Over­crowded trains are our most press­ing prob­lem

Rail (UK) - - Open Ac­cess / Let­ters - Steve Rob­bins, Lut­ter­worth

I re­cently had the lux­ury of spend­ing a week trav­el­ling our rail­ways us­ing a seven-day All Line Rover, com­plet­ing many of the jour­neys I had al­ways in­tended to make but never quite got round to (Set­tle-Carlisle, Kyle of Lochalsh, Cam­brian Coast/ Fes­tin­iog/North Wales, to name a few).

Dur­ing the course of my week I was able to see, in a fresh light, the cur­rent state of our rail net­work.

Firstly, of all the trains on which I planned to travel, only one was se­ri­ously dis­rupted - a train from In­ver­ness to Ed­in­burgh was can­celled. But the ScotRail staff at In­ver­ness are to be com­mended for do­ing an ex­cel­lent job, en­sur­ing that con­nec­tions for Ed­in­burgh would be held for those now tak­ing the later Glasgow train, and dis­tribut­ing re­fresh­ment vouch­ers to pas­sen­gers.

It seems to me that the most press­ing prob­lem fac­ing the net­work to­day is not speed, but ca­pac­ity. Many of the trains on which I trav­elled were full to ca­pac­ity, if not over­crowded, with pas­sen­gers stand­ing.

A par­tic­u­larly bad ex­am­ple of over­crowd­ing was an Ar­riva Trains Wales train from Birm­ing­ham In­ter­na­tional to Porth­madog. So many peo­ple were crammed into the two coaches on­wards from Machyn­l­leth that at the nu­mer­ous halts along the coast, it was nec­es­sary to de­train sig­nif­i­cant num­bers just so that peo­ple could get off the train - in­evitably, this led to time be­ing steadily lost.

All credit to the guard, who per­formed ad­mirably in the cir­cum­stances and made sure that no one should be left be­hind to wait two hours for the next train.

Dis­cussing this with other pas­sen­gers, they were sur­pris­ingly ob­jec­tive: they didn’t want more trains; they didn’t even want faster trains; they just wanted the ones that do run to have suf­fi­cient ca­pac­ity to cater for the traf­fic on of­fer.

Another ex­am­ple was a ScotRail ser­vice from Ed­in­burgh to Aviemore. The train was se­ri­ously over­crowded, and a jour­ney of nearly three hours is re­ally too long to sit perched upon a case in a cor­ri­dor.

Surely find­ing a way in which train ca­pac­ity can sim­ply be aug­mented or re­duced by the ad­di­tion of a coach or two in shouldn’t be too tech­ni­cally de­mand­ing, es­pe­cially for a train in which all coaches are pow­ered?

A mod­est in­vest­ment in plat­form length­en­ing might also be nec­es­sary (although I am sure most of those pas­sen­gers stand­ing would have been agree­able to mov­ing along to the front or rear of the train to get off, as a rea­son­able ex­change for hav­ing a seat).

While there may well be a case for new or re­place­ment lines to places not cur­rently en­joy­ing a good ser­vice be­cause of se­vere in­fra­struc­ture lim­i­ta­tions, more mod­est im­prove­ments to im­prove over­all ca­pac­ity and ser­vice qual­ity would surely be more cost-ef­fec­tive than any num­ber of new or re­place­ment high-speed lines.

I sus­pect that pol­i­tics and ca­reer as­pi­ra­tions play their part - there are more brownie points to be gained in build­ing a new rail­way line (jus­ti­fy­ing it by ar­gu­ing that the cur­rent net­work’s ca­pac­ity or speed can­not be fur­ther im­proved) than steadily work­ing to im­prove what we al­ready have, util­is­ing newer tech­nolo­gies which are con­stantly emerg­ing to best ad­van­tage.


ScotRail 170428 nears Dal­whin­nie on March 3 2017, head­ing south for Ed­in­burgh. On his rail trip around the UK Steve Rob­bins found SR’s Ed­in­burgh‘s ser­vice on the line to be se­ri­ously over­crowded.

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