Passenger trains on Christmas Eve will finish by 3pm because of strikes, Network Rail has warned, with the last long-distance departures between many big cities leaving in the morning.
The last train from Edinburgh to London will leave at 8am, and from Manchester to London at 12.15pm. No trains will connect the capital and Nottingham or Sheffield on Christmas Eve.
Full timetables for the last trains before Christmas will be published on Tuesday but rail bosses said it was clear that schedules would be severely hit, despite the RMT union saying it was not targeting festive travelers in its next strike.
Thousands of workers, including key signaling staff, will not sign on for shifts between 6pm on 24 December and 6am on 27 December, when Network Rail had planned about £120m-worth of engineering works. No trains run on Christmas Day, and only exceptional services on Boxing Day. One of those, Eurostar, has canceled its 26 December trains.
Andrew Haines, the Network Rail chief executive, said: “RMT suggestions that their planned strike action over the festive period is not targeting Christmas would be laughable. The consequences were not so painful to so many people, including on Christmas Eve.
“The RMT is causing needless misery to its own members, to the railway and to the country’s economy. I am so sorry that our passengers are having to bear the brunt of the RMT’s needless strike when a fair offer is on the table and when only a third of the workforce has rejected it.
Our offer guarantees jobs and gives everyone a decent pay-rise of 9% and more. Two of our three trade unions have already accepted and the RMT needs to think again.”
The RMT was contacted for comment.
Network Rail said the 6pm start of action by the RMT meant passenger trains would have to be back in depots by then, while engineering trains would have to be moved into position earlier than normal.
It said the strike, compounded by industrial action short of a strike or an overtime ban at train operators, meant some services could not run at all on Christmas Eve.
Chiltern and South Western, two of the operators affected most by the overtime ban, which started on Sunday, have cut back timetables and are running shorter hours and routes.
Advance tickets for 24 December across the network can be used in the preceding three days or up to 29 December. Long-distance travelers can also cancel and rebook without charge, to try to ensure a seat.
Train services on December 27 will also start later. A further four days of rail strikes are due to start on 3 January.
No more talks between employers and unions have yet been scheduled to resolve the long-running dispute over pay and conditions.