Train companies to be fined for overcrowding

Train companies could soon are be fined for overcrowding under plans to force them to provide extra carriages.

The recommendation by Sir Roy McNulty in his report on the rail industry released earlier this month, will be included in a White Paper will be released in the second half of 2011.

With the government looking to offer out longer franchise periods, it is believed that imposing fines to operators that exceed the limits, will encourage them to add more carriages to trains and make travel more comfortable for passengers.

Overcrowding is still a major issue, both on commuter and long distance services. On some services conditions have got so bad that it would be illegal for chickens, goats, calves and sheep under European Union animal welfare legislation, according to figures released by the Department of Transport in 2008.

It has also been revealed that the most severely effected trains are carrying up to 50% more passengers than they were originally intended to.

The 6:12am from Didcot to London was highlighted by the Department of Transport for being the worst service. Figures showed that it carried 643 passengers when it scheduled to carry only 395. Passengers have also been found to be standing for many hours, especially on some of the most popular routes like London to Edinburgh.

With packed trains maximising revenue for the operators and additional carriages adding to their running costs, ministers believe the current system offers no incentive for the companies find a solution to the problem.

However it is also believed that having penalties that force operators to add to their running costs, will lead to them bidding less for franchises in the future, something that is said to alarm the treasury.

An electronic beam that counts people as they board is one method looking to be introduced to moitor the situation. Another is a system that will actually weight the carriages, estimating the amount of people on board.

A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said: “Overcrowding is a big concern for train companies – as private sector operators their business relies on keeping their customers happy.’’

The proposals were welcomed by Ashwin Kumar, rail director of the consumer body Passenger Focus.
“Getting a seat is a top priority for passengers and all the projections say overcrowding is only going to get worse,” he said.