Patrick McLoughlin was speaking as large-scale engineering works caused delays and diversions to a number of routes, forcing some people to switch to roads and threatening to add to traffic congestion at one of the year’s peak travel weekends.
The West Coast main line service to Scotland between Crewe and Warrington and Carlisle and Glasgow, as well as sleeper trains from Inverness to London, are among the rail routes affected. Some west coast trains will be diverted to the east coast mainline during the engineering works.
Passengers travelling on Virgin services between Scotland and northern England were told their journeys would be severely restricted because of improvement work on the line. The restrictions come as Network Rail faces intense pressure to make sure the works finish on time, to avoid the travel chaos seen at Christmas when over-running improvements led to significant delays for passengers.
Speaking yesterday, Mr McLoughlin told people planning an Easter getaway that 550 miles of motorway roadworks had been lifted to ease congestion. The RAC said an estimated 4.5 million motorists were expected to travel on Easter Sunday, but that number would rise with train passengers forced off the rails into their cars.
Roadworks speed restrictions on motorways and A roads across England will also be lifted until Tuesday.
He said: “If you are travelling between Friday and Monday night, please check your journey first; it may be that you’ll think twice about how you travel.
“There will be alternatives. I’m sorry if it will be more difficult but my promise is that the work is essential and when it’s done, the benefits will be worthwhile.”
He said that “an army” of 14,000 workers would be working over Easter to upgrade train lines around the country.
Last night, opposition politicians accused Mr McLoughlin of being “out of touch” and said his comments reflected the government’s “antipathy” to public transport.
Labour MSP Richard Baker said Mr McLoughlin’s remarks were ill-judged and would anger passengers who had already made travel plans, including paying for train tickets in advance. He called for improved planning to avoid substantial disruption.
Mr Baker said: “This speaks volumes about the antipathy of the Conservatives to public transport, particularly at a time when people have planned well- earned Easter breaks and visits to family members.
“To tell people who have already planned to travel during one of the busiest periods of the year that they should look at alternative forms of transport is a counsel of despair and also makes foolish assumptions that everyone is in a position to afford a car. For a transport minister to advise against using trains is a novel approach.
“Perhaps they will attempt to be better organised next time.”
Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said Mr McLoughlin’s intervention was “bizarre”, coming at the start of the Easter holiday period, when large numbers of people have already booked, paid for and planned their rail journeys.
SNP MSP David Torrance said the remarks showed a lack of a commitment to public transport. He said: “I would have hoped that the minister in charge of transport would be encouraging people to use public transport and doing more to stop congestion.”
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