/ Travel & Leisure

Train overcrowding isn’t set to get better

Crowd at top of station escalator

Overcrowding on our trains doesn’t look like it’s going to improve anytime soon. In fact, it’s going to get worse with some rail companies having to resort to penning us in like cattle.

Train ticket fares are on the up and peak times are extending, but what are we getting for this extra spend?

Even more overcrowding on Britain’s railways, according to the Public Accounts Committee in a report that isn’t pretty reading for passengers.

The report concludes that obligations should be imposed on rail franchises to avoid overcrowding, since only one of England’s 15 rail franchises is currently required to meet demand without excessive overcrowding.

It says the current measures of buying extra carriages and lengthening platforms (many of these have already been delayed or cancelled) can’t work forever – and that the Department for Transport should come up with other ideas to ease the crush.

Sadly the report also concludes that the Department’s actual knowledge of how and when many people use of the rail network is a bit sketchy. So it hasn’t got a good basis for decision-making. How confidence-inspiring.

We’re not cattle and trains aren’t sandwiches

Even if the Department did know what to do, these will be longer-term measures that won’t immediately help commuters at stations like Euston, where Virgin has introduced rather demeaning pens to keep order at rush hour.

Trains aren’t like sandwiches – if there’s more demand, you can’t just supply more. There’s a limit to how many trains you can fit on a track in an hour. But surely there have got to be some better ideas on dealing with this than just piling more people onto trains, all paying increasingly more above inflation for their tickets?

What other business doesn’t welcome more customers? There are always growing pains, but the rail industry’s response often seems to be pricing demand off peak trains. But that’s not satisfying demand, it’s diverting it. And telling passengers it’s their fault for wanting to travel at peak time can’t be the only answer.

How can we solve overcrowding?

What’s the solution? The report talks about passenger counting equipment as standard, something some rail companies already have. But that would only be installed on new trains.

What there does need to be is more incentive for the rail industry to provide extra capacity – otherwise we’ll continue to fork out more for fares, with overcrowding only getting worse. Passenger numbers have already risen by about 40% in the past 10 years, and that’s expected to double over the next couple of decades.

Are we doomed to be packed in trains forever? Well there’s a ‘value for money’ review coming up very soon, so hopefully there’s room in there for passengers to get the rail service they pay for without having to sit on each other’s laps.


Part of the problem is that the train operating companies don’t actually own their rolling stock, they lease it from other companies at considerable cost. This actually discourages them from putting extra carriages on trains, if they owned the stock themselves the reverse would be true.

I can’t think of any other solution to this problem that wouldn’t require a massive investment in infrastructure and take years to implement.

Simon says:
25 November 2010

Agree with the previous posting, there is little incentive to encourage creative thinking in this respect e.g. perhaps one could make counter-commuter routes more attractive price-wise to encourage commuters to fill those trains and alter work practices.

We only need a nasty crash where passengers are penned in due to overcrowding to make government and train operators have to sit up and take stock (tragically at the expense of lives I am sure). It amazes me that the Health & Safety Exec choose to simply ignore this flagrant dismissal of such a serious issue.

I commute regularly from Reading into and out of London and further west to Swindon – another major concern is that if trains become ever more crowded, how on earth are the toilets (which rarely work and are generally filled with foul sewage at the best of times) going to cope with the increased demand!?

The biggest part of the problem is that the lines are being shared amongst several different companies, none of whom have any interest in helping out their rivals. One way to sort this out would be to nationalise the railways again, but since that’s not going to happen under this lot or New Labour how’s about creating a new overlord, Oftrains, to tell who to run what, where?

I thought not. Better get used to it then. We’re screwed.

W.S.Becket says:
11 May 2011

What you say about trains not being like sandwiches is, with great respect, eyewash. When BR and its predecessors ran the system, the people in charge at station level were obliged to add additional coaches when an unexpected rush of passengers suddenly arrived.
Many a time I had to shuffle my stock of vehicles in order to cope – and that was when most trains ran with ten to fifteen coaches!
Today, with only a fraction of the passenger traffic we had to deal with, the railways seem to take a pride in making passengers feel miserable.