Time to run trains on Boxing Day

It seems apt in this season of goodwill that for once the forces of labour and capital in the railway industry have agreed on something. It’s just a shame that this consensus had to be in the form of the train operators and the rail unions coming together to prevent anyone letting the train take the strain today.

First, we have the brothers and sisters of ASLEF, who, for the third year running, have decided that they are not getting enough extra money to shake off their hangovers and drive Tube trains on Boxing Day. Hours and hours of talks and the intervention of ACAS, the conciliation service, have yielded nothing but intransigence and an exasperated Underground management. The union is seeking an extra £250 for each of its members to work on December 26, while Howard Collins, London Underground’s chief operating officer, says that the bank holidays are already included in the existing agreement.

As a result, London shoppers will have to use the buses, which are operating normally, and in a way they are fortunate that they will still have access to some form of public transport on this busy day. Indeed, from the experience of previous years, there will be some Tube trains running, too, since not all ASLEF members will come out, and some drivers belong to other unions.

On the national rail network, however, the situation is even worse. With just a few exceptions, such as on the high speed line between St Pancras and Ashford, and services to Gatwick Airport, there will be virtually no services today, in common with previous years.

Yet 30 or 40 years ago, in the days of British Rail, there was almost a full Sunday service on most lines on Boxing Day. Today, the privatised train operators cannot be bothered to provide any trains at all. A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies told The Times last week: ‘Opening on Boxing Day would mean keeping the whole network staffed and running for a fraction of the number of passengers who normally travel, and it would be taxpayers that would pick up much of this cost.’

Oh, so that would be all the shoppers heading for the post-Christmas bargains, the football supporters going to what are usually well-attended fixtures and all those seeking to visit relatives, a Boxing day tradition. None of them would be taking the train, of course. Or just perhaps, as Phil Haigh of Rail magazine put it, ‘There is clearly a demand for travel on Boxing Day – you only have to see the queues in the busy shops and shopping centres. Some of them, like the Metro Centre in Gateshead and Meadowhall in Sheffield, even have their own stations.’

Neither can the Government be absolved of blame for this situation. Ministers could quite easily specify in train operators’ contracts that Boxing Day should be run, even if, as ATOC suggests, there would be a cost to the taxpayer. Yes, that would involve knocking a few union and management heads together, but surely with train travel now so popular, is that too much to ask?

Christian Wolmar’s book on rail privatisation, On the Wrong Line, has recently been made available on Kindle via Amazon, £6.

  • stu227

    Nonsense. Take a day off. Why must the nation work till we drop 364 days a year?

  • Mr Methane!

    Not a well known fact but in the eighties and nineties when BR was supposedly shut down for two days ICI freight trains carrying limestone would continued to run between Tunstead near Buxton, Derbyshire and the ICI factories at Northwich in Cheshire on both Dec25th & Dec 26th. A normal service of three trains out and back continued and there was never any problem finding the staff to drive the trains because the majority of railway staff despite your snipe about hangover at the beginning of this piece actually live for the job, it is a way of life. I suspect these trains are still running and ran yestarday and today though I’m long gone from the land of the Limestone Cowboys so don’t know.

    Do us all a favour and for your next book after the one you are writing spend 5 years working on the railway in the lowly wages grades, doing the shifts, taking the flak and abuse and finding out why to do it properly it is not a job but a way of life. Oh sorry I forgot you want to be mayor of London, you’ve much more important fish to fry than cleaning sick up from the toilet floor or getting abuse from drunks as you try to collect fares from passengers who’ve just got off the last train from downtown without a ticket.

  • John R

    I’m not very sympathetic to the view that the network should run just so that people can get to the sales, as effectively you are then asking a large number of railway staff to give up their boxing day (and presumably stay sober Xmas day evening). just so that others can go shopping.

    However, where I do believe there is a good cause for Boxing Day services is so that those who have to return to work on the 27th can travel home after Xmas. I would think a service that started around lunchtime and provided a limited service would provide a very welcome social service for many people. I wonder how many drive home for Xmas because they cannot return by train due to the Boxing Day closure.

  • Neil S

    Here in North Devon most of the local bus routes have had their normal Sunday service on both Xmas Day *and* Boxing Day.


    Mr Wolmar, your statement about Driving trains with hangovers is a insult and a slur to ASLEF members who execute their role with safety at the forefront, ALWAYS. As a self portrayed railway commentator you really do not know what our role entails at all, turning up for work with a hangover is not something that a professional railway employee would do as there priority is the safety of the travelling public and their colleagues, shame on you for such shoddy journalism, why don’t you apply for a job at the Daily Mail.

  • linyyork

    The increasing bizarre articles from Christian I think are influenced by the even more bizarre
    mutterings of the Managing Editor of Rail magazine for whom he contributes.
    Underground staff in the past have had no problem getting in to work on Boxing Day so I think the slur from Mr Woolmer requires an apology to ASLEF and its members.
    The agreement mentioned dates from 1992 and a large majority of staff at the time did not like it and opted to take Severence.
    Contracts were given to staff some of which signed them against the advice of the unions leaving the others with no option.
    To me it is now obvious that the present staff are no longer happy with the agreement and are fully entitled to instruct their trade union get a better deal than normal rate.

  • christianwolmar

    Yes, the joke about hangovers was a bit of journalistic licence – although I do have railway driver friends who have told me stories that suggests they are not all perfect… – but
    there is a more serious point here. I am in favour of renationalising
    the rail network because it makes sense in many ways. However, one
    barrier is the type of confrontational trade unionism we have in
    Britain. Every time we get a rather trivial dispute like this one or the
    RMT sabre rattles about stopping trains in the run up to the holiday
    period, the chance of getting Labour to accept that taking back the
    franchises in house is a good idea becomes more remote.

    I am
    both a trade unionist and have worked most of my life in an industry
    that does work on holidays – perhaps not cleaning toilets, but
    nevertheless at times working difficult hours. Tube train drivers are
    pretty well paid and it should not be impossible to work out a
    compromise with TfL that ensures services are maintained on Boxing Day,
    an important travel day for many people.

  • Mr Methane

    I think its worth mentioning that the days of railways running on best bitter ended 20 years ago shortly after the 1992 transport & works act became law. I can recount many tales from an age prior to that act but afterwards a culture of zero tolerance & strict monitoring of drink & drugs has been in place. This isn’t unusual to just the rail industry, if you go back in time to the 1970’s / 80s when drink in many different workplaces was conveniently ignored including those legendary newspaper tales of drunken 747 pilots !! ( I seem to recal that the airline industry was slower at introducing legislation written into law than the uk rail industry )

    I do remember that in the 1980s the ASLEF journal carried a campaign fronted by Ray Buckton calling for BRB to recognise the dangers of drink in the workplace. Basically if I remember the narrative correctly, he was worried that a lot of his members still drank like they were firing a steam loco from Crewe to Perth and needed some help to kick the addiction – remember in this age steel & foundry workers also drank a liquid lunch for similar reasons of dehydration / energy – anyway those days are long gone as are almost all the men – with a handful of exceptions – who started their rly carreer on steam.

    The days of rlys and alcohol, a culture where the existance of a staff pub called the Griffin beyond the buffer stops in the bowels of Euston station was acceptable are long gone by almost a quarter of a century. For the continued good and prosperity of the industry and the people who work in it we should all remember that and emphasise this publicly and not – inc in the pages of the times newspaper – elude to times, practices and cultures long gone as if they are taking place now.

    Merry Christmas, Peace & Goodwill to all, Happy New Year.

  • Immobile

    Let’s get this clear. No one except the bonkers ones work 364 days per year. Every 24/7 job has shifts and work rosters and there are normally plenty of volunteers for apparently unpopular shifts. The problem is that a union imposes a one-size fits all mentality on its members, rather than respecting their individuality and allowing those who want to to work to do so. Many of your commenters probably go shopping on Boxing day and never give a thought to how much getting-to-work trouble they are giving those who serve them. But shop assistants aren’t REAL workers are they ?

  • Tony

    @ John R – there is the view that the railways are supposed to be supplying a service, and if your customers wish to travel on Boxing Day, then you should supply that service. (I know customer service is a very old-fashioned idea, but bear with me). However, if your viewpoint is correct, then perhaps you might reasonably extend it to the workforce in the big retail stores. Why should they have to work, just “so that people can go shopping? Actually I’m all in favour of the traditional Sunday for that very reason, but of course this too is another very old-fashioned idea. So if the railway staff have Boxing Day off…then why not the retail staff too? Just a thought.
    NB I also have railway experience, and have worked unsocial hours, including Sundays and rest days. Actually I was glad to have the money, but then I was young and single, so maybe that is mitigation?

  • owen

    It might be a insult but a 100 percent correct I live in London and I’m sick of the strikes and sit . They drive a train which in all purposes isn’t like driving a bus . You press a button or pull a leaver . And always they want more money . Now take it like this say you have family in hospital and you’d like to see them boxing day but you can’t cos some jack as wants more money. I’m sorry but yet again this proves that the society we live in is all about greed and that’s it .