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 Tuesday, 24 December, 2002, 09:16 GMT
Christmas getaway continues
Millions of cars will be on the road over the festive season
Britain's roads are likely to have one of the busiest periods of the holiday season on Tuesday as millions set off for their Christmas break.

Motoring organisations predict as many as 18 million cars will be on the road over the festive season and are advising drivers to plan their trips carefully to avoid being caught in holiday traffic.

Passengers waiting at Stansted
Airports have been "extremely busy"
Train operators are also facing their busiest period of the year - but strikes by hundreds of conductors at Arriva Trains on Monday and Christmas Eve are set to compound misery for rail passengers across northern England.

And Aberdeen Airport was closed on Tuesday morning after a light aircraft crashed and struck a car shortly after take-off from the city airport en route to to Denmark.

The Association of Train Operating Companies has advised rail passengers not to travel without seat reservations over the festive season.

Meanwhile, travel agents said a record 1.5 million Britons were jetting abroad for the holidays.

A total of 37 flood warnings were in place by Monday afternoon, particularly in the Midlands and East Anglia.

Forecasters are expecting further heavy rain which may make driving conditions difficult on Christmas Eve.

Delays expected

A spokesman for AA Roadwatch said: "We are anticipating levels of traffic will get much busier as people are out panic buying and we will start to see the offices clearing out.

"People should expect a certain amount of traffic going into town centres.

"As people start to travel to friends and family for Christmas they should leave extra time for their journeys."

The BBC Travel Centre said the fact Christmas was mid-week may help with the getaway being staggered from the weekend through to Christmas Eve.

The north east and the midlands look set to suffer the slowest moving traffic, with hot-spots including the M6, M42 near Birmingham, the M62 near Huddersfield and the M60 near Greater Manchester.

Routes down into the south-west, particularly the M5, are also expected to be busy.

Seat reservations

An ATOC spokeswoman advised rail passengers to check train services before travelling.

She said passengers may be able to get trains but seats could not be guaranteed without booking in advance.

The national rail network will begin to wind down from 2000 GMT on Christmas Eve with no trains on Christmas Day.

There are no intercity trains on Boxing Day.

First Great Western, which runs trains from London to south Wales and the south-west, is fully booked for Monday with Tuesday rapidly selling out.

Strike action

Rail travellers in parts of northern England are facing disruption in the second of four 24-hour strikes by the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) Union over pay on Arriva Trains Northern.

Conductors, who took industrial action on Saturday, are again on strike on Christmas Eve and plan a further stoppage on New Year's Eve.

Ray Price, the company's managing director, said: "Clearly, we are very disappointed that the union has decided to hit what is undoubtedly one of the most important times in the year for so many people.

"However, due to the excellent support of those employees not engaged in the strike and my management team's hard work, we will provide a robust service for customers during the RMT's four strike days".

Services are running on about 80% of the network, according to a spokeswoman for the train company.

With three-quarters of the nation taking to the roads, a record number are also expected to take to the skies.

Between Saturday and Christmas, about 1.5 million people are expected to pass through the UK's airports.

Many of these flights will be domestic - but a record 1.5 million Britons are expected to go abroad.

Mainland Spain and the Canary Islands are the top two destinations, with France third, according to the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta).

The chances of a White Christmas in the UK, however, are said to be "very slim."

Temperatures are expected to reach 13C on Christmas Day.

See also:

22 Dec 02 | England
19 Dec 02 | Business
09 Dec 02 | Business
28 Nov 02 | Business
17 Dec 02 | Business
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