Almost 1,000 miles of roadworks are set to be lifted over Christmas to ease motorway congestion exacerbated by strikes on the railways.
Officials from National Highways and the Department for Transport are understood to be putting the final touches to a plan to allow traffic to flow more easily.
The lifting of roadworks comes amid fears of widespread gridlock on Dec 23 and Dec 24 as people drive home for Christmas instead of taking the train.
Between 600,000 and 900,000 additional passengers would normally travel by rail on the Friday before Christmas when Dec 25 lands on a Saturday or Sunday, according to industry estimates.
Although no strikes are scheduled for Dec 23, train operators are unable to lay on extra services because of a ban on overtime by union leaders. Sources said that in a normal year when Christmas Day falls on a weekend, they would aim to run additional trains to deal with the extra demand.
Some 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union (RMT) will walkout on 11 days over Christmas and New Year. Strikes before Christmas are scheduled for Dec 13, 14, 15, 16 and Dec 24. Official guidance for Dec 24 is that train services will “finish very early".
Although the precise details of the final trains of the day are yet to be finalised, industry sources said it is likely that passengers will be told not to leave “much after lunch” on Christmas Eve. The disruption on Christmas Eve will place further pressure on Dec 23.
Hundreds of miles of roadworks are often lifted between Christmas and New Year. Industry sources said that a similar programme will take place this year and will be announced as early as next week.
Meanwhile, a survey of more than 15,000 people found that passengers are desperate for the railways to go “back to basics”.
Almost three-quarters of respondents said that it was more important that train services run to schedule rather than bosses trying to run them more quickly.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, the watchdog that conducted the research, said: “The research found passengers’ top two priorities for the railway – well ahead of others – are the ‘price of train tickets offers value for money’ and ‘reliability and punctuality’. This reaffirms that what matters most to passengers is a punctual and reliable railway that delivers on the timetable’s promise at an acceptable price. The railway must maintain its focus on this.”
Getting a seat on a train ranked higher than personal security among passengers’ priorities. Ensuring that the carriage interiors were cleaned was down in tenth place in the list of respondents’ main concerns.