Train passengers are being urged to only travel on Christmas Eve if their journey is “absolutely necessary” as a strike will decimate services.
A walkout by thousands of members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail means Britain’s railways will shut down early, and some routes will have no trains all day.
There is usually high demand for services on the afternoon and early evening of Christmas Eve as people travel to spend the festive period with loved ones.
When the RMT announced the strike – which would take place from 6pm on Saturday until 6am on December 27 – the union claimed it would “only affect engineering work and not train services”.
But Network Rail said trains will stop running at around 3pm on Christmas Eve.
The early closure means the last departures on some long-distance routes will be before 1pm.
Examples of last train times include 10.45am for Leeds to London, 11am for London to Edinburgh and 12.48pm for London to Manchester.
East Midlands Railway will only run an “extremely limited service” between London St Pancras and Corby, meaning there will be no trains on routes such as London St Pancras-Sheffield and London St Pancras-Nottingham.
No South Western Railway trains will run on several routes to and from London Waterloo, including Reading, Twickenham and Dorking.
Chiltern Railways will not operate any trains to or from Oxford, or north of Banbury.
The disruption is expected to cause more congestion on the roads as people switch to other forms of transport for their Christmas getaway journeys.
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.
Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines has accused the RMT of causing “needless misery to its own members, to the railway and to the country’s economy”.
But the union, which is striking in a bitter row over jobs, pay and conditions, describes the Government-owned company’s offer to resolve the dispute as “substandard”.
Christmas is a key period for maintenance work on the railways.
Network Rail planned a £120 million program of more than 300 projects over the festive period this year.
It said “around 85%” of this work will still go ahead despite the RMT action.