Labour accuses Stephen Hammond of abandoning pledge made in opposition to improve rail services on day after Christmas
Labour has accused the transport minister Stephen Hammond of hypocrisy for abandoning a pledge made in opposition to improve rail services on Boxing Day.
With a long list of trains due to be cancelled because of staff shortages, management inertia or engineering works, and very few lines actually operating, Labour pointed out that in 2008 and 2009, while shadow transport secretary, Hammond accused Labour of not having the “interest of the travelling public at heart” because of a lack of rail services on Boxing Day.
Labour said this year there were almost no Boxing Day rail services across the country – even though Hammond is now a transport minister with the power to do something about it.
Shadow transport minister Lillian Greenwood said: “In opposition Stephen Hammond attacked the Boxing Day rail shutdown, but now that he’s a transport minister it seems he doesn’t care about it after all. He’s in a position to do something about it, but he’s decided not to bother.
In 2008, Hammond told the Independent: “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, 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.”
In 2009, he repeated the attack, saying: “Despite warnings from the Conservatives last year, Labour have done little to make operators and Network Rail wake up to the importance of a functioning railway service during the Christmas break.”
He added that “by allowing the railway to close so completely on Boxing Day Labour are condemning sports fans, and families trying to celebrate the Christmas period together, to misery on our clogged up motorways”.
“Labour just does not get how important the railway is to people at Christmas-time,” said Hammond then.
But Greenwood pointed out that on this fourth Boxing Day since the Conservatives took office, and the second since Hammond was appointed a transport minister, most train operators would be running no service at all and the rest would be running a reduced service.
Hammond was appointed parliamentary undersecretary for transport in September 2012.
The Department for Transport said it was a matter for independent train companies to decide if it was in their commercial interest to run services on Boxing Day.
Some rail companies have argued that payments to staff for working on Boxing Day would make the services uncommercial.