First Great Western's high-speed trains are less likely to be overcrowded on the Oxford to London line than the local services on the same route (photo © Georgesixth).
Britain has a reputation for overcrowded trains, which is in some measure due to the enduring popularity of rail travel in England, Wales and Scotland. Over the last nine years passenger journeys by rail in Great Britain have more than doubled. In 2013, over 1.6 billion journeys were made by train.
Yet our own experience of travelling by rail around Britain is that trains are often very lightly loaded. We’ve been lucky, our positive experience no doubt abetted by our affection for travelling in very rural areas. Luckily, we rarely need to travel at peak times.
UK Transport Minister Claire Perry met with rail operators on Wednesday this week to review overcrowding issues on trains. Overcrowding on rail services is most marked on peak period trains to and from major cities — most particularly to and from London.
Data released at Wednesday’s meeting highlight three real pinch points in network capacity, which are as follows:
Of course, you’ll run across many full-to-capacity main line services on trunk routes in Britain, particular on Friday and Sunday afternoons. There the secret really is to book a seat in advance. Britain is unusual in that seat reservations are issued for free. In many countries there is a fee.
Morning peak services to London on some main lines are notoriously overcrowded. The stats highlight one train that’s really worth avoiding. That’s the 06.30 semi-fast train from Nottingham to London run by East Midlands Trains. This 10-carriage train was noted as running with a load factor of 155% in second class — so with over 200 passengers standing for the final part of the journey into St Pancras. Hardly a good way to start a busy working day in the capital.
About The Authors
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
Nicky and Susanne manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers and the authors of the book Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide. The 17th edition of that book will be published in mid-April 2022. You'll find a list of outlets that sell the book on this website.