I understand from Network Rail that it plans to enable around 50 per cent. more rail services to run on Boxing day 2009 to reflect changing travel demands, and I welcome this. As my hon. Friend is aware, Boxing day service provision is a matter for the train operating companies and Network Rail, as the owner and operator of the national network.
The almost full level of service on Boxing day in every other EU country means that people can visit family and friends, attend sporting fixtures or go shopping in the sales. When I met Lord Adonis this spring he promised to contact the train operating companies on this matter. Should not the Government take a more active role in promoting a comprehensive Boxing day service in future?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way that he has advocated the development of services on behalf of the public, but I must advise him that his international comparisons suggesting that this country is unusual in providing a relatively low level of service are misleading. Although Boxing day is a public holiday in England and Wales, by and large it is not in many continental European countries. I know that he understands that the seasonal break is an important time for Network Rail to take possession of busy lines to undertake essential maintenance. Although that will mean that there will be no access to destinations such as Manchester international airport this year, there is evidence of growth in travel over the Christmas and new year period, with 23,000 more trains running in 2008 than in 2007.
The Minister gave the House an interesting answer when he said that services had increased by 50 per cent. So that we can understand that figure, will he say to what extent that represents the normal service on any other working day of the year?
To travel on a bank holiday, British citizens need to know the train operators’ timetables, but the data are licensed as the companies’ intellectual property. Does not my hon. Friend think that the timetable data belong to the people, and that we should make them available for free?
Is it not symptomatic of the culture and mindset that persists in the railway industry these days that Boxing day, public holidays and Sundays are somehow not regarded as days on which people travel, as they were 50 years ago? When are we going to get the seven-day railway that Network Rail promised us? Is it not time that, instead of thousands of people being shoved on to bus replacement services, we had guaranteed rail services on Sunday? To give Network Rail an incentive and passengers a chance, should not Network Rail give a third off the ticket price to those who are forced on to buses?
This Government are the first Government to assert the notion of the seven-day railway, and in doing so, we have had constructive dialogue with Network Rail about the scheduling of maintenance works. Of course, one of the challenges we face now is that we are investing more in our railways than ever before to ensure that they are properly maintained. To undertake those works, the railway must be possessed by Network Rail, which will judge the best time to do the work, which is inevitably a Sunday.