Overcrowding on UK Trains

Despite rising ticket prices and lower government subsidies, demand for rail travel in the UK is increasing and beating all expectations.

Network Rail have published statistics showing that demand for rail services has increased by nearly 45 per cent between 1996-97 and 2006-0. Annual growth is increasing by about 8%. Yet, the DTI is sticking to its forecast of 3% growth per year, in an effort to avoid spending more money.

Demand for Train Travel is increasing for Various Reasons

  • Congestion on UK Roads. Demand for roads is also increasing faster than supply. To avoid lengthening traffic jams, people are turning to rail transport
  • Long period of economic Growth. Higher economic growth causes increased business and therefore increases the demand for transport.
  • Higher House prices in City Centres. People can often not afford to live close to their place of living, therefore they prefer to commute long distances on trains.
  • Environmental Awareness – Trains are seen as an environmentally friendly alternative to driving, helping to reduce global warming.
  • New Services being offered by Privatised Companies.

However, the increase in demand is not being met by a corresponding increase in capacity. The government have been reluctant to invest in new projects and have preferred to spend small amounts of money on minor projects.

Network Rail, which runs the UK train infrastructure says there is an increasing phenomena of overcrowding on UK trains. For example, over 100,000 people have to stand, for upto an hour, on London-bound trains each morning.

The response of the Government to this issue has been most dissappointing. They seem unconcerned about a vital aspect of the UK economy.

There reluctance to invest and subsidize rail  travel is misplaced. From an economic perspective, we can see that rail travel has clear positive externalities. The Social Benefit of Trains is greater than the private benefit.

  • Reduce congestion on roads, – therefore less time wasted and cheaper costs for firms
  • Reduced pollution and CO2 emissions. Trains have lower emissions per passengers than cars and buses.
  • Investment in railways would help industry and business. Therefore, it is an investment that can be recouped through improved economic growth.

Postscript (If you are one of the 100,000s of people who spend time standing on a train, take heart from a recent survey which said, 30 minutes standing is an excellent way to lose weight 🙂 )


By on November 2nd, 2007