Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Memorandum by the London Borough of Wandsworth (OPT 10)



  The Council has for a number of years been promoting a sustainable transport strategy. A key element of this has been the promotion of public transport services as a viable alternative to the private car. The success of this strategy depends on there being adequate capacity available on public transport and services that are attractive to use. Overcrowding is a major deterrent to achieving this shift.


  It is well known that commuter trains into London are overcrowded. However, perhaps less well known is that local train services appear to be more crowded than longer distance services, and therefore the misery and discomfort for passengers is greater on these services. This is partly due to the fact that local trains are designed for higher densities of occupancy, and also due to guidelines in the railway industry which regard it as acceptable for passengers to stand for up to about 20 minutes on a journey. Such practices tend to favour the longer distance commuter, contrary to the generally accepted wisdom of the need to encourage sustainable travel by reducing the length of journeys.

  Wandsworth is crossed by three mainline railways:

    (1)  Waterloo to Wimbledon/Surbiton/Woking—South Coast & West Country.

    (2)  Waterloo to Richmond/Twickenham/Hounslow—Reading.

    (3)  Victoria to East Croydon/Gatwick Airport—South Coast.

  All these routes carry both mainline and local services, and are apparently running to capacity in the peak hours. Consequently morning peak travellers into London joining trains in this Borough have complained of extreme difficulty boarding, and have on occasions been unsuccessful. There have been reports of having to travel out from London to a station where there is more opportunity to board a train back into London. This has occurred, for example, at Wandsworth Town Station, where commuters have had to travel out to Putney to board trains back into Waterloo. Such detours increase travel times and merely shift the overcrowding problem around between stations.

  Particular difficulties are experienced at interchanges such as Clapham Junction and Balham, where a large number of passengers need to alight, but are hindered in doing so by large numbers trying to board. This results in pushing, shouting and frayed tempers. At Clapham Junction it can only be a matter of time before there is a serious incident, which could be fatal if someone was to fall into the gap between the train and the platform.

  Inside the trains it is often difficult, or even impossible, for passengers to reach the doors to leave the train at intermediate stations, due to the number of standing passengers crowding gang-ways and doorways. The difficulties are particularly intense when some services are operated unexpectedly with four coaches instead of the usual eight, usually with no explanation, or when there have been delays and/or cancellations.

  Overcrowding is particularly frustrating for local travellers as they see long distance trains speeding past with spare capacity. Requests to operators to introduce extra stops on these services seldom meet with success, partly it is argued because this might reduce the capacity of the overall network. Similarly requests for additional services normally meet with the same response. It is understood that proposals by South West Trains (SWT) to increase the number of trains on the Windsor Lines through Putney and Wandsworth Town have been put back by at least another year due to the difficulties with renewing their franchise. Again, proposals by SWT to lengthen local trains and station platforms appear to be in doubt for the same reason and due to shortage of SRA funds.

  The depressing conclusion is that there appears to be no immediate prospect of relief from overcrowding, particularly in view of the SRA's recent exhortations to operators to cut costs.


  As the existing network is seemingly unable to expand to cater for existing demand, the only prospect to relieve overcrowding would appear to be the construction of new infrastructure. Three proposals in particular are eagerly awaited: South London Metro, the extension of the East London Line to Clapham Junction and Crossrail 2.

  South London lacks the high capacity Tube network found in North London, and South London Metro was proposed to address this problem by the relatively inexpensive option (compared to the cost of new Underground Lines) of increasing the frequencies of local train services on existing routes. However, unless funds are committed to improve track and station capacity, it is feared that the project is going to degenerate into just a re-branding exercise for existing train services.

  The East London Line Extensions would increase orbital capacity around South London and take the pressure off radial routes through existing London termini. The route to Clapham Junction would contribute towards an "Orbirail" service around London via the West London Line. However, whilst it is understood that the project is poised to start, it has been delayed by objectors in the Bishopsgate area.

  Crossrail 2 used to be known as the Chelsea-Hackney Line. Whilst it is the most ambitious of the proposals to relieve overcrowding, it has the potential to have the greatest impact on doing so, by providing a completely new route through Central London. It is very frustrating that the project is developing so slowly, with no agreement yet on routes or even a firm timetable for developing the project.

  The lack of urgency in developing these projects merely confirms the impression that there is no immediate prospect of relieving overcrowding on train services.


  Overcrowding at stations is particularly serious at Clapham Junction where large numbers of interchanging passengers mix with substantial flows entering and leaving the station. These difficulties are exacarbated by the narrow main entrance through a shopping mall off St John's Hill, and narrow subways and staircases to platforms. The presence of automatic ticket barriers at the "throat" of the subway creates additional congestion inside the subways, particularly when the barriers malfunction. There are no convenient facilities for passengers with disabilities or heavy luggage. It can only be a matter of time before there is a serious accident in these crowded conditions.

  It is very frustrating that various schemes for station enhancements and improvements have largely come to nothing. The latest proposals from SWT are no exception. The Council has therefore embarked on an "Exemplar" Study" of Clapham Junction to look at ways of improving interchange and relieving overcrowding. As part of this it is proposing to promote with SWT, SRA, and Transport for London (TfL) the re-opening of another entrance onto St John's Hill via Brighton Yard, providing access onto the wide footbridge rather than the congested subways. This access route would cater for those with disabilities, and should be combined with the provision of lifts onto platforms. These works should also be linked to improvements on the northern side of the station, particularly those likely to be required from extending the East London Line. It is currently proposed that funding for the Council and SWT's improvements will be secured via a Rail Passenger Partnership,and discussions are progressing on this basis.


  Overcrowding problems on the Underground are similar to those on the National Rail network, particularly on the District Line to/from Wimbledon. On this route morning peak trains into London are often full before they reach Putney, only half way through their journey into town. In the evening peak it is difficult to board District Line or Northern Line trains back to the Borough from Central London.


  Overcrowding on buses occurs on a smaller scale to that on the railways, despite the fact that London Buses have introduced several new or enhanced routes recently. This is partly due to the rate of passenger growth of approximately 7.5% per annum. London Buses expect patronage to continue to grow, reinforced by the introduction of congestion charging next year, which TfL estimate will result in an increase of 7,000 people travelling by bus into the congestion charging zone in the busiest hour. There is great concern that there will be insufficient capacity in the peak hours to deal with this increase, even allowing for further planned enhancements to services.

  Overcrowding is particularly intense on journeys used by school children. This form of overcrowding can be very unpleasant if the children misbehave, and there are occassions when bus drivers refuse to stop at points where groups of children are waiting. This problem with school children not only makes bus services unreliable, but can be very intimidating to other users. It can only really be resolved by the provision of additional buses for boisterous children and/or supervision of children using existing services.


  As suggested above, overcrowding can be very stressful and intimidating for nervous or disabled travellers. It also causes delays, wasted time and frustration, which leads in turn to friction and anger between passengers. No doubt this affects travellers' health and well-being, and certainly reduces the quality of urban life.

  The Government's objectives of encouraging people out of their cars and concentrating new residential development into existing urban and "brownfield sites" can only intensify these problems of overcrowding. If their objectives are to be realised, some serious investment in public transport in London is required.

December 2002

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