Why your train is packed and uncomfortable

Sarah Coles
Rear View of a Blonde Woman Trying to Board a Crowded Train
Rear View of a Blonde Woman Trying to Board a Crowded Train

If you've ever wondered why you can never get a seat on the train, and why it seems as though every day your carriage is getting even more packed and unpleasant, then the latest figures may hold the answer. They show that the number of passengers has shot up over the past decade, and services are failing dismally in their efforts to keep pace.

Figures from the Office of Road and Rail show that passenger numbers have increased an incredible 70% since figures were first collected in 2003. In the past year (to March) they hit a record 1.65 billion.

The vast majority of this is concentrated in London and the South East - which saw 1.16 billion of the journeys. This will come as no surprise to anyone who spends the first hour of their morning in some discomfort trying to endure a packed train into the capital.

It means we're travelling by train more than anyone else in Europe, and we're doing so more than in the heyday of the railways in the 1940s.

Expensive and overcrowded
We're paying more for the privilege too. A study at the beginning of this year looked at how rail fares had increased since privitisation in 1995. On the ten most popular routes in the country, they had risen between 141% and 246%.

However, despite the fact they are taking more money from more people, the rail companies still plead a lack of resources. They are struggling with ageing rolling stock - and the fact that each carriage is an average of 19.35 years old - which means they are failing to add enough new carriages to each train in order to make travelling on them less of a feat of endurance.

They're not putting on enough new services to cope with the extra passengers either. The rail operators are running just 1.5 million more passenger services than 15 years ago.

As a result, a survey at the end of last year found that the country's most crowded commuter train (the 7.32 from Woking to Waterloo) carried nearly seven people for every four seats. It meant that on arrival at Waterloo, 1,278 people poured off a train designed to carry just 738. Overall, on all the trains arriving in London during the morning rush hour, one in five people had to stand.

Claire Perry, the transport minister at the time, said train operators needed to tackle crowding, arguing that: "On too many journeys passengers have to stand in cramped conditions. Train operators must act now; they must find new ways to create space on the network and in their trains."

As anyone who stood all the way into work this week will testify, since then, there has been little sign of any improvement.

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