A Christmas travel tsar has been appointed in an effort to avoid transport chaos during the festive period.
Sir Peter Hendy, the chairman of Network Rail, will scrutinise whether train, air and road networks are ready for millions of people making trips over the five-day window when coronavirus restrictions are eased, the Department for Transport said.
Cheaper advance train tickets for Christmas travel only went on sale on Friday, about eight weeks later than usual, due to delays in finalising timetables during the pandemic.
Capacity on board trains is restricted to allow social distancing, with some operators preventing passengers from boarding without a pre-booked ticket.
Strain on the network will also be increased by engineering work taking place over the Christmas period.
One of the most disruptive projects will be at London King’s Cross, which will be closed for six days from Christmas Day.
London North Eastern Railway, which uses the station for its Anglo-Scottish trains on the east coast mainline, is warning that alternative routes will be “very busy and should also be avoided”.
The UK government and devolved administrations have agreed a temporary easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas, allowing three households to mix in a bubble from December 23 to 27.
The DfT will publish measures aimed at easing travel disruption next week, taking into account analysis of demand for advance train tickets and public surveys.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “We recognise that people will want to be with their friends and family over Christmas. And for those that choose to form a Christmas bubble, we’re lifting travel restrictions across the UK for five days for the purposes of seeing that bubble.
“Before you travel, plan your journey very carefully, and where possible book well in advance. Everyone must also follow the clear guidance to keep you, fellow passengers and staff safe.
“As some advance tickets go on sale and people begin to plan their journeys, we are closely assessing demand on the network and have already taken actions to minimise potential disruption.
“We are currently developing a plan focused on tackling disruption, including running longer trains and relaxing rules to allow more types of coaches to run, and will publish further details next week, once demand is clearer.”
An RAC spokesman, Rod Dennis, said: “Our breakdown team is planning for the roads to be busy over ‘the five days of Christmas’. Last year drivers told us they were planning on making 31 million trips to see family and friends by car in the runup to Christmas, but it remains to be seen just what the nation’s appetite is for similar journeys this year.”