A MASSIVE £8 million rail improvement project is set to cause Christmas travel misery for thousands of Hampshire passengers.

Buses will replace trains between Southampton Central and Southampton Airport Parkway stations during the work, which is due to start on Christmas Eve and last until New Year's Day.

Engineers are planning to replace 14 sets of points, renew about 200 metres of track and replace about 6,000 metres of cabling.

Chris Loder, head of service strategy for South Western Railway, said: "We encourage passengers to avoid travelling on Christmas Eve if they can and to be prepared for longer journey times between Christmas and New Year.

"We’re doing all we can to minimise disruption and make sure we get all our passengers to their destination over the festive period.

"People should check before travelling, either online or at one of our stations.”

Becky Lumlock, Network Rail’s route managing director, added: "We’re investing £8 million to give our passengers in and out of Southampton more reliable journeys. The new tracks will also mean less noise for our neighbours.

“This is a busy part of the network with around 164,000 trains passing over these tracks in the last year alone.

"The kit is old and worn-out and and it’s vital we replace it now to avoid significant future disruption to our passengers.

“We know there’s never a good time to do this and that’s why my team will be working 24 hours a day, from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day to deliver this as quickly as possible.”

Some of the work will take place on Sunday, December 17, when the line between Southampton Central and Southampton Airport Parkway will be closed and buses will replace trains.

But most of the improvements will be carried out between December 24 and January 1.