Rail strikes cuts into city centre Christmas shopping

Thousands of rail workers have begun their latest strike

A sign showing strike action at a closed Waterloo Station in London on December  24. EPA
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A rail strike that began in the UK on Saturday forced last-minute Christmas shoppers to avoid travelling to big city centres and instead they stayed local, retail data analysis showed.

Shoppers were aware of the looming strike, which began at 6pm, and went to local stores to give those shops an “unusual” hit.

Drivers also appear to have heeded warnings that the rail strike, which is across the national network, could mean more traffic jams for people who chose road trips instead, the AA motoring group said.

Thousands of members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) began their latest strike action with trains stopping early, and some routes had no services at all.

Footfall across all UK retail destinations up to noon on Saturday was 9.2 per cent higher than the previous week, and 1 per cent up on December 23, data from industry analyst Springboard shows.

“This pattern of footfall is unusual for Christmas Eve, as typically footfall peaks on December 23 and is then lower on Christmas Eve as people travel to their Christmas destinations,” said Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard.

“Central London and other city centres around the UK are still feeling the loss of shoppers due to the rail strike,” she added.

“In contrast in outer London high streets footfall was 11.7 per cent higher than last Saturday and 9.8 per cent higher in market towns, demonstrating that many shoppers are choosing to shop locally and therefore avoid the need to travel long distances.”

Motorway travel was also smooth for most of the country, the AA said.

“I think probably you've got a combination of people heeding the advice — I know that yesterday we had a look at some of the car hire availability at some of the major traffic hubs in London and some of them were showing on their websites that they didn't have any vehicles available,” a spokesperson said.

“It gives you an idea of what travellers were doing in response to the train strikes, obviously a lot of them were going for hire cars.

“Because the strikes and their potential impact were well telegraphed I think people had formulated alternate plans and that would seem to have been borne out today because there seems to have been relatively little disruption.”

Those who did take trains were gathered on the concourses of major stations including Euston in London and Birmingham New Street on Saturday morning.

Services to Crewe, Manchester Piccadilly, Glasgow Central and Birmingham were all delayed with a limited staff presence as travellers waited anxiously with their luggage.

No trains operate on Britain's railways on Christmas Day.

The normal limited Boxing Day schedule has been scrapped due to the strike, while services will start later than usual on December 27.

Border Force strikes were continuing at six airports but there has been few delays at passport control for people arriving in the country.

Updated: December 24, 2022, 9:59 PM