Rise in passenger numbers 'will lead to overcrowding on railways'

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The Independent Online

Rail operators have warned commuters that there will be serious overcrowding on many routes in the next decade because passenger numbers are predicted to rise by at least 28 per cent.

Rail operators have warned commuters that there will be serious overcrowding on many routes in the next decade because passenger numbers are predicted to rise by at least 28 per cent.

The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) said intensive efforts would be needed to find new ways of meeting passenger growth, and suggested the scrapping of under-used trains and stations.

Atoc's views were put forward in a paper published yesterday, entitled Looking Forward: Contribution to Railway Strategy.

The paper said the railways must consolidate recent improved performances and reduce costs.

While some routes will become very crowded, the network, it said, should be capable of handling the growth through innovation and some investments.

But the Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, Tom Brake, expressed doubts that such a plan could solve the problem. He said: "The Government cannot expect people to get off the roads and on to public transport if it is not safe and comfortable. It is farcical Labour has introduced regulations for the transportation of chickens but not for humans. Their recent rail review has still failed to tackle the problem of overcrowding." He continued: "Atoc is wrong to suggest we can handle this growth by scrapping trains and stations. [Transport Secretary] Alistair Darling should be looking to expand our railways, not shut them down by the back door. His promise to explore new high-speed rail links has an increasingly hollow ring."

The association claimed that - while rail makes a vital contribution to national economic life - the funding gap of the railways is too large. However, with revenue growth and a focus on costs, the gap will reduce over the next 10 years.

It suggested the selective lengthening of trains; improved track layouts; changes to timetables to enable more trains to run; identification of "pinch points" on the network and measures to address them and the removal of franchise requirements to run under-used trains or preserve very under-used stations that absorb capacity.

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