Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Memorandum by Railway Development Society—North East Branch (OPT 12)


  In the time available, it has not proved possible to address this important topic in any detail. However, it is hoped that during the course of its hearings, the Transport Committee will find opportunity to explore the following areas of concern:

  1.  Overcrowding on the railway takes two main forms; too many trains squeezed onto key routes and too many passengers into key trains. Both can be exacerbated by service and infrastructure unreliability.

  2.  Overcrowding from whatever cause diminishes the quality of the rail travel experience and hence works against the key transport objective of achieving modal shift from road to rail. Such transfer is essential for all the well documented reasons of safety, environmental protection and enhancement of the quality of life for individuals and the whole community.

  3.  Overcrowding on the railways is not a phenomenon restricted to commuter trains or to trains in the South East of England; it is suffered on many long distance trains and on commuter trains throughout the country. Railway investment and development policy should reflect this geographical distribution of the overcrowding problem.

  4.  Overcrowding on the road network is called congestion. Road congestion is used to justify major public investment in new and widened roads; overcrowding should attract similar public investment in the rail network.

  5.  Overcrowding on the railway in many cases has resulted from an imbalance between the demand for commercial return, not imposed on the road network, and the need to provide quality travel. As well as the passenger and freight growth targeted in the 10 Year Plan, the restoration of this balance should be a national objective. To aid the resolution of overcrowding problems, the targets should reflect numbers of journeys as well as distance travelled.

  6.  Route overcrowding would often be relieved by the development of alternative or parallel rail routes. Alternative or parallel routes would also reduce the need to revert to road transport when maintenance work demands track possession. Such routes are often already available, or would require only limited route re-opening, but all such routes require re-engineering to mainline standards.

  7.  Train overcrowding in many areas would be relieved by longer and more frequent trains at peak travel periods; both are amenable to resolution by investment in plant and in people. A sustainable future demands balanced investment in both revenue and capital undertakings.

  8.  "More frequent trains" is a policy with many attractions, as the take-up of the new Cross Country services demonstrates. Achieving this increased service frequency by reducing the train length, however, has exacerbated the existing overcrowding on many sections of the Cross Country network; investment in longer trains for many of these services is clearly needed.

  9.  Fares policy has long been used on the railway to manage peak travel demand. It should not be further exploited until road charging is introduced to manage peak traffic flows on the road network. This is but one of the many areas where an integrated approach to transport would pay national dividends.

  10.  Overcrowding in other areas of public transport is equally unacceptable. The common thread is the need to develop the quality and quantity of public transport provision, such that the train, tram or bus become the mode of choice for many journeys currently made by car; only then will it be possible to develop communities in which people will be seen to take precedence.

  The Branch looks forward to reading the results of the inquiry in due course.

December 2002

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