Guardian Unlimited: Why can't we have trains at Christmas?
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Why can't we have trains at Christmas?
Thursday December 20 2007
For new arrivals to these shores, Britain presents many learning opportunities. The festive season is no exception. There is no point, for instance, in trying to act on our railway companies' annual exhortations to book early for "Christmas services". Similarly, anybody who foresees "Christmas rail travel" betokening a trip from A to B on a train, is about to discover the "replacement bus service".
Christmas Day service is, in a word, zero. And Boxing Day, next-to-zero. Indeed, so eroded has the timetable become across the whole festive season that Britons now accept this as normal. But why? Can we not have proper railways that carry us around the country seeing (and crucially, fleeing) our loved ones at Christmas?
Lack of public demand is the key reason cited by the Association of Train Operating Companies. "After 1948, Christmas Day train services went into in decline," it says, with passenger numbers falling throughout the 1950s - "one reason being that cars were more accessible". The last passenger train at Christmas ran in 1964. Following that lead, London Underground's last Christmas Day tube was in 1979.
Rail privatisation - put in place between 1993-97 by John Major's Conservative government - has reinforced the closure trend, as commercial operators jettison unprofitable services. Often they attribute their patchy festive timetables to engineering work. Yet across the Channel, trains whiz all over the European Union throughout Christmas: Genoa to Naples, Gdansk to Przemysl, Lisbon to Braga. Spain, France, Hungary, and many more - all miraculously still getting their engineering done.
In Germany, cancellation of a single train on the Yuletide schedule produces national apoplexy. And that may be the main reason Britain has no Christmas trains: the public accepts their absence, our EU neighbours do not.
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