivers will strike on May 7 at c2c, Greater Anglia, GTR Great Northern Thameslink, Southeastern, Southern, Gatwick Express and South Western Railway.

On May 8 there will be strikes at Avanti West Coast, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Great Western Railway and West Midlands Trains.

Aslef members at LNER, Northern Trains and TransPennine Express will strike on May 9.

Yesterday, rail companies suggested informal talks with Aslef in a bid to resolve the pay dispute.

But the move by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents train operators, will not affect next week’s fresh strikes and overtime ban.

No meetings have been held between the two sides for a year, while government ministers have not met Aslef since the start of 2023.

The RDG has written to Aslef suggesting informal talks which would allow more formal negotiations.

An RDG spokesperson said: ‘We want to see an end to this dispute and in that spirit, we have written to the Aslef leadership to try and find areas of common ground that will allow us to move to formal negotiations.’

The dispute started in the summer of 2022, since when train drivers have taken a number of strikes, causing travel chaos for passengers and huge financial hits on sectors such as hospitality.

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan described it as a ‘soft touch approach’ from the RDG.

He said he detected a ‘slight change of mood’ after such a long period when no contact has been made between the union and employers and transport ministers.

‘We are obviously not going to say no to any attempt to hold proper negotiations,’ he said.

Writing in Aslef’s journal, Mr Whelan said: ‘I believe we are nearer the end of this dispute and a resolution will come.’

He pointed out that Aslef had secured 17 pay deals over the past year with rail companies not involved in the ongoing dispute, adding it was proof the current row was driven by ‘political spite, not industrial necessity’.

National Express has said that it will be providing thousands of extra seats next week to deal with increased demand during the rail strikes.

The coach operator announced an additional 7,500 seats on its most popular routes.

National Express said 19million people had travelled on its coach network in 2023, a 25 per cent increase on 2022.

Since the rail strikes began in June 2022, National Express has recorded around 1.3million new passengers travelling on its services on industrial action days during rail strike days.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Border Force officers at Heathrow Airport have been on a four-day strike in a dispute over working conditions.

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) said more than 300 of its members walked out from 5am on Monday until 7am today.

Thousands of lightning strikes swept across southern England yesterday, causing travel delays and striking a care home.

But yesterday was also the warmest day of the year for all four home nations, the Met Office said.

A temperature of 23.4C was recorded in Santon Downham in Suffolk, beating the previous high of 22.1C from Wednesday.

Meanwhile the mercury hit 22.1C in Kinlochewe and Achnagart, beating Wednesday’s high of 21.9C in Aultbea.

In Wales, a high of 22.8C was felt in Hawarden, Flintshire, while the temperature hit 20.3C at Castlederg in Co Tyrone, Northern Ireland.

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