Memorandum by RMT (OPT 13)
OVERCROWDING ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT
RMT welcome the opportunity to make some brief
comments on the investigation into overcrowding on public transport.
We shall confine our comments to the mainline railway.
Overcrowding on the railway network is an increasing
problem. There are a number of safety concerns that we wish to
raise with the committee. Indeed the implications for health and
safety do not just effect our members who have to deal with the
practical difficulties, but also the well being and safety of
passengers. In addition when considering the difficulties of overcrowding
we need to consider not just the level of services offered by
train operating companies, but also other constraints. In particular
many stations simply do not have the capacity to handle increasing
numbers of passengers.
RMT fully accept that the difficulties of overcrowding
will not be overcome overnight. Ultimately only sustained high
levels of investment will deliver increased capacity on the railway.
Until the increased capacity comes on stream it seems inevitable
that there will be some measure of overcrowding. Indeed figures
provided by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) advise us that
services are already overcrowded, especially on routes serving
London terminals. However we must advise the committee that we
are now very concerned at the implications of a possible cut in
funding by the SRA. We believe that this will result in some operators
cutting services and therefore increasing the problem of overcrowding.
The RMT sees all overcrowding first and foremost
as a health and safety problem. This applies to both railway staff
and the passengers. Many of our members now dread coming to work
where they have to face a constant outpouring of complaints and
verbal abuse from disgruntled passengers. The number of physical
assaults on staff is also increasing. Traincrews who face the
same problems can also encounter considerable difficulties if
they are required to go through the train in an emergency, or
to gain access to any on-board equipment. There have even been
instances where the police have had to be called to persuade some
passengers to leave the train just so the driver can gain access
to the cab.
For the passengers themselves, it is equally
accepted that overcrowding is not just a discomfort issue. It
has certainly on occasions led to health problems due to consequential
high temperatures and lack of adequate ventilation, particularly
on long journeys or if the train has been extensively delayed.
It can also impede escape in the event of a fire for example.
In addition, many trains are not equipped to cope with standing
passengers. Many trains have nothing for the passengers to hold
on to, and it may only be the crush of other people that helps
them stay on their feet. Overcrowding is also spilling over on
to more stations, some of which are less able to cope with the
RMT have stated that only the delivery of sustained
investment year on year can deliver the required level of increased
capacity. The SRA could consider some temporary relief measures.
For example train operating companies could be asked to consider
changes to train-stopping patterns but this will not seriously
tackle overcrowding and inevitably certain passengers will be
disadvantaged by changes to services.
In the recent consultation carried out by the
SRA the Authority outlined possible proposals to cut overcrowding
on some services by enabling train passenger operators to alter
the fare structure. The union rejects the idea of pricing passengers
off services by enabling railway companies to increase fares through
the loosening of the current regulations that protect passengers
from substantial fare increases over and above inflation. This
will be a good profit making exercise for train operating companies
but will provide no long-term solution to the problems of overcrowding.
Indeed railway ridership is closely linked to levels of employment
and for the vast majority of passengers there is limited opportunities
to alter the times they travel to and from work. Any loss of customers
will clearly be detrimental to the Governments wider social and
environmental objectives for increasing the use of public transport
and tackling road congestion.
The union would also caution against the introduction
of compulsory booking for tickets. One of rail's greatest attractions,
as compared with other transport modes such as air travel, is
the ability to turn up and go. The reality is that these types
of actions merely act as a deterrent against travelling by rail,
and in that sense are no better than the discouraging effect of
RMT is in no doubt that what is clearly needed
over the long term is high levels of investment in order to create
greater capacity on our railways. The infrastructure needs to
be expanded in places to relieve bottlenecks, which in turn should
then allow more trains to be run. Earlier we mentioned that the
capacity of many stations would need to be given serious consideration.
Where train services become increasingly overcrowded many railway
stations will simply not be able to cope with increased numbers
of passengers. In many instances there is also a lack of staff
available to assist in managing potential safety problems at stations.
It is possible that station platforms could
be extended to provide for longer trains. However on some services
there is no bar to running longer trains except for the fact that
there is an insufficient number of available carriages. Whilst
some of the shortage of available carriages is historical in its
origins, it has been perpetuated and even intensified within some
new build programmes.
The services run by Virgin Cross Country are
a good example of this problem being exacerbated by train operating
companies. Since the replacement of seven car trains with four/five
car DMUs overcrowding is commonplace on many Virgin Cross Country
services. Although the company have said this has partly arisen
as a result of a 40% increase in passenger numbers, they are still
only looking to develop a business case to increase the number
of carriages on each train to five. If current growth continues,
the additional capacity provided by the extra coach will not reduce
overcrowding by the time of actual delivery. Clearly the train
operator is primarily concerned with the cost of the additional
car units as opposed to the safety and comfort of its passengers.
Overcrowding on these services has been made
worse by the fact that spare train paths that could have been
used for timetable recovery are no longer available. Passenger
operators only purchase the minimum number of train paths that
are necessary to run timetabled services. It is evident that the
competition and cost cutting of the privatised railway is affecting
services. RMT have welcomed the recent moves by the SRA to reintegrate
certain passenger franchises but ultimately the problems outlined
above can only be effectively tackled on a strategic basis by
the reduction and eventual removal of operators who will always
place commercial considerations in front of the needs of the travelling
The reduction in services by train operating
companies will no doubt assist certain operators in resolving
punctuality problems and associated fines. However this merely
underlines the perverse incentives of the privatised railway and
will of course do nothing to ease the problem of overcrowding.
As stated, what is needed is expansion not contraction.
However the recent reports of passenger operators being asked
to prepare proposals on the basis of a 10% or 20% cut in funding
are alarming. It is our view that if this becomes reality cuts
on this scale will inevitably impact on services.
Obviously we are also concerned that staffing
reductions will inevitably follow. At the current time around
two thirds of expenditure goes on track access charges and train
rentals. Therefore if significant cost savings were to be found
relatively quickly the number of people employed would have to
be reduced. Staffing levels on the railway have already been cut
to the bone and there is little opportunity to reduce staff numbers
without impacting upon service provision.
We are also aware that many of the contractual
train leasing costs incurred by operators are due to expire in
2004. The union is concerned that this might provide a golden
opportunity for certain passenger operators to reduce fleet sizes
by cutting back on service frequencies and train lengths. This
is clearly something that the SRA must not allow. Instead as far
as reasonably practical within existing capacity constraints the
SRA must explore various means to ensure that the franchise conditions
include sufficient commitments to provide for the expansion of
services sufficient to meet foreseeable demand.
We advised earlier that the union sees the problem
of overcrowding primarily as a health and safety issue. As such,
we believe there should be legally enforceable risk based loading
limits for each class of rolling stock, as there is with buses.
However it is important to recognise that compliance will need
to be on the basis of reasonable practicability. This already
applies to other areas of health and safety legislation. Otherwise
impossible responsibilities are placed upon train and station
staff who have to try and enforce these limits. These problems
will inevitably be exacerbated by any further reductions in staffing
levels on trains or at stations.
In conclusion we would reiterate that RMT have
increasing concerns relating to overcrowding on the network. Only
in the long term will this be solved by sustained levels of investment.
However the current fragmented structure of the railway gives
rise to commercial considerations that impact quite clearly on
the levels of overcrowding on the railway network. These issues
therefore cannot be entirely divorced from the committee's consideration.
In the short term we also ask that safeguards be put in place
to ensure that cuts in funding do not impact upon the frequency
of services. As we have stated it is possible that train operators
could reduce fleet sizes in 2004 when train leasing costs are
due for renewal. This will undoubtedly increase the problems of