Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Memorandum by Capital Transport Campaign (OPT 23)


  Our evidence considers overcrowding on public transport from the perspective of the travelling public, and our concern is with modes of public transport serving people who live or work in the Greater London area.


  On a number of occasions, we have reported on information given to the House of Commons in parliamentary written answers about the extent of overcrowding on the Underground, including the theoretical design capacity of various kinds of Underground carriages and the levels of crowding at peak times on all twelve Underground lines. We summarise our assessment of this information here.

Maximum capacity of Underground rolling stock:

  Hansard 2-2-01, 147896, gave the maximum capacity by rolling stock for each Underground line. According to these figures. a single District line carriage can contain 232 people; this is the largest capacity of any Underground line. Under these circumstances there would be 48 people seated, and 184 standing. The largest proportion of standing passengers at maximum capacity would be reached on the Circle, and the Hammersmith and City Line, with 32 seated passengers and 180 standing passengers. To the best of our knowledge, the Department for Transport uses as its "planning standard"one person standing for each sitting in peak periods. Their top level of crowding, "very crowded", is when there are five or more people standing for every four seated, or 125% or more than planning standard. If a carriage on the Circle or the Hammersmith and City Line were loaded to maximum capacity, the level of crowding would be 563% of the Department of Transport's planning standard.

  The deputy director of the London Transport Users' Committee, publicly expressed some scepticism about the claimed theoretical design capacity of Underground carriages, in the BBC consumer programme, Watchdog (shown 26-3-02), as follows:

    "Never mind the statistics. At busy times on the busiest parts of the lines, you can't get any more people on the trains: only by stacking them horizontally from floor to ceiling, not in any manner that people are actually going to travel in trains, whether sitting down or standing up. At the busiest times, trains are pretty heavily loaded throughout the network. At the busiest times on the busiest lines you can't get any more people on."

Levels of crowding at peak periods:

  Two sets of figures have recently been published in Hansard about the levels of crowding on the Underground at peak periods, in relation to the theoretical design capacity of Underground carriages. The first set of figures were published in Hansard 22 March 2001, 282W-284W, and the second set of figures, described as "corrected" figures for peak-time passenger numbers on the twelve most crowded sections of each Underground line, were published in Hansard 5 December 2001, 378W-380W. These two sets of figures refer to passenger counts done in 2000.

  The overcrowding figures given by the transport minister, John Spellar MP in December 2001 were a drastic revision of the earlier figures. According to the earlier figures, provided by transport minister Keith Hill MP, on six out of the twelve lines, the service operated at 95% or more of its design capacity in the busiest section on the busiest peak quarter hour. On two lines, the Jubilee Line and the Northern Line, the service operated carrying passengers in excess of its design capacity: 12% more (or 19 standing passengers) between Clapham North and Stockwell.

  In December 2001, Mr. Spellar told the House of Commons that "regrettably, some of the information given in answer to that earlier PQ [ 22 March 2001 282W-184W] was inaccurate", and provided "corrected figures" which, he said, "show the Underground is not as crowded as the previous answer appeared to show." These corrected figures made very substantial revisions to the figures given earlier. The March figures yield a total of 65,969 passengers; the December figures give a total of 38,255 passengers. Passenger numbers on the Metropolitan Line, between Finchley Road and Baker Street from 08:30 to 08:45 a.m. were cut by two-thirds. On the other lines, the decrease in the number of passengers ranged from 31% to 54%. On the Northern and the Jubilee lines, where the number of passengers exceeded the design capacity in the March figures, the design capacity over the busiest quarter of an hour also increased: by 18% on the Jubilee line and by 33% on the Northern line.

  The passenger-carrying capacity of the Underground is crucial to the Government's plans for its public-private-partnership. The figures given in December 2001 appear to suggest that there is spare capacity on the Underground, which is at odds both with the daily experience of the travelling public and the view of a representative of the official passenger body, cited above. Plans to increase the capacity of the Underground, under successive versions of the PPP, have withered away; however, passenger numbers are expected to increase substantially, within the first 7½ year period of the PPP and beyond. Under these circumstances, the Underground may have to change from a turn-up-and-go system at peak times to a turn-up-and-wait service, if it is to operate safely.

  Overcrowding in Underground stations was recognised as one of the three main threats to safety on the Underground in the Fennell report into the King's Cross Fire. Passenger numbers in Underground carriages cannot be considered in isolation from passenger numbers on platforms and in other parts of stations. If a large proportion of passengers from a heavily loaded Underground train of six or eight carriages leave the train at a particular station, the station platform and ways of egress will quickly become crowded; passengers have told us that numbers of passengers at a busy station such as Liverpool St. can be extremely slow moving. Although London Underground claims that a station such as King's Cross can be fully evacuated in six minutes, the experience of actual incidents on the Underground, such as the detrainment of 4,000 passengers at Highbury and Islington station in July 2001 is less encouraging. The report into this incident by the London Transport Users Committee, which draws heavily on the official London Underground enquiry, indicates that the management of the situation quickly became muddled, and could easily have had disastrous consequences.


  The answer given by the transport minister in March 2001, Keith Hill MP, reflected the rail industry view that the "capacity of London Underground carriages is not itself considered to be a health and safety issue." More recently, a transport minister, David Jamieson MP, told parliament that "there are no statutory limits on the numbers of passengers that can be carried on trains. The Health and Safety Executive has advised that all rolling stock is designed to operate safely even when fully loaded." (Hansard, 807W, 9 July 2002). The chief executive of Rail Safety, Rod Muttram, told the fifth meeting of the Rail Passengers Council that "statistics show that in [rail] accidents, crush-loading absorbs impact and reduces injury." (Minutes, 12-6-02, p 8). This is not a principle which Capital Transport Campaign would wish to see put into practice in passenger rail services.

  A significant number of passengers are forced to travel standing on peak-time commuter rail services in the south-east, sometimes for more than the 20 minutes that is said to be permissible. In conditions that fall short of crush-loading, it has been recognised that standing rail passengers are at greater risk of injury, and are more likely to be more seriously injured in an accident, than seated passengers. Alan Lettin, the senior consultant orthopaedic surgeon who treated patients injured in the Cannon Street accident in January 1991, told the official enquiry into the accident that "trains with people sitting down would be much safer." He said that standing passengers moved "like ears of wheat in the breeze": their lower bodies remained virtually still, while their upper bodies moved in a large arc, causing head, neck and chest injuries. (the Guardian, 5-3-1991). These observations apply with equal force to standing passengers in Underground carriages as well as those standing in rail carriages. In the design of many Underground carriages, rails for passengers to grasp are put at a level in the carriages, which is impossible for any standing passenger who is less than the average height for a woman (5'4" or l.6m) to grasp. People who might be described as vertically challenged are consequently at greater risk of being thrown about, should a Tube or rail carriage stop suddenly. This consideration also applies to the new carriage designs proposed by Connex South-East, with fewer seats and more standing room.


  The scale of the parliamentary corrections to the numbers of peak-time passengers on the Underground, noted above, does not induce confidence. We have also criticised the Strategic Rail Authority for soft-pedalling the extent of overcrowding on commuter rail services in the south-east.

  The regulations set out by OPRAF in its Rail Passenger Industry Overview, 1995, p 91 stated explicitly that overcrowding measures refer to groups of trains such as routes, as well as to train operating companies. The Strategic Rail Authority has consistently spoken of excessive overcrowding only when the figures for the train operating companies as a whole have exceeded the generous "peak loading thresholds". However, if one route group operated by a TOC exceeds these thresholds, and another does not, and the result is that the combined figure for all route groups operated is within the thresholds, then the SRA has not considered the TOC to be operating an overcrowded service. The figures for Silverlink in 1999 are a case in point. Silverlink passengers on both the North London Line and the Watford services were excessively overcrowded by the SRA criteria; but because Silverlink's third route group, the Northampton service, had a low figure for overcrowding, the overall figure for Silverlink was within the limits which the SRA considered acceptable. We have sought to raise this point with the SRA, but have yet to receive a satisfactory answer.

  The SRA also assesses overcrowding levels without regard to whether train companies are operating short formation services, on the grounds that they fine TOC's for running short formation services under other regulations. Since the SRA has recently announced some very substantial fines to TOC's for running short formation services, the SRA's chosen mode of measurement can only mean that they seriously underrecord the extent of overcrowding on passenger services. We think that the extent of rail passenger overcrowding should be recorded as it is, not as it would be if the TOC's ran full formation train services. This is a second important respect in which the SRA chooses to understate the extent of rail passenger overcrowding in its capacity as a regulatory body.

  The issue of passenger overcrowding on the south-east's commuter rail services is likely to become worse, rather than better in the near future, if recent reports of substantial cuts in the operation of services are correct.

Cynthia Hay


December 2002

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