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Seaside squeeze on trains to the coast as passengers return to rail this bank holiday

Bank holiday weekend travellers look set for a seaside squeeze – with added challenges posed by rail engineering work and strikes.

The Rail Delivery Group says that train ticket sales to seaside destinations for the last bank holiday weekend before Christmas are one-sixth higher than in August 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic.

The organisation, representing train operators and Network Rail, says railcard sales are also higher than in 2019, with 16-25 and 26-30 discount cards particularly popular.

International travel restrictions mean far fewer British holidaymakers will go abroad this summer – increasing demand for domestic holidays and days out.

Jacqueline Starr, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “At the end of every train line are livelihoods and businesses that will depend on rail to be the difference they need to recover, so as we look forward to a bumper bank holiday weekend, leisure passengers can feel good that they’re supporting a fair, clean recovery while they’re beating the bank holiday traffic jams.”

The deputy chief executive of VisitBritain, Patricia Yates, said:  “We are delighted to see people traveling to and enjoying our coastal regions.

“With the convenience, ease and sustainability of domestic rail travel, this boost will have a positive impact on our coastal regions, boosting economic growth and spreading the benefits of tourism across Britain.”

The UK’s strict incoming travel rules, requiring multiple tests, has deterred all but the most determined inbound tourists.

While over 95 per cent of Britain’s rail network is operating normally over the bank holiday weekend, passengers on some key inter-city lines face difficult journeys.

The East Midlands line from Sheffield, Derby, Nottingham and Leicester to the capital will be closed completely between Mill Hill Broadway in north London and the terminus at St Pancras, with no East Midlands Railway (EMR) trains south of Luton.

Passengers from Leicester face a journey around 90 minutes longer than normal, with a bus connection from Luton to Hitchin and a commuter train onwards to London.

Sunday strikes by members of the RMT union in disputes over contract and safety issues will cause cancellations elsewhere on EMR.

Work connected with the HS2 project at London Euston will reduce services and extend journey times on Avanti West Coast trains to and from the West Midlands, northwest England and southern Scotland.

On the East Coast main line between London King’s Cross, Yorkshire, northeast England and Scotland, LNER is warning passengers: “Train services are expected to be very busy over the August bank holiday weekend. Seat reservations are strongly recommended.”

Travellers who buy “walk-up” tickets without reservations are told: “Your chosen train is busy. You have selected a ticket for this journey, but no guaranteed seat. You may have to stand if no seats are available.”

Network Rail track upgrades on the East Coast main line between Grantham and Newark on Saturday 28 August means some evening journeys will be cancelled or diverted.

While Scotland’s August bank holiday took place at the start of the month, the continuing series of Sunday strikes by train conductors will lead to the cancellation of the vast majority of ScotRail services on 29 August.

Members of the RMT union are stopping work each Sunday in what they describe as “a six month fight for pay justice and equality”. On Thursday the union said that conductors had voted by over 80 per cent to continue action in a re-ballot.

In the west of England, eight platforms at Bristol Temple Meads will be out of use, with buses replacing trains between Bristol and Bath.

Despite the rebound in leisure travel, the scale of the challenge for railway finances is daunting. Commuting and business journeys remain well below pre-pandemic levels.

Fare revenue is just 59 per cent of 2019 levels, with billions of pounds from taxpayers continuing to fund the gap.

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