Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Strategic Rail Authority (OPT 17)



  1.  The purpose of this paper is to assist the Committee in its inquiry into "Overcrowding on Public Transport", announced by Press Notice 04/2002-03 on 27 November 2002.

  2.  The statutory purposes of the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) are set out in the Transport Act 2000 and are:

    —  To promote the use of the railway network for the carriage of passengers and goods;

    —  To secure the development of the railway network; and

    —  To contribute to the development of an integrated system of transport of passengers and goods.

  3.  The SRA's Directions and Guidance from the Secretary of State set as the primary objectives of the SRA the achievement of the key targets in the Government's Ten Year Plan for Transport, including:

    —  To reduce overcrowding in London to meet the SRA's standards by 2010.

  4.  The Directions and Guidance also require the SRA to explain, in its overall strategy, how it proposes to deliver the Government's objectives and, in particular, to identify the franchises where capacity and/or overcrowding problems are most acute, and the quantified capacity increases required to deliver the Ten Year Plan targets.

  5.  The SRA is under a duty to work within the resources allocated to it and to secure value for money from its expenditure.

  6.  The SRA's initial Strategic Plan, published in January 2002, assumed for costing purposes no change to existing policies on fares, capacity utilisation and overcrowding. However, the Plan envisaged the need for review in these areas and consultation exercises have since been launched on fares and capacity utilisation. Overcrowding standards—which currently reflect British Rail practice from the 1980s—will be reviewed in terms of scope (which Train Operating Companies they apply to) and of definition (to ensure this best reflects the impact of overcrowding). This will feed into our Capacity Utilisation Strategy.


  7.  Overcrowding needs to be defined in relation to the nature of the service provided. On many local train journeys, during peak periods, standing for up to 20 minutes is generally acceptable. On longer distance services passengers reasonably expect to get a seat.

  8.  Overcrowding is most concentrated during the daily commuting peaks and during holiday periods on long distance services. For the commuting peak most people have similar working hours and it follows that the majority of many Train Operating Companies' (TOCs) passengers are travelling to and from work, and, as most people have similar working hours, it follows that most people want to travel at the same time. Because of this, more trains are needed during the peak than off-peak.

  9.  Long distance services can manage overcrowding through seat reservation, as is done on airlines and coaches. There is however, passenger resistance to compulsory reservation as well as an understandable desire to retain a "walk-up" service.

  10.  There are currently three methods by which the SRA manages overcrowding:

    (i)   General provision in the Franchise Agreement (FA), requiring the operator to use reasonable endeavours to provide sufficient capacity. This applies to all services (including summer holiday traffic or special events) except where a specific capacity requirement has been made.

    (ii)   A specific provision in the Passenger Service Requirement (PSR); eg, "One service shall arrive in Carlisle between 08:00 and 09:00 weekdays, and shall provide at least 100 standard seats". This can be worded to specify an individual train or a time band (as in this example).

    (iii)   Through the PIXC process. This process compares proposed train plans with usage, and stipulates a maximum level of crowding. This is used by the SRA for the ten London commuter TOCs[3] and also for services across the Forth Bridge into Edinburgh. Passenger Transport Executives (PTEs) also operate similar regimes around other cities. The use of PIXC will be reviewed as more and better passenger count data becomes available and the SRA moves to a more proactive approach to service level planning and development through the new franchising policy announced on 6 November.

  11.  PIXC is the basis of the overcrowding standards to which the objective in the SRA's Directions and Guidance applies. It is therefore explained in some detail later in this paper.

  12.  However, PIXC is a management tool. Where the costs fall on the SRA, we appraise options for reducing overcrowding against our Planning Criteria. A Business Case for mitigating overcrowding is required. In addition, the SRA routinely appraises the benefits of reducing overcrowding when assessing infrastructure and service enhancements.


  13.  Better use of existing capacity would relieve overcrowding on the network, for example by allowing longer trains to be specified in areas of high demand. On 5 September 2002 the SRA launched a consultation on Capacity Utilisation Policy (CUP) to explore the views of passenger groups, the industry, local authorities and other key stakeholders on how to make the best use of the existing network. This has been prompted by the success of the railway in attracting more business since privatisation. Passenger volume is up over 30%, freight volume 48%; and 21% more train kilometres are being operated. The review will lead to more punctual trains and improved operational performance m the short to medium term as well as facilitating further growth. The broad aims are:

    —  To formulate clear strategies for capacity utilisation which will specify the best use of existing network capacity to meet customer needs—balancing service provision, maintenance access and performance levels—and taking into account anticipated changes in demand. They will provide the link between Government objectives and the use of network capacity.

    —  To lead the rail industry in a process to develop these strategies.

    —  To help identify where investment is most needed.

  14.  The consultation period ended 29 November. The SRA has analysed the responses and is about to publish its Statement of Principles ie. the set of principles and criteria that will lead to best practice in capacity utilisation. Next Steps will be the National Network Utilisation Strategy which will provide a statement of capacity for long distance passenger and freight trains. Then a series of Route Utilisation Strategies will be prepared to work up forward plans for key routes.


  15.  Following a positive response to its consultation on combining rail franchises, the SRA is proceeding with the objective of having a single franchisee at most major London termini. This will facilitate optimum use of capacity, improve recovery from service disruption and provide a simplified interface for passengers. In the first instance this will mean a Greater Anglia franchise from Liverpool Street for which bidding will start in the new year, a Greater Western franchise from Paddington, and a new South West franchise encompassing all domestic services into Waterloo. Future work will identify the potential for a similar approach at Kings Cross and Euston.


  16.  Since privatisation, over £3.5 billion of new train orders were placed by 31 March 2002, and some 1,501 new vehicles had been brought into service as at 12 December 2002. All necessary orders to replace Mark I rolling stock were placed this Summer—total orders of 618 cars for Connex South Eastern, 785 for South West Trains and 700 for South Central provide for 400 more cars than stock replaced.


  17.  The Strategic Plan provides for major projects in London and the South East to increase capacity, reduce overcrowding and improve quality of service. The timing of these will be subject to powers being granted where necessary and to budget priorities. The East London Line extensions project consists of northern and southern extensions to link London Underground's existing ELL with the national rail network. It is designed to provide a new cross-London link, this providing congestion relief on radial routes and at central London termini. Thameslink 2000 is designed to deliver 24 trains per hour between St Pancras Midland Road and Blackfriars and provide congestion relief to the London termini and to LUL services. Development work on Crossrail Line 1 (east-west) and Crossrail Line 2 (north east-south west) continues. Options for Line 1 were announced in March 2002. The shortlist is based on a core route running from Paddington to Liverpool Street, Stratford and Canary Wharf. West of London the shortlist includes Heathrow, Reading, Aylesbury and Watford Junction, and to the east lines to Shenfield and Ebbsfleet. Development work on the South London Metro is also continuing to increase service frequency and better integration of national rail services in South London.

  18.  In addition to London projects the Channel Tunnel Rail Link will allow the introduction of fast new domestic services; the remodelling of the Leeds Station area has already allowed GNER to operate an additional eleven services per day between London and Leeds on the East Coast Main Line; and the West Coast Main Line upgrade will increase the number of trains running on the route while reducing journey times. On 9 October 2002 the SRA published its West Coast Strategy consultation document.


  19.  It is for the TOCs and Network Rail to maintain the rail system as a safe and secure means of transport, meeting safety criteria drawn up by Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate (HMRI), a division of the Health and Safety Executive. All rolling stock is designed to run safely even when fully loaded. Passenger loading does not affect a train's stopping performance or its structural strength; doors on trains are also designed to cope with crush loading. There is accordingly no statutory safety limit set by HMRI on the numbers of passengers who can be carried on trains.


  20.  For London (and Forth Bridge) commuter services, franchise operators are required to plan to provide sufficient capacity to keep train loadings in standard class accommodation below specified standards. This allows franchise operators to adjust the amount of capacity they plan to provide in line with variations in demand.

  21.  For journeys of more than 20 minutes the nominal capacity of a train is deemed equal to the number of standard class seats. For journeys of 20 minutes or less it is generally based on:

    —  for slam door stock 110% of the number of standard class seats; and

    —  for most sliding door stock the number of standard class seats plus the number of people who can stand at a density of 0.55 m2 per passenger.

  (If an operator proposes to use rolling stock whose internal layout is radically different from that of existing vehicles, the figure of 0.55 m2 may not be appropriate. In such cases, we will consider what alternative criterion to apply).

  22.  In practice it is not always possible to keep loadings within these capacities:

    —  because loadings vary considerably from day to day and TOCs currently operate a walk-on service with no boarding restrictions; and

    —  because demand within the peak periods peaks strongly at certain times.

  23.  Accordingly, we allow "load factor" standards to be exceeded by a factor known as PIXC (or passengers in excess of capacity).

  24.  PIXC is a measure of the degree to which load factor standards are exceeded in practice. The definition is best illustrated by an example:

train 1 capacity 800 actual load 750passengers in excess 0 (not -50)
train 2 capacity 800actual load 850 passengers in excess 50
both trains capacity 1,600actual load 1,600 passengers in excess 50 (not 0)

  25.  The measure is always used in connection with groups of trains (eg. routes, TOCs, etc) and is normally taken at defined count points. It is then expressed as a percentage (the total number of passengers in excess of capacity on the trains being considered, divided by the total number of passengers on the trains). Thus in the example above, PIXC is 50 divided by 1,600 or 3.1%. Because the morning peak is more concentrated than the evening peak, and because of peaking within the peak, PIXC is not uniform.

  26.  It is conventional to measure PIXC for services operating as planned (ie. no cancellations, minimal delays and all trains formed of the correct stock). This separates issues about the adequacy of the plan from issues about its delivery.

  27.  The maximum acceptable level of PIXC is 3% over the morning and evening peak together, and 4.5% for either peak considered alone. Crowding within the 3% limit may not be unduly concentrated on any routes or services.

  28.  Operators must produce a train plan to show how they will deliver the capacity (number of standard class seats) to accommodate demand for peak services. If the operator fails to meet this plan a charge is made under the franchise agreement. These charges are known as Short Formations Incentive Payments. In the calendar year to October 2002 operators collectively paid £4.4 million in such charges compared with £5.4 million in the same period in 2001.

  29.  As a requirement of franchise agreements, operators collect loading data, at least once a year, for all weekday services arriving in London (or Edinburgh for the Forth Bridge services) between 07:00 and 09:59, and for outbound trains departing central London or Edinburgh between 16:00 and 18:59. The count is normally taken between mid-September and mid-December; this is when fewer passengers are on holiday, and so it is the period of highest steady demand. The PIXC count is taken at the point of highest demand—this may vary with each train; for example some Sussex coast services are busier on arrival at East Croydon, than they are when they arrive at the London terminus.

  30.  Most counts are still taken manually—passengers are counted either as they leave or board a train, or when they are on board. They are taken by third parties authorised by the SRA on behalf of the TOC. The main disadvantage with manual counts is that they are snap-shots of the number of passengers on a particular service, on one day of the year at one point in its journey. This method also has the problem that it is not totally accurate, especially when the trains are overcrowded. And, getting repeat counts using this process is fairly expensive. For these reasons the SRA are keen to see electronic Automatic Passenger Counting (APC) systems used.

  31.  There are three basic Automatic Passenger Counting (APC) systems used in the UK and abroad:

    —  Passenger load weighing system (PLWS)—this in effect weighs each carriage and determines the number of passengers from this. This system is sometimes referred to as PLD (Passenger Load Determination)—a trademark of AEAT.

    —  Infra-red door monitoring—this uses pairs of passive and active infra-red beams to count passengers as they board or alight the train.

    —  Footfall door sensors—these count passengers as they board or alight by using pressure pads in the floor by the doors.

  32.  One load weighing system and several IR-beam systems have been approved by the SRA for providing accurate and secure information for PIXC or other purposes.

  33.  However, the SRA's sole concern is to ensure that any method used is accurate. Each system has its strengths and weaknesses, but they all have advantages over manual counts in that they can provide accurate and continuous monitoring relatively cheaply (once the equipment has been installed). Because several readings will be taken during the count period an average can be arrived at, this smoothes out the results and is statistically more meaningful.

  34.  Currently some TOCs do not have consistent data on passenger flows outside peak periods. The APC systems give them this knowledge which can be used to adjust train diagrams, plan maintenance, and predict effects due to disruption and engineering work (eg to decide how many substitute buses to provide).

  35.  There are strict criteria set by the SRA to ensure that count data is accurate and impartial, using APC systems which, increasingly is being specified with new rolling stock orders.

  36.  Once the count has been completed and verified the TOC estimates loadings for the next year. They use these estimates to design a train plan (usually by modification of the old one) showing stopping patterns and train lengths, that delivers sufficient capacity to stay within the PIXC ceiling.

  37.  If PIXC exceeds the standards set, the SRA may require a feasibility study into measures to restore the limit. There are various ways of alleviating overcrowding-timetable changes; removing First Class carriages; providing discounted tickets in the shoulder peaks. If more capacity (coaches or trains) is needed it can be required at the SRA's discretion and on the basis that the SRA must meet 80%-100% of the cost.

  38.  The latest published results on PIXC levels are at Annex 1. These are based on Autumn 2001 counts.

December 2002

3   c2c; Chiltern; Connex South Eastern; First Great Eastern; Silverlink; South Central; South West Trains; Thames Trains; Thameslink; WAGN Back

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