Tories call for Boxing Day rail services

Sports fans forced to drive to games today, causing traffic jams and pollution
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Indy Politics

The Conservatives will call today for Britain's railways to run Boxing Day services and end the great 58-hour train shutdown over Christmas.

The shadow Transport Secretary, Stephen Hammond, said the scarcity of services on Boxing Day meant thousands of sports fans would have to take to their cars instead. His comments come after The Independent reported that the rail industry, government and regulators were all blaming each other for the annual shutdown.

Mr Hammond said: "Boxing Day is a traditional sporting fixture across the country for many sports, not just football. Huge numbers of fans will be heading to games, enjoying the day out with their families. From just the Premier League and Championship (the top two football divisions) there are an expected 45,000 away fans travelling to games. While engineering work should be carried out in quiet periods for travel, Boxing Day can hardly be seen as a quiet period.

"Families and football fans will be given no choice but to get into their cars, pump more CO2 into the atmosphere and put up with potentially eye-watering levels of congestion because the railways remain shut."

Senior MPs and transport groups have also criticised train companies for the closure. Britain is the only major European country not to have services running over Christmas. A group of 34 MPs from all three main parties have backed a parliamentary motion calling for services to be introduced.

In the motion, the group expresses "deep disappointment that once again during this festive season the United Kingdom's railways will undergo a 58-hour shutdown, with no services whatsoever being provided on the overwhelming majority of lines".

Louise Ellman, the chairman of the Transport Select Committee, said: "It does not make sense in regards to demand and it does not make sense in regards to the green agenda to have a shutdown over Christmas now."

Rail companies had resisted the introduction of Boxing Day services, but senior figures in the industry admit the case for running services on 26 December is compelling. More than 1.2 billion passengers used the rail network last year, which is close to the level of demand seen in 1946, when it was considerably larger.

Engineers can also replace points in just eight hours, meaning less time is needed for engineering works. In the past, a similar task took a day and a half.

The industry is prepared to hold talks on the possibility of launching Christmas services next year, but needs the involvement of all Britain's franchise holders and support from the Government, which may have to give provide operators an additional subsidy. A change to future franchise agreements could force companies to run Boxing Day services, but the Department for Transport said it had no plans to alter existing agreements.