On Christmas Day, the land falls silent as the trains, tubes and buses largely shut-down for a well-earned break. However, when the railways were younger, the motor car didn’t exist, and the Christmas holidays lasted just one day, trains were commonplace on Christmas Day itself.
The notion of the country shutting down, is an oddly modern phenomena, and in our modern frantic lives, a very welcome one.
For example, December 1862:
South Eastern Railway ran a Sunday service, as did the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, with the addition of a fast service at 7am from London to Brighton.
The Great Northern Railway not only ran a Sunday service, but return tickets sold from the 20th Dec could be used on any day for the return trip up to the 27th Dec.
The London and North-Western ran a Sunday service, with extra trains in the morning from Euston. Likewise, the South-Western Railway had additional trains departing from Waterloo in the morning.
By 1901, the newspapers were reporting that railway companies would keep ticket halls open late on Christmas Eve so people could buy advance tickets, which may suggest that the rot had started, as trains were running Sunday services, but maybe the ticket offices were closed.
Exactly 80 years ago, travel on Christmas Day was such a staple of the railway services that they sold special gift tickets that could be given to relatives who might want to visit you.
London Underground was no exception, and an example can be found in 1941, when it was announced that there would be early workmen’s trains on Christmas Day, with a normal Sunday service for the rest of the day. London’s buses were also out, although services would run down at around 4pm. Trams and trolley cars would work throughout the night, as normal.
When did it all change?
Curbs to Christmas Day services started in the mid 1950s, but in 1961, in an effort to cut losses at British Rail, wide scale cancellations of services on Christmas Day were planned. Mostly on local services as the stations would be shut. Some long distance services between larger towns were retained, but running less often as usual.
A British Rail spokesman told The Times that it would be no real hardship as extra services would run on the 24th and 26th instead.
The other people to lose out though were also the railway staff who had pocketed a handsome bonus for Christmas Day working. But not any more.
Over the next few years, Christmas Day services dwindled, and by 1965, the now regular routine of the railway shut-down on Christmas Day was nearly complete.
In fact, in 1965, not only were there hardly any trains on Christmas Day, but the now traditional reduced service was also in effect on Boxing Day.
However, the London Underground was bucking the trend, and still running tube trains and buses on Christmas Day — although understandably, with a less intensive service than usual.
Scotland was also a slight exception, holding on to Christmas Day trains for about a decade longer.
By 1979, the only trains running on Christmas Day was a local service in Glasgow. The rest of the country was shut for the day.
And that was the last time that trains ran on Christmas Day — in 1981, trains also closed on Boxing Day as well, although that was a short lived aberration, and we usually have a Sunday style service on the day people rush to go bargain hunting in the shops.
But of course, the passengers loss is the engineers gain, as passenger trains wont run, but plenty of engineering and freight trains will be running on Christmas Day, as the railways take the opportunity to undertake major engineering works that couldn’t be done on any other day.