Rail overcrowding misery to continue

Disgruntled passengers fed up with getting on crowded trains at the region’s packed stations face further years of misery, a report out today concludes.

Commuters at Norwich, King’s Lynn and other stations have been told government plans to increase seats into London at peak times have failed to meet targets.

And there is no light at the end of the tunnel for passengers as the increase in commuter capacity going into Norwich has failed even more dramatically.

The news comes as passengers yesterday faced misery after weekend engineering works overran, causing day-long delays on the Norwich to London line.

Delays caused by Network Rail’s engineering works were then exacerbated by a passenger being taken ill and requiring treatment from paramedics, creating a back-log of trains.

Passengers were delayed by up to 75 minutes at the height of the problems and the delays were running late into the evening last night.

Today’s train capacity report by MPs means the long-standing problems of the region’s already overcrowded trains will continue past 2014.

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It reveals a national target of creating 117,000 extra places going into London at peak times will only reach 99,000 – 15pc fewer than planned.

And the number of new places on trains going into cities, including Norwich, would only be 25,500 by 2014 instead of the predicted 38,000 – 33pc fewer than hoped for.

The Department of Transport is responsible for securing the extra seats and places from the region’s train operators National Express East Anglia, East Midlands Trains and First Capital Connect.

Ministers set the targets to prevent an increase in overcrowding as part of a five-year �9bn national plan to improve rail travel, including more investment in longer trains and larger stations.

The report by the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts follows the government’s announcement that rail tickets could rise 3pc over inflation instead of the current 1pc and the launch of the Norwich in 90 rail speed link campaign.

Committee chairman Margaret Hodge said: “This committee is concerned that for commuters the already unacceptable levels of overcrowding will simply get worse and ever more intolerable.”

The lower capacity improvement rate for trains from Norwich to Liverpool Street, London, and Birmingham and King’s Lynn to London’s King’s Cross was criticised by a transport watchdog and two of the region’s MP.

Richard Bacon, MP for South Norfolk, who represents Diss, which sees many commuters going into London, spoke up for frustrated passengers in his constituency.

He said: “People paying premium fares for rail services that are still overcrowded have every right to be furious, especially as trains look set to get more crowded, not less.

“Passengers are being let down across the board and the Department of Transport needs to conduct a thorough review of the UK rail industry before more public money is poured in.”

Norwich South MP Simon Wright said: “It is disappointing to see we are not getting the number of places the government had said we deserved.

“It is something I have been concerned about for a long time as we have to have improvements for rail users in Norwich.

“The government is reviewing its franchises with train operating companies and they should be given the incentive to invest in the long term and have the ability to make improvements.”

Today’s report said the Department of Transport had an “inadequate and sketchy” knowledge of how many people use trains and called for the introduction of automatic counting equipment on carriages, smart ticketing and better use of under-used rail stock.

The mindset of the rail industry also needed changing to overcome a belief that changes can only be made through extra subsidies.

Guy Dangerfield, East Anglian representative of transport lobby group Passenger Focus said: “We welcome the importance this report places on getting a seat as it recognises the daily struggle faced by some passengers.

“Overcrowding is only going to get worse as numbers are already back up to pre-recession levels and are expected to rise.

“We need substantial long-term investment as soon as possible to provide longer and more frequent trains to help reduce crowding.

“Train companies’ franchise agreements state services need to be planned so that passengers should not stand for more than 20 minutes.”

First Capital Connect is creating 6,500 places across its network by the end of the year and National Express East Anglia has invested �155m in improving capacity and will have an improved timetable from December for Norwich.

East Midlands Trains is refurbishing many of its carriages.