Heavy traffic built up on Britain’s motorways today as the great Bank Holiday getaway began with more than 18 million cars venturing out over the last long weekend of summer.
Traffic chaos is expected to be worsened after rail passengers were advised to stay home this weekend as record engineering works paralyse busy routes over the Bank Holiday.
Network Rail is putting 17,000 staff to work on its biggest ever August upgrade project, worth more than £133million, on the final three-day weekend before Christmas.
Drivers have been warned that a single breakdown could trigger tailbacks anywhere as road traffic is expected to peak on Monday with five million trips – up 22 per cent on last year.
Early work on the HS2 high-speed rail line will shut down London’s Euston station, the terminus for trains between the capital and Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, tomorrow and on Sunday.
Network Rail warned people to only make ‘absolutely essential’ journeys.
A spokesman said: ‘If you do travel, trains will be busier than usual, journeys will take longer and unless you have reserved one, you won’t be guaranteed a seat.’
It said travel between Scotland, the North-West, West Midlands and London tomorrow and on Sunday was ‘discouraged’.
The disruption is expected to be so severe that the country’s largest coach operator National Express is putting on an extra 4,000 seats to destinations affected by work at London rail stations.
Heavy traffic on the M6 motorway south of Manchester this morning as the great Bank Holiday weekend getaway begins
A motorist drives his Renault Grand Scenic along the M6 motorway near Manchester this morning as traffic builds up
Motorists queue on the M6 near Manchester today as millions of drivers take to the roads ahead of the Bank Holiday weekend
Virgin Trains has also ramped up warnings to the public, asking customers to avoid the ‘very busy’ East and West Coast Main Lines ‘unless necessary’.
High demand is expected for trains between London King’s Cross and Scotland due to passengers seeking alternative routes to and from London because of the closure of Euston
A spokesman said: ‘If customers choose to travel, we strongly recommend they book their tickets in advance, make a seat reservation and allow longer to get to their destination.’
Services to and from London Waterloo – which have been disrupted for more than a fortnight as part of a major project – have been slashed even further until Tuesday, with 14 platforms to be closed for engineering works.
A Network Rail spokesman said: ‘This all about delivering a bigger better Waterloo station fit for the 21st century.’
There will also be no Southeastern services for a week to or from London Bridge, Waterloo East and Charing Cross.
And due to Crossrail work there are no trains between London’s Liverpool Street and Shenfield, Ingatestone, Billericay and Barking on Sunday and Monday.
Modernisation work means services between Cardiff and Newport will be reduced until next Sunday , while no trains will run between Swindon and Bristol Parkway from tomorrow until September 17.
In the North-West, trains to and from Manchester Airport will be diverted and delayed, and most services will not run in and out of Bolton station.
A sunny weather forecast for many coastal hotspots this weekend is also expected to add to the travel woes.
Traffic bottlenecks are expected on the M5 towards Devon, the M6 near the Lake District, the M3 towards Bournemouth and the M1 north of London.
Highways England is lifting 98 per cent of road works, covering close to 450 miles of motorways and A-roads, to ease the traffic.
The RAC has estimated there will be around 18.4million car journeys between yesterday and Monday.
A spokesman recommended that drivers wanting to beat the queues should avoid travelling this afternoon and evening, and set off early if travelling back on Monday.
Traffic spokesman Rod Dennis said: ‘We recommend motorists wanting to beat the queues travel outside peak times – so avoid Friday afternoon and evening if you can and try to get away in good time if you are planning a day trip on Monday, or face a long journey home at the end of a summer holiday.
Between Saturday and September 2 there will be no Southeastern services to or from London Bridge, Waterloo East and Charing Cross as work continues to rebuild London Bridge and the surrounding railway
‘It only takes a single breakdown on a congested road to cause real disruption, so we also advise drivers to complete some quick, basic checks that can reduce the chances of their vehicle being the culprit.’
Some 6.9 million adults are planning a domestic break over the last long weekend before Christmas, up from 5.1 million in 2016, according to tourism body VisitEngland.
Travel trade organisation Abta has also estimated 2.1 million British holidaymakers will travel abroad over the weekend with Spain, Turkey and Greece among the most popular destinations.
Heathrow expects 243,000 departing passengers today alone, while an estimated 304,000 will fly from Gatwick over the entire weekend.
Network Rail said routes to UK airports would be unaffected over the weekend.