Rail commuters are being hit by inflation-busting, new-year price hikes of as much as 14 per cent – with an average rise of around 5 per cent – but many look set to stay standing due to overcrowding as they travel in 2008.
A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said that there would be some extra seats available in the coming months but he had no figures on investment to ease overcrowding resulting from this year’s rises.
Meanwhile, harassed passengers are being urged to write to train companies and the government over the levels of overcrowding on commuter services.
Network Rail admits that 100,000 commuters stand on London-bound trains each day. It says overcrowding is also a problem on some long-distance commuter services, with passengers standing for considerable distances.
There are also ‘severe’ crowding problems on some regional services and significant peak crowding around other cities, including Manchester and Leeds.
Even train drivers are urging travellers to take action.
One commuter said a driver on a packed morning train from Hertfordshire into London in November used the train tannoy to implore passengers to make a stand.
Sharon Shields said: ‘The driver seemed very agitated. He told us the train was overcrowded and that the only way things would improve was for us to email train operators.’
Rail unions Aslef and the RMT both endorsed the driver’s actions and urged passengers to complain.
An RMT spokesman said: ‘We have great sympathy with that driver. It’s lamentable that this should have to be the case. We would wholeheartedly endorse people contacting rail companies and also the ministers who make the spending decisions.’
More people are using trains than at any time since 1946, and the Office of Rail Regulation says that passengers’ concerns about overcrowding are the most common complaint that it receives.
The government has said that there will be 1,300 extra rail coaches by 2014 to deal with the huge increase in demand.
It says this will mean thousands of extra seats going into trains in cities like Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Cardiff.
But the Campaign for BetterTransport – which used to be Transport 2000 – says that’s not enough. A spokeswoman said: ‘Many areas are badly overcrowded now and already operating to capacity.
‘The extra carriages are not going to arrive soon enough and there won’t be enough of them.’