Mark Steel: Do you have the strength for the 7.57 to Euston?

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The Independent Online

The spokespeople for train operators must enjoy themselves. Yesterday they merrily announced that overcrowding on trains is going to get "much worse" without a glimmer of remorse – the equivalent of the BBC announcing their autumn season by saying, "We've got a right lot of old rubbish on between now and Christmas. Still, there we are."

So anyone who's travelled on trains lately must be thinking, "How is it possible to be more overcrowded, without breaking the known laws of physics?" Already on most trains you find yourself imprinted into the crevices and folds of several co-sufferers, and a trip to the toilet is like being on Gladiators as you clamber over rucksacks and vault over distressed toddlers until you wouldn't be surprised to hear, "We apologise to customers for the outbreak of cholera on this service," and you wonder if you've got on the wrong train and boarded a shuttle ferrying refugees away from a military coup in Chad by mistake."

So how can they make it more overcrowded? Maybe they'll start selling each toilet as two reserved seats, which will be available as super-savers as long as you agree to shuffle to the edge whenever someone wants to use it.

The genius of the train operators is that, in line with the laws of the free market, they see this situation as a success. They must see people squelching on to the 7.57 to Euston and think, "My word, that service is very popular, maybe we should introduce asphyxiation to all our services."

This is why they're looking at ways to "encourage customers to use off-peak services instead", as if anyone would suffer like that if they had a choice. But then their method is to make peak tickets even more hilariously expensive.

Up until now they've got round the law that fares can only rise by 1 per cent above inflation, by extending the peak times further into the day, so a return from Manchester to London costs over £300. "This only affects a small percentage of customers," explained the operator, the way Reggie Kray might have complained, "I only shot 3 per cent of the people I met."

Their next move was probably to announce: "In order to protect the long-term interests of our customers we are introducing increased charges for 'peak-species'. This rise of 85 per cent will apply only to humans, primates and certain fish, but the vast majority of life including flora and fauna will be unaffected." Instead, as well as the splendid news about more overcrowding they've announced, the cap is being removed altogether because, as Michael Roberts, chief executive of the train operators, explained, the cost of rail subsidies is being moved "from the taxpayer towards the passenger".

This seems to assume taxpayers and rail passengers are two entirely different groups of people, so the poor taxpayer never goes anywhere, and fumes, "Look how much I've had to give away so these lazy bastards can stand squashed in a corridor going back and forth to Birmingham all day for only a few hundred quid." It's the oldest trick to divide and rule by blaming one group for wasting all the resources. But this is taking that art to new heights, by dividing one part of each person against the other part.

Luckily, a few people manage to find their way around the system. Iain Coucher, for example, chief executive of Network Rail, managed to secure himself a bonus of £641,000 this year, so it's possible to make yourself comfortable if you know what you're doing.

Something else that might help is to listen to George W Bush, because he said that waterboarding stopped terrorist offences taking place on London's transport system. And by neat coincidence, if you forced CIA operatives to travel on London's transport system, by the time they were stuck outside London Bridge you'd probably get most of them to confess to waterboarding.