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.