Rail commuters face 'intolerable' overcrowding by 2014, warn MPs

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The Independent Online

Overcrowding on some of Britain's busiest train services is set to become even worse because crucial targets for increasing capacity on the nation's creaking rail network will be missed, an official parliamentary inquiry warns today. A £9bn investment programme designed to double the number of places on trains was launched three years ago. But a failure to deliver enough extra seats will mean that efforts to keep overcrowding at current levels will fall well short over the next four years, despite annual fare increases of 3 per cent above inflation.

Peak commuter services will be severely hit, the MPs warned. By 2014, a 15 per cent shortfall in additional places on London peak-time services means that more people will be made to stand or take a later service.

The situation is even worse in other major cities, where there will be a third fewer places available than is needed to keep overcrowding in check, the Commons Public Accounts Committee said. It added that the taxpayer would have to step in to deal with the shortfall because rail companies were under no obligation to do so.

"This committee is concerned that, for commuters, the already unacceptable levels of overcrowding will simply get worse and ever more intolerable," said its chairman, the Labour MP Margaret Hodge.

"At present there is no incentive for the rail industry to supply extra capacity without additional public subsidy. The Department for Transport (DfT) should, for future franchises, require operators to take measures... and to meet the costs of doing so."

The committee also found that many commuters were being forced to pay for new services that did not even stop at their stations. In the South-east, passengers had been hit with above-average fare rises to pay for 140mph high-speed Javelin trains that many could not use.

The damning assessment found that it was "not clear where the money from increased fares has been spent". Too much reliance had been placed on buying more carriages and extending stations to increase the number of places on peak services, it warned.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Passenger Focus, said the report recognised "the daily struggle faced by some passengers". He said: "Overcrowding is only going to get worse. We need substantial long-term investment to provide longer and more frequent trains to help reduce crowding."

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