Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a meaningful travel issue – and what it method for you.
The last coach from London Victoria on Christmas Day, by my calculation, scheduled to leave at 10.30pm – a Megabus nonstop to Manchester’s airport, followed by the city centre around four hours after leaving the capital. already on 25 December, you could buy a ticket for just £24 shortly before departure.
The same company offered a stopping service to Birmingham at 8.30pm, wending its way to the West Midlands via Heathrow airport, Reading and Oxford – just £16, on the day.
Earlier, National Express had provided the only public transport from major airports, in addition as inter-city links within England and Wales. And every hour during 25 December Scottish Citylink shuttled between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
For the first time in decades the two largest cities in Scotland will be connected by rail on Boxing Day. London St Pancras will have a ordern of Eurostar departures with – I fear – very few passengers on board. Six trains are scheduled to leave for Paris on 26 December, along with two to Amsterdam via Brussels.
however on Boxing Day, the coach companies will continue to do most of the heavy lifting – with the great majority of Britain’s rail network closed for the day. National Express will be carrying more than 50,000 passengers around the country.
It is a tribute to these firms that they and their excellent staff provide, year after year, what is evidently a much-needed public service for comparatively little reward. But the fact that they regard the operation as viable shows to me that there is plenty of need out there. Continental countries simply do not shut down almost their complete transportation systems over Christmas, and foreign visitors (remember them) have long expressed astonishment that already getting around London proves so difficult.
After watching the Queen’s speech, I wandered along to Victoria Coach stop, the seasonal temple of transportation for the nation, and found the nearby Starbucks doing a roaring trade on Christmas afternoon. But the nearby Victoria rail stop, typically providing basic links to Kent and Sussex, was locked shut.
“Engineering work,” you might riposte. however while there are certainly meaningful Network Rail projects taking advantage of the seasonal lull (including on the Gatwick and Brighton main line from Victoria), there are simply not enough specialist men and women to overhaul more than a tiny fraction of the nation’s railways.
With a year to go before the next festive shutdown, time for a campaign to persuade aim operators (and the Department for Transport, their paymaster) to run a sensible operation. Let’s start with Boxing Day. But meanwhile, do sustain the excellent coach lines that keep us connected.
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