CHRISTMAS 2017 is already a distant memory for many. Before the month of January ebbs away, I am asking Parliament today to reflect for a moment on plans for public transport on Boxing Day 2018.
During the month of December for the last 15 years, I have been drawing attention to the lack of provision as the festive season approaches. This year I thought I would try something different and try and influence planning well in advance.
Indeed, for the first time in nearly 40 years, there is now the realistic prospect of trains running on Boxing Day in God’s Own County.
Why does it matter? Last week the Government appointed a Minister for Loneliness. The 58 hours between 6pm on Christmas Eve and the morning of December 27 is just too long a period to leave people unable to get out and about.
Football, racing and rugby all have packed fixture lists on Boxing Day. In an age when the environment is high on the political agenda, fans need an option other than their cars (if they have one) to get to the match.
The retail sector is complaining of falling Boxing Day sales and could do with a boost. It is fighting the threat of the online sector with one hand tied behind its back if many simply cannot get to the shops. Moreover, a lot of the population have to be back at their workplace early on December 27 and simply cannot come home for Christmas, given the prolonged rail shutdown.
Clearly the demand is there. Since 2007, a bus service has been promoted on Boxing Day by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and its predecessors. Each year it has grown in scope and last year carried nearly 70,000 passengers on the day.
Extra buses have been added between Leeds and Bradford because they were full to capacity. Sheffield, too, has a special bus service on December 26 supported by the City Council.
After the Second World War, a train service operated on Christmas Day itself until the mid-1960s, and as it still does in virtually all European countries. Somehow they seem to manage to schedule their engineering works.
It was in 1980 that the idea of running a Sunday service on Boxing Day was finally abandoned.
A Government minister, with Whitehall’s traditional focus on the South East, commented at the time that it did not matter because the London Underground would still be operational in the capital.
Since that date very limited services have run (often bus replacements) on Boxing Day mainly to Heathrow and Gatwick Airports, and which successive governments have specified in the relevant franchises.
Down the years both front benches in Parliament have blamed each other. In opposition in 2008, Conservative transport spokesman Stephen Hammond complained: “Labour just do not get how important the railway is to people at Christmas time.”
Andy McDonald, the Shadow Transport Secretary, retorted on Boxing Day 2017: “In opposition the Tories attacked the Boxing Day rail shutdown.
“They’ve now had more than seven years to do something about it but a failure to properly manage and maintain our rail network means more delays and fewer services.”
Yet there is now hope of progress and in the North of England itself. For the last three years MerseyRail which has a close relationship with the Liverpool Mayor and local councils has run an experimental service. This year it was even extended into the early evening to accommodate Liverpool fans attending a teatime kick-off at Anfield.
Reports indicate that it was well used and that a sensible agreement has been reached with railway staff working on the day. Potential exists on other lines, including services to and from Manchester Airport. The decision lies with the Department of Transport, but it has a chance to make sure the Northern Powerhouse is powering for one extra day a year.
John Grogan is the Labour MP for Keighley. He is leading a Parliamentary debate today on rail services.