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Sardine Man reveals Woking as a rail overcrowding hotspot

26 March 2007
Transport 2000's [1] Sardine Man will visit Woking on Tuesday, March 27 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 Woking because Woking, Guildford are Haslemere are experiencing massive growth and train journeys there are known locally as being very crowded [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]

The demand between Woking and London Waterloo is so high that there are 12 trains an hour, but this still isn't enough to ensure everyone has a seat. The journey takes 27 minutes, which is longer than the 20-minute standing allowance set by the Department for Transport [5]. Passengers are paying £221.60 a month for the privilege of standing or being squashed into their seats like sardines.

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."

Nigel Riley, daily commuter between Woking and London Waterloo, said: "I've been commuting from Woking to London for 20 years and the journey has become progressively more crowded. The train companies have responded by replacing the old stock with new trains and putting on more services, but Woking, Guildford and Haslemere have all seen big population growth – and more people are choosing to travel by train into London."

Overcrowded journeys aren’t a problem just for passengers in Woking. Sardine Man has found other crowded train journeys in the South East: the 8:04 Isleworth to London Waterloo journey is overcapacity by 43.6% [6]; Portsmouth Harbour to London Waterloo via Guildford, morning peak, is overcapacity by 13% [7]; Alton to London Waterloo, morning peak, is overcapacity by 12.3% [7] and Windsor to London Waterloo, morning peak, is overcapacity by 8.5% [7]

The need for action


  • Overcrowding has become the number one passenger concern according to the Office of Rail Regulation [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 at Woking station to take questions and appear for photographs from 7.10 – 7.40am, 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 (7:00 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] "The Department for Transport uses Passengers in Excess of Capacity as the measure for recording overcrowding levels in London and the South East. There are no such figures for the rest of the country. The definition includes an allowance for standing of 35% of seating on journeys of 20 minutes or less." Network Rail’s South West Mainline Route Utilisation Strategy, March 2006.

[6] National Rail Trends 2005–06 yearbook (April 2005 to March 2006)

[7] National rail Initial Strategic Business Plan 2006

[8] Office of Rail Regulation Website 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