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UK trains ‘are packed to near double capacity’

UK trains ‘are packed to near double capacity’

Overcrowding on trains is at the highest level for years, according to official data compiled by Labour showing some major routes are to be 208% of capacity by 2022. A study of government figures found the most overcrowded services were on average 187% of capacity in 2017, an increase of 25% since 2011. Meanwhile, the…

Overcrowding on trains is at the highest level for years, according to official data compiled by Labour showing some major routes are to be 208% of capacity by 2022.

A study of government figures found the most overcrowded services were on average 187% of capacity in 2017, an increase of 25% since 2011.

Meanwhile, the number of cancelled or significantly late trains was at the highest level in 17 years, according to separate statistics from the Office of Rail and Road.

The figures will add to pressure on Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, following a day of anger from passengers at the average 3.1% increase in rail fares introduced on Wednesday.

Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, said: “Under the Tories, fares have risen three times faster than average wages and severe disruption has blighted the network, meaning services are often delayed or cancelled.

“It’s outrageous that passengers will be hit with yet another above-inflation fares rise following such a miserable year on the railway. Making passengers pay more to travel on increasingly overcrowded trains is simply not sustainable.”

Figures released annually by the Department for Transport (DfT), compiled by Labour, showed overcrowding on the 10 busiest services had increased by an average of 4.04% year on year between 2011 and 2016.

At that rate, the 10 busiest services would be an average of 207.9% of capacity by 2022, the party said.

Figures released by the government in July showed the most overcrowded service last year was the 4.22am TransPennine Express from Glasgow Central to Manchester Airport, which was 211% of capacity at its busiest.

The DfT said overcrowding is likely to have reduced on that service since May, as it no longer stopped at Wigan, the station where the train became busiest to Manchester.

The department said new trains due to be introduced by TransPennine Express will have more than 30% more seats than existing services to help alleviate crowding.

Campaigners held protests at about two dozen railway stations on Wednesday as fares rose by an above-inflation average of 3.1%. The cost of many rail season tickets has risen by more than £100.

Grayling blamed trade unions for the price increases. “The reality is the fare increases are higher than they should be because the unions demand – with threats of national strikes, but they don’t get them – higher pay rises than anybody else,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Typical pay rises are more than 3% and that’s what drives the increases. These are the same unions that fund the Labour party.”

Speaking at a demonstration outside King’s Cross station in London, Jeremy Corbyn described the rises as a “disgrace” that was driving people away from public transport.

Responding to Grayling’s insistence that the increases were needed to fund the upkeep of the network, Corbyn said Britain must invest in railways as a public investment.

“If we don’t invest then people will have to suffer in their journeys, and we end up with more people using their cars, and that’s far more dangerous for our environment than rail travel,” he said.

On whether it was fair to ask taxpayers to subsidise commuters, Corbyn said: “All public transport is subsidised in one form or another, and there is a public good from it. No other country in the world has a transport system that sits completely alone.”

At Manchester Piccadilly station, union officials and Labour councillors handed out flyers with the message “Cut fares not staff” as commuters began returning to work after the Christmas holiday.

Lorraine Southon, 57, said all three of her daily trains were usually late and she had been forced to change her route to work due to the introduction of new timetables, which caused months of disruption last year.

“In my experience it’s a very poor service,” she said. “I don’t mind [fares] going up if they would improve the service, but they don’t – the service continues to be poor.”

Southon, a BT worker, added: “I can’t comprehend how the management continue to get these huge bonuses when the service is just so poor. Why are the bonuses not performance-based? Chris Grayling should be responsible.”

Another commuter, Phillip Shields, 32, said: “I’m definitely not happy with the rise. There’s no justification really for it at the moment.

“They keep promising every year that they’re going to improve services, but it never seems to materialise. It’s the same statements they repeat over and over again, every year.”

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said: “We know people want more comfortable journeys and money from fares is crucial to underpinning over £13bn of private-sector investment in 7,000 new and refurbished-like-new carriages.

“This will mean more seats, air-conditioning, wifi and improved accessibility for millions of people right across Britain.”

A DfT spokesperson said: “We are investing £48bn into modernising our rail network, to relieve overcrowding and deliver significant improvements in performance, punctuality and capacity

… Privatisation has reversed the decline seen under British Rail, where passenger numbers fell and stations and routes closed but we have acknowledged that 20 years on we need to review the position. That’s why we have set up the Williams Review to look into the whole rail network.”

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