Travellers are facing rail misery this Christmas as Network Rail embarks on a huge engineering project on the West Coast Mainline on December 23.
For the two days leading up to Christmas there will be no direct services between London and Birmingham.
Traditionally the line’s busiest time of the year, with 100,000 travelling on December 24 alone, there will be long delays with Network Rail forecasting at least 45 minutes to one hour and 20 minutes extra on journey times while they carry out work at Bletchley junction.
The line closes completely over Christmas with limited direct services resuming on December 27 as engineering work continues up until the new year. Full services only resume in January.
A Network Rail spokesman said the investment would mean more capacity, increased reliability and faster speeds on the tracks around Milton Keynes, benefiting all the passengers who travel on the West Coast line. He added: “We understand the impact this work will have on passengers and have worked hard to keep the most disruptive parts of this £125 million project to an absolute minimum.”
The disruption will occur a fortnight after FirstGroup is due to take over the running of the line from Virgin, although the current legal dispute has thrown that into doubt.
Virgin’s franchise expires on December 9, and Branson has offered to continue running the trains on a non-profit basis while the legal issue is resolved.
The Department for Transport issued papers to the High Court acknowledging the lawsuit brought by Virgin before the contract for FirstGroup to run the franchise until 2026 could be signed.
Virgin alleges that the franchising process did not adequately safeguard against perceived risk in the winning bid.
The DfT has requested a hearing as soon as possible, as a judge is yet to be appointed and the DfT will have to submit evidence before any court date – meaning the legal tussle will likely drag on into autumn, preventing a timely sign-off of the handover to FirstGroup.
Tickets bought in advance by passengers from Virgin or other suppliers will remain valid whoever is running the service in December.