Although rail travel is one of the fastest means of transport, no legislation exists governing the number of passengers that may travel on a service. MICHAEL FERRIER examines statistics on the UK’s most overcrowded trains, and fears that passengers are be
“Train travel is the fastest form of public transport on land, yet it has no restrictions, in law, to the number of passengers that can be carried.”
IT is 2018, and in the UK we are still experiencing overcrowding on trains to a dangerous level. It is the only form of public transport that does not have a legislative limit on the number of passengers that can be carried on it.
There have been many studies over the years regarding train capacity. The timetabling of a service can affect a train’s capacity, which in turn may affect its crowding level. Therefore, in order to ascertain if crowding has occurred on trains, a measurement is made by comparing the Standard Class critical and standard capacity of the service.
A standard capacity will include the number of Standard Class seats on a particular service, and may take into account an allowance for standing passengers. No such allowance is given in relation to a service that takes more than 20 minutes between stations, but is taken into consideration when the journey time between stations is less than 20 minutes. Train crowding calculations exclude First Class.
More than a third of rail passengers arriving into London in the morning rush hour have to stand, according to official figures. From data released by the Department for Transport for 2016, we can see that: ■ The top ten overcrowded services in spring 2016 were between 58% and 126% over their passenger capacity. ■ The top ten overcrowded services in autumn 2016 were between 77% and 113% over their passenger capacity. ■ Eight of the top ten overcrowded services in both spring 2016 and autumn 2016 were arriving at or departing from London stations. ■ Eight of the top ten overcrowded services in spring 2016 and five in autumn 2016 were in the morning peak.
In the 2016 survey, the overcrowding was measured using ‘Passengers in excess of capacity’ (PiXC), figures that show the number of Standard Class passengers who exceed the Standard Class capacity of the train, at the busiest point of the journey to or from the city centre. For example, a train with a capacity of 200, carrying 210 passengers, has a PiXC of 10 and a Load Factor of 105%.
Further examination of DfT data revealed the top five most overcrowded peak trains in major cities in England and Wales during autumn 2016:
Train 1: 0716 East GrinsteadLondon Bridge (Southern)
In previous years, the timing of this service meant that a standing allowance was included in determining the capacity of this train.
However, the journey time to London Bridge from the previous stop has now been extended to slightly more than 20 minutes. This means that only the seating capacity is now taken into account, and all standing passengers on this service are now considered to be ‘in excess of capacity’.
This service operates as a 12-car train and cannot be lengthened further. However, when the government-funded Thameslink Programme has been completed in 2018, more trains will be provided on routes from south of London to central London and beyond. Critical load point (CLP): London Bridge. Time at CLP: 0820. Capacity: 640 (includes seats only). PiXC: 726. Load Factor: 213%.
Train 2: 0755 CambridgeLondon King’s Cross (Great Northern)
This service is currently operated as a four-car train. Once the government-funded Thameslink Programme has been completed in 2018, services from Cambridge will transfer to the Thameslink route and operate as eight-car and 12-car trains. Critical load point: London King’s Cross. Time at CLP: 0902. Capacity: 202 (includes seats only). PiXC: 224. Load Factor: 211%.
Train 3: 1708 Sutton-St Albans City (Thameslink)
When the 2016 counts were carried out, this service was operated as a four-car train. Since then, one of the new Class 700 eight-car trains has started operating this service, which has a significantly higher capacity than the old train. Critical load point: West Hampstead. Time at CLP: 1756. Capacity: 391 (includes seats and standing). PiXC: 367. Load Factor: 194%.
Train 4: 0657 BrightonBedford (Thameslink)
This service operates as a 12-car train and cannot be lengthened further. However, when the government-funded Thameslink Programme has been completed in 2018, more trains will be provided on routes from south of London to central London and beyond. This additional capacity should relieve pressure on many services. Critical load point: London Blackfriars. Time at CLP: 0817. Capacity: 630 (includes seats only). PiXC: 585. Load Factor: 193%.
Train 5: 1600 Manchester Airport-Edinburgh (TransPennine Express)
This service is busiest between Manchester Oxford Road and Wigan North Western.
The train departs Manchester at the beginning of the peak and is considerably faster than alternative stopping services, so is very attractive for commuters as well as longdistance passengers to the Lake District and Scotland.
Because the journey time for this non-stop section is more than 20 minutes, a standing allowance is not taken into account when determining the capacity of the train.
TransPennine Express is investigating how more capacity can be provided into the major cities for the May 2018 timetable change, and when additional trains are available by 2019.
Critical load point: Manchester Oxford Road. Time at CLP: 1619. Capacity: 191 (includes seats only). PiXC: 166.
Load Factor: 187%. Work is ongoing to improve the quality and quantity of passenger count data collected and the outputs derived. While it is believed that aggregate statistics are of reasonable quality, statistics on individual services are not always robust due to the nature of the data.
From the above facts, in relation to the top five overcrowded trains, it can be seen that the overcrowding ranges from 187% to 213% over the load factor of the trains. If that was any other form of public transport, the respective operators would be subject to fines and penalties.
This is not withstanding that train travel is the fastest form of public transport on land, yet it has no restrictions, in law, to the number of passengers that can be carried.
There are arguments that because rail travel is on fixed lines, there is less risk of it being involved in collisions than is the case with road transport. But is it time to face up to this danger? Of course, the obvious answer would be to provide more carriages, irrespective of cost.
Apart from the risk to safety that overcrowding causes, there are also human right factors to consider. In the majority of cases, passengers fill the aisles of the train. Some also have large items of baggage at their feet, making it impossible to pass through the train. Therefore, any passenger wishing to use the toilet facilities might be unable to do so, thereby infringing one of their basic human rights.
Many operators’ response to overcrowding may be that each service has a Train Manager, who has the power to prevent any train leaving a station where he or she believes that such a departure would pose a risk to the safety of anyone travelling on it. There are no statistics available to show whether or not such action has been taken.
An approach was made to Great Western Railway, with a view to interviewing a member of senior management and a Train Manager. The following response was received by email:
“Our onboard staff are highly trained to determine what is safe on board, and are able to use their discretion in making decisions to ensure passenger safety. If they were to feel that a train was not safe to depart, it would not be allowed to do so.
“In regard to wider capacity demands, the Great Western network is undergoing the biggest fleet upgrade in a generation, with new electric commuter trains already in service with more to come, and new Intercity Express Trains having begun operating in October, with more to come throughout the course of the next year. This investment will deliver more seats per train, more frequent services and, with the completion of electrification, faster journeys.”
Despite a further attempt to obtain access to staff for the purpose of an interview, no further replies were received.
It is worth noting that in the event of trains being cancelled, passengers are usually conveyed between stations by a bus service. However, in such cases, the bus driver would be prevented by law to allow overcrowding
Should the Government act now, by passing laws in respect of rail passenger safety and limiting capacities on trains, or wait until there is a rail disaster and be forced to act when it is too late?
Standing room only for passengers on a crowded Southern service into London in September 2016.