The Christmas getaway is set to continue through the weekend after a “Frantic Friday” exodus from major cities saw congested roads and rail disruption on the last working day before the festive break.
Roads will remain busy on Saturday with those who delayed travelling to avoid Friday’s rush joining last-minute shoppers and online delivery vehicles.
Major roads to airports and ports are likely to experience congestion as more than 4.5 million people headed out of the UK to spend the holiday abroad.
Almost 400 miles of roadworks have been lifted to ease holiday journeys on motorways and major A-roads in England until 2 January, but some remain in place as they are deemed too dangerous to remove.
The main roadworks are between J1 and J2 of the M5, where the motorway is down to two lanes and a contraflow remains in place. There are narrow lanes and speed restrictions between M6 J8 and M5 J1 on the southbound carriageway and between J3 and J2 of the M5 on the northbound.
Eight miles on the M1 between Junction 23a (Donington Park) and Junction 25 (near Nottingham).
Rail users, meanwhile, have been warned many of Britain’s mainline routes will be partially shut in the coming days as Network Rail carries out its biggest ever Christmas engineering programme.
Road traffic will be heavy over much of the Christmas period, according to transportation analysts Inrix, which estimates there will be 17.5m leisure car trips between Christmas Day and the new year.
In particular, Wednesday 27 December was expected to see significant delays because of high street sales, people visiting friends and relatives, and those returning from their Christmas break. The worst stretches of motorways could see three-hour delays, with high traffic volumes expected around the M25.
So-called “Frantic Friday” had been forecast to see the largest exodus, with an estimated 1.3 million Christmas travellers in addition to usual traffic. By lunchtime there had been 46 traffic incidents, according to Highways England, which included the closure of the M40 southbound between Junction 10 (Brackley) and Junction 9 (Bicester) after a lorry caught fire.
The UK’s busiest airport, Heathrow, saw 130,000 departing passengers on Friday. There was severe disruption at Bristol airport with flights temporarily suspended when an Embraer 145 jet landing from Frankfurt, with 25 passengers on board, came off the runway. There were no injuries but the accident caused other flights scheduled to land to be diverted.
Rail passengers were urged to check for engineering works. Great Western Railway was advising passengers to complete journeys by Saturday “at the latest” as London Paddington is due to close between Christmas Eve and 27 December.
There will be no Southeastern trains to London Bridge, Charing Cross or Cannon Street from 23 December to 1 January.
On the West Coast main line, services will be halted between Preston and Lancaster from Christmas Eve to 27 December, with buses replacing trains. Passengers travelling between London and Glasgow during this time were being advised to travel via Edinburgh, adding an hour to journeys.
Coach operator National Express is running its largest ever Christmas schedule to meet increased demands from key locations including Bournemouth, Cardiff, Leeds, Edinburgh, Portsmouth, Bristol, Glasgow and Manchester.
Strikes by RMT union members on CrossCountry services between Cornwall and Exeter, in a row over rosters and Sunday working, were set to go ahead this weekend, after talks at the conciliation service Acas failed to break the deadlock.