Getaway accelerates as schools break up

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The great Christmas getaway began yesterday as many schools broke up for the festive period.

The AA said it expected as many as 18 million cars on the roads over the holiday period, with next Thursday and Friday likely to be busiest – but a survey for the motoring organisation also found people in north-east England were the most likely to stay at home.

In a survey of 16,647 AA members, 78 per cent of those in the region said they planned to stay put, compared with a national average of 68 per cent. Those most likely to travel – 60 per cent – were Londoners.

More than a quarter (26 per cent) will hit the road to spend Christmas away from home and 10 per cent will travel more than 100 miles.

About 4.25 million people are expected to go abroad – with about 340,000 expected to use Manchester Airport.

The AA warned drivers to prepare for unsettled weather and predicted that getaway traffic in the coming days was likely to be heavy on the M1 in Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire. Patrolman of the year Keith Miller said: “Although the current weather forecast for Christmas isn’t as bad as last year, the outlook is still quite unsettled which means road conditions can be unpredictable.

Buses will replace trains on some routes, but managers say this will be about half the number used last year and about 54,000 more trains will run during the two-week period.

The network is expecting to spend as much as £109m on engineering work in that time – with major projects taking place at Birmingham’s New Street station and at Reading in Berkshire. Much of Yorkshire is spared engineering over Christmas, but West Yorkshire Metro has warned of track work between Sheffield and Chesterfield on New Year’s Day.