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Sardine Man reveals Durham as a rail overcrowding hotspot

30 March 2007
Transport 2000's [1] Sardine Man will visit Durham on Tuesday 3 April as part of a national tour of some of the most overcrowded train journeys in England and Wales [2]. The tour aims to highlight rail overcrowding and the need for Government investment to increase capacity and relieve congestion on the rail network.

Sardine Man, who began his journey a week ago, 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 summer’s expected 30-year rail strategy. Sardine Man is keeping a blog while he travels and encouraging people to email their MP. [3]

In December 2006 a survey conducted by Nexus revealed the 07:59 Durham to Newcastle train as running at 88% above capacity [4]. In January 2007 Transpennine Express completed the introduction of 51 new carriages and as a result the Durham to Newcastle service gained an extra carriage which alleviated the overcrowding on this service by a third [5]. However, as Tony Walker, local passenger explains, conditions on board still resemble a sardine tin: "The train became crowded at Durham and people had to stand. On leaving the next pick-up at Chester-le-Street I counted 78 people standing."

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 do not encourage big infrastructure investment by the rail operators."

Overcrowded journeys aren’t a problem just for passengers on the Durham to Newcastle route. The 08:02 Morpeth to Newcastle service is packed to the gills as well. This class 158 2 car train is running at 58% above capacity according to a survey conducted by Nexus in December 2006 [6]. The 07:42 Hexham to Newcastle service is always overcrowded according to the Tyne Valley Rail User Group.

The need for action


  • Overcrowding has become the number one passenger concern, according to the Office of Rail Regulation [7]
  • Since the Transpennine Express franchise started in February 2004, annual passenger numbers have increased from 15 million to 18 million a year [8]
  • The country has seen a 40% increase in passenger rail kilometres travelled since 1996 [9]
  • A Transport for London study showed that per mile travelled rail used 45% less CO2 than a private car [10]

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[11].


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 Durham station to take questions and appear for photographs from 7:35 – 7:55 before travelling on the train.

[3] This email action is now closed.

[4] Survey conducted by the PTE Nexus, December 2006.

[5] From a statement by Transpennine Express, March 2007.

[6] Survey conducted by the PTE Nexus, December 2006.

[7] Office of Rail Regulation Website 2007: www.rail-reg.gov.uk/server/show/ConWebDoc.8192.

[8] From a statement by Transpennine Express, March 2007.

[9] Network Rail Initial Strategic Business Plan 2006.

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

[11] 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.