Opinion Former Article

Rail use up but overall travel is down

Overcrowding on railways in England and Wales appears to be getting worse but all other modes of transport are showing a steady decline in use, according to latest Government figures.

Analysis by the Labour party shows that the top 10 most overcrowded peak trains last year were on average at 190% of capacity, an increase of 30% in five years. The most overcrowded services from Sussex into London carry more than twice as many people as the trains are designed to accommodate. Eight out of the top 10 most overcrowded services alight at stations in the capital.

The latest National Travel Survey published last week shows a 56% increase in rail journeys since 2002. But trips made by motorists have fallen by 11% over the same period, with bus patronage down by 23% outside London, cycling trips down by 19% and walking down by 17%.

“Nobody should have to suffer being crammed into dangerously full carriages as part of their daily commute,” said Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald. “At the current rate some of the most vital commuter routes in the country will be appallingly cramped by the end of this Parliament.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said in response: “Rail passenger journeys have more than doubled in the last 20 years. We are committed to improving journeys and we are delivering more trains, more seats and quicker journeys to meet this record demand.

“We know some passengers have not received the service they deserve and we continue to work with the industry to cut journey times and crowding, improve reliability and deliver more frequent services.”

The most overcrowded train last year, according to the Department for Transport, was the 5.40am Uckfield to London Bridge. On one day last spring the two car service was found to have 135 more passengers than its 107 person capacity.

A spokesman for Govia Thameslink Railway, which operates Southern services, said: “The GTR network is one of the busiest and most congested in the country; the ageing infrastructure has suffered from historical under investment, while passenger numbers on the network have doubled in recent years.

“Our franchise was created to address these challenges and the £7.8Bn Thameslink programme is on track to give our passengers the service they deserve.”

Rail Delivery Group managing director of customer experience Jacqueline Starr said: “We understand passengers’ frustration when they can't get a seat which is why rail companies are working together to invest and make journeys better with thousands of new carriages and 6400 extra train services a week by 2021.”

According to the National Travel Survey the average person made 774 trips in 2016 excluding short walks, 13% lower than in 2002. The average total trip distance made was also down by 10% to 10,293km.

Centre for Transport Studies honorary professor David Metz told TP Weekly News: “It is really quite striking that throughout the 20th Century as incomes grew people travelled more, but in the early part of the 21st Century incomes are rather more stagnant and we are making less trips.”

He added that future travel demand will be driven by factors including population growth and if more urban areas increase their densities the trend for growing rail use is likely to continue.

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