Government figures confirm the dire over-crowding on our commuter rail services, but as transport correspondent JEREMY CLACKSON reports, the Department of Transport refuses to take any immediate action
It will come as no consolation to all those commuters from Croydon, Coulsdon or Norwood Junction who have been forced to stand on their train journey to work this morning, and anticipating a similarly uncomfortable return home this evening, but three services run by pariah rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway are among the 10 most overcrowded in the country.
Two of those trains impact passengers travelling through East Croydon, with the 07.00 from Brighton to Bedford listed as the most overcrowded train service in Britain.
The Overcrowded Trains Top Ten was published last week by DafT, the Department for Transport, the Government ministry which has steadfastly refused to act over Govia’s woeful performance record – despite calls for them to lose their “franchise” (in reality having their contract cancelled) from the Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and the Tory MP for Croydon South, Chris Philp.
The figures are based on research from 2015, and so will not reflect the added misery of the 350 trains axed from the timetable by Southern Railway operator Govia last month, an emergency measure because of the company’s continued and long-term failure to deliver to its timetable, and done with DafT’s and the Tory Government’s agreement.
The 07.00 Brighton to Bedlford Thameslink service, by 8.20 and its arrival at Blackfriars, has more passengers crammed into its eight carriages than any other rail service operating in this country. The reverse service, at Blackfriars at 5.40pm, is worth a miss, too, since that makes the Cattle Truck Top Ten at No8, according to DafT’s own figures.
The third Govia service in the list of most uncomfortable rail services is a Beckenham Junction train to Bedford, where getting a seat is deemed virtually impossible by 8.20 each morning when it pulls in to the Elephant and Castle.
According to another tranche of transport department stats, 1 in 3 passengers travelling to London each day on the 397 services that arrive between 8am and 9am have to stand up for their whole journey. That’s nearly 100,000 people.
Passengers boarding at East Croydon are often out of luck in the search for a seat for their journey, because their train will have arrived all ready overcrowded with commuters from Brighton and Sussex, and many tourists and their luggage on board from Gatwick.
And according to DafT – who are, after all, the people who are supposed to be managing this situation on behalf of the public – the daily return journey is little better, with 17 per cent of passengers – almost 37,000 people – standing up on outward-bound services from London stations between 5pm and 6pm.
DafT say that 581,400 rail passengers arrived at London terminals during the morning peak of a typical autumn weekday in 2015, an increase of 3.2 per cent over the year before, and a sign that the Government has failed to plan effectively to meet rising passenger demand. Every major London station operated in excess of its capacity, with the worst being Blackfriars where nearly 15 per cent more passengers arrived than services were designed to handle.
The DafT report said: “The worsening crowding levels show that capacity provision is not coping with rising levels of passenger demand, which has been the case in London and a number of other cities.”
Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, said: “These figures mean that thousands of commuters into London have to travel in cattle truck-style conditions while also paying the highest fares in Europe just to do so. It is a scandal that this is still happening 20 years after the failure of rail privatisation. We need a publicly run railway with real focus on improving capacity and cutting fares.”
Tory MP Paul Maynard, who replaced the useless Claire Perry, after she was sacked as rail minister in Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle, points to a £40 billion public investment in the rail network, developments such as Crossrail and £6billion being spent on Thameslink and London Bridge Station, plus 3,700 extra carriages, but then adds that such improvements won’t come on stream until 2019.
If there was the political will to achieve some gain for passengers, Govia could be stripped of its contract today, its services handed over to Transport for London, which has a better reputation for managing its trains and its staff. But the Government appears to have another agenda altogether, and that is not to provide a satisfactory service for season ticket-holders, railway-linked businesses or visitors to this country.
It is always instructive, when boarding a train at East Croydon, to observe the reactions and body language of tourists, recently arrived at Gatwick, when confronted with our rail service into London. They are clearly underwhelmed. Mick Whelan, of train drivers’ union Aslef, at the weekend spoke of his disappointment “for those tourists who come to this country expecting a first-class public transport system in a first-world economy”.
Whelan said, “Sadly, the privatised train companies are failing to deliver and this government is letting them get away with it. If you’re standing on your train today, then you’ll be standing on your train in 10 years’ time because the government doesn’t care enough to do anything about it and the companies only care about making money, not delivering a service.”
And in the meantime, from next week, passengers face a five-day strike over the unresolved dispute with Govia over the use of guards. Unions claim that their offers of talks to Maynard’s new boss, transport minister Chris Grayling, have been ignored. It’s as if the Tory Government doesn’t want to resolve the dispute…
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