UK government urges rail companies to address overcrowding

The UK government is urging rail companies to efficiently address the issue of overcrowding during peak hours.

Norman Baker, the UK rail minister, is writing to the major train operating companies asking them to be more transparent about overcrowded trains and to encourage passengers to travel at less busy times, The Guardian reports.

The move comes after the government faced criticism earlier this month when it announced that rail fares in England would increase by an average of 4.1 percent in January next year.

According to data from the Department for Transport, passengers on some morning and evening peak services were travelling on trains that are carrying 60 percent more people than they were designed for. Consumer groups have also voiced concerns that commuters were being pushed to the limit by an unacceptable combination of overcrowded trains and rising ticket prices.

Citing the case of London Midland, Baker is now urging train companies to highlight crowded trains on their timetables, enabling passengers to choose alternative services during peak hours. London Midland, which runs trains between London and Birmingham and the north-west, appropriately colour-codes trains using a red, amber and green ‘traffic light’ system.

‘Publication of train-by-train crowding information is, in the short term, an important tool for allowing passengers to make informed choices about which trains to travel on, and convincing those passengers who can change their travel patterns to do so,’ Baker said, adding: ‘The innovative approach taken by London Midland is helping to smooth the peaks in demand for their services and is making the most of the investment going into rail services in their area. I am keen to see the rail industry working together to follow London Midland’s example.’

Baker also said that the government has ruled out fare increases at peak times. ‘We have ruled out making further increases to fares at the very busiest times and we are investing record amounts in improvements to the network, but where it is simply not possible to increase services, encouraging passengers to change their travel patterns is the best way to tackle a crowded network,’ Baker remarked.


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.