Millions of festive travellers could face major disruption to their Christmas travel plans today as the UK prepares for severe gales and heavy rainfall capable of bringing the transport network to its knees.
The Met Office has issued a severe weather warning from dawn today, with the threat of gusts of up to 80mph and localised flooding in pockets of the UK, just in time for the big getaway.
Motorists have been braced to prepare for delays, particularly those heading to the south-west of England and parts of Scotland, while train operators and bus firms have made contingency plans.
Many operators removed limits on day tickets in an effort to dissuade customers travelling at their height of the weather problems, when 50mph speed restrictions are likely to be in place on train services.
Robin Gisby, for Network Rail, said: “Our fundamental concern in the next 48 hours is to get everyone where they want to be for Christmas. It won’t be an easy task given the forecast conditions and disruption is likely - but I want to be very clear that our priority is running as many trains as we can safely, rather than worrying about hitting the timetable bang on.
“Hundreds of engineers and other staff will be across the network over the next two days, ready to react quickly to any problems, removing debris and fixing equipment where necessary.
“We will also be monitoring our system of more than 200 weather stations across the network to ensure we can respond to conditions on the ground rather than simply relying on forecasts.”
The worst of the weather is expected to clear by the end of Christmas Eve.
A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which speaks on behalf of the rail industry, said: “Many rail staff will be working throughout the night to monitor the weather and to keep passengers safe and informed.
“Some operators are lifting restrictions to allow people with tickets for travel on Monday to travel today. Customers should check National Rail Enquiries or speak to their train company.”
Some ferries between England and France have been delayed due to weather.