(a) Traditionally on the London commuter
network trains were operated at their maximum possible length
throughout the rush hour, eg from 0600-0900 and 1600-1900. This
meant that some trains loaded well below their capacity. However
it also meant that passengers had a realistic choice between comfort
and time of travel. If a passenger particularly valued getting
a seat, then by travelling (say) half an hour earlier or later
they could have one. Unfortunately, at least from the passengers'
viewpoint, the Monopolies Commission report (1980) into BR's London
and South East operation strongly criticised this practice and
said that train lengths should be tailored to demand.
(b) Accordingly, BR changed its policy.
The upshot, to give an example, was that where all south-eastern
suburban trains into Charing Cross and Cannon Street had been
10 cars, many were reduced to eight or six, and many trains from
the same area into Victoria and Blackfriars were reduced from
eight to six or even four cars. The stock thus released enabled
a cascade around the system and a lot of old stock was withdrawn
(c) Today's passengers are now reaping the
fruits of this policy. With demand having increased, not only
are the full length trains operating at the height of the peak
overcrowded, but so are the shorter trains running earlier and
later. The infrastructure is there for these trains to be lengthened.
The rolling stock is not, but it could be quite soon because new
stock now being delivered for outer area services could release
older stock for peak period use on less heavily loaded suburban
trains. Thus, for example eight cars of older stock could replace
a four car train of modern stock, which in turn would enable a
six car train to be lengthened to 10 cars.
(d) Extending the life of old rolling stock
and using it for limited daily mileage is a well established way
of quickly meeting rising demand, but in this case it is not possible
because the stock concerned is Mk 1, which by legislative decree
must be withdrawn from service by the end of 2002 or be expensively
fitted with "cup and cone" equipment (which would only
be effective if it collided with another Mk 1 trainwhereas
the chance of a collision with anything will be reduced by TPWS)
but still be withdrawn by the end of 2004. Never before (at least
within living memory) have trains which would be physically capable
of further service been subject to compulsory withdrawal.
(e) It is legitimate to ask which option
an informed public would prefer; a small safety enhancement of
an already safe system, or a quick improvement in the comfort
of their daily journeys to work?