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Peak-time rail is ‘bursting at the seams’: fares reform is needed

24 July 2019

Responding to the Department for Transport's annual statistics concerning rail overcrowding in major cities, Darren Shirley, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said:

“Peak-time rail is bursting at the seams. With 17 per cent of commuters not getting a seat, too many people are paying thousands of pounds to stand in aisles, vestibules and even toilet cubicles.

“To reduce overcrowding and make sure passengers get value for their ticket we must continue to invest in better stations, track and rolling stock. But to avoid congestion, train users also need innovation like advance notice of the busiest trains and pay-as-you-go ticketing which increases flexibility about when they travel.

“The Government's Rail Review aims to transform how we manage and operate our railways. That must include fundamental reform of fares and ticketing to tackle overcrowding and restore public faith in the railways.”

Rail passenger numbers and crowding on weekdays in major cities in England and Wales 2018 was published by the Department for Transport on 24 July 2019.

The statistics look at rail overcrowding around 14 cities in England and Wales.

Selected statistics include:

  • 16.8 per cent of passengers were standing in the peaks across all selected major cities - an estimate 283,500 people.
  • 3.5 per cent of passengers were in excess of capacity overall during peak hours (unchanged from 2017).  The number of 'passengers in excess of capacity' (PiXC) is not the same as the number of passengers standing, because trains often have a permitted 'standing allowance'. PiXC is the number of people in excess of this standing allowance.
  • At peak times, 4.8 per cent of passengers at Cambridge are carried in excess of the capacity
  • The most overcrowded service in Autumn 2018 is reported as the 17:46 London Euston to Crewe (West Midland Trains) with a recorded a load factor of 214 per cent on departure from London Euston


  • The busiest destination, with over a million people arriving by train each day - over 300,000 of which arrive between 8am and 9am
  • 19.4 per cent of passengers stand at peak times, a slight fall (0.3 per cent) from 2017
  • 54 per cent of daily arrivals were in the morning peak in London, reflecting that most rail journeys are for commuting 
  • In the morning peak, over 30 per cent of passengers arriving at Blackfirars and Fenchurch Street have to stand


  • Since 2010, passenger numbers have grown by 44 per cent, but seats on trains have increased by just 11 per cent
  • At peak times, 17.1 per cent of passengers have to stand. This is up 3.9 per cent compared with 2017 and 10.5 per cent since 2010.
  • 3.4 per cent of passengers are carried in excess of capacity


  • Since 2010, passenger numbers have grown by 43 per cent, and seats on trains have increased by 35 per cent
  • At peak times, 9.8 per cent of passengers have to stand. This is down 2.8 per cent compared with 2017


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