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Sardine Man reveals Coventry as a rail overcrowding hotspot

27 March 2007
Transport 2000's [1] Sardine Man will visit Coventry on Thursday, 29 March as a part of a national tour of some of the most overcrowded train journeys in England and Wales to highlight overcrowding and the need for Government investment to increase capacity and relieve congestion on the rail network.[2]

Transport 2000 has looked at all the data available for England and Wales and identified 10 train lines that most urgently need their capacity increased; Sardine Man will be in Coventry because Coventry to Birmingham is one of the most overcrowded routes in the West Midlands and it highlights the overcrowding problems going into Birmingham New Street Station [3]. Sardine Man, who began his journey on the 26th, is gathering evidence of rail overcrowding to send to the Secretary of State for Transport, Rt Hon Douglas Alexander, in the run-up to this summers’s expected 30-year rail strategy. Sardine Man is keeping a blog while he travels and encouraging people to email their MP.[4]

Figures from Centro show that the 8.01am from Coventry to Birmingham New Street is 40% overcrowded. The train (a four-car, '350' type train) has seating for 235 passengers but is actually carrying 330 passengers. That means 95 passengers are forced to stand. [5]. Passengers are paying £63 a month for the privilege of standing or being squashed into their seats like sardines.

Birmingham New Street station has its own overcrowding problems. Increasing passenger handling capacity at New Street is also a priority. Birmingham Moor Street station (just a few minutes away from New Street) must have its unused platforms opened alleviating pressure on New Street station.

Julia Thomas, Transport 2000’s public transport campaigner, said: "It’s very easy to blame rail operators for overcrowding problems, but actually a lot of it is down to the Government’s rail policy – they have issued ‘no growth’ franchises for the past 10 years and they’ve been promoting a policy of fares hikes to get people to travel off-peak, but passengers really don’t have that much flexibility. In addition, the very short time periods covered by franchise agreements does not encourage any infrastructure investment by the rail operators."

Overcrowded journeys aren't a problem just for passengers in Coventry. Sardine man has found other crowded train journeys in the Midlands: the 07:00 Northampton to Birmingham New Street train is overcapacity by 45%; the 7:45 from Stratford upon Avon to Stourbridge Junction is overcapacity by 37%; the 16:45 Birmingham New Street to Northampton service is overcapacity by 31%; the 06.10 from High Wycombe to Birmingham Snow Hill is overcapacity by 28% and the 7:15 from Worcester Shrub Hill to Dorridge is overcapacity by 19% [6].


The need for action


  • Overcrowding has become the number one passenger concern according to the Office of Rail Regulation [7]
  • The country has seen a 40% increase in passenger rail kilometres travelled since 1996 [8]
  • A Transport for London study showed that per mile travelled rail used 45% less CO2 than a private car [9]

Transport 2000 is calling on the Government to take action to ensure that an increase in capacity of the rail network is at the centre of this summer’s new 30-year rail strategy.[10]  


Notes to Editors

[1] Transport 2000 is an independent campaigning and research body that represents the key transport interests of around 40 environmental groups, transport organisations and transport unions. We bring together people who seek to reduce the environmental and social effects of transport through encouraging less use of cars, lorries and planes and more use of rail, buses, trams, cycling and walking.

[2] Sardine Man will be outside Coventry station to take questions and appear for photographs from 7:35 – 7:55am, before travelling on the train.

[3] The worst train journeys

Journey… Running over capacity by:


  1. Durham to Newcastle (7:59 train): 88% (a)
  2. Cambridge to London Liverpool Street (8:02 train): 85% (b)
  3. Eccleston Park to Liverpool Lime Street (7:53 train): 85% (c)
  4. Cardiff to Maesteg (17:21 train): 78% (d)
  5. Humphrey Park to Manchester Oxford Road (8:14 train): 75% (c)
  6. Morpeth to Newcastle (8:00 train): 58% (a)
  7. Barnsley to Leeds (7:31 train): 57% (e)
  8. Sheffield to Leeds (7:14 train): 53% (e)
  9. Sutton to Luton (16:33 train): 50% (b)
  10. Northampton to Birmingham New Street (07:00 train): 45% (f)

(a) Survey conducted by Nexus, November 2006


(b) House of Commons Hansard written answers for 21 March 2006 (pt18)

(c) Network Rail North West Route Utilisation Strategy Draft for Consultation (page 32 & 33)

(d) Railfuture

(e) Survey conducted by South Yorkshire PTE, 2006

(f) Survey conducted by Centro, Winter 2006

[4] This email action is now closed.

[5] Data from survey conducted by Centro, Winter 2006

[6] Data from survey conducted by Centro, Winter 2006

[7] Office of Rail Regulation Website 2007

[8] Network Rail Initial Strategic Business Plan 2006

[9] Action Today to Protect Tomorrow: The Mayor’s Climate Change Action Plan, February 2007

[10] Sardine Man is part of Transport 2000’s Growing the Railways campaign, which is calling on the Government to:


  • Ensure all future rail franchises are more flexible and longer enabling operators to: improve timetables; work together to resolve overcrowding; and invest in infrastructure
  • Immediately stop the policy of allowing passengers to be priced off the railway during peak times and instead work with businesses to promote more flexible working hours
  • Set maximum levels of overcrowding for the whole country, not just the South East and London
  • Set up systems for monitoring levels of overcrowding, including requiring train operators to provide overcrowding data on a regular basis
  • Reduce the amount of standing time considered ‘acceptable’ from 20 minutes (currently only in London and the Southeast) to a much more reasonable 15 minutes (nationwide) in the first instance and enforce it.