Trains are full to bursting

I was not best pleased to read James King’s letter last week – not just because it contained the usual mantra against HS2 but because it also ignored the reality of today’s railways, which I had just experienced.

I saw my copy of the KWN after returning home from London last Friday evening. I had reached Euston just in time for the 17.23 service as far as Coventry. But on boarding I found the train very crowded; evidently the previous Pendolino service, at 17.03, had some technical problem and everyone except the Rugby passengers had transferred to the next train. Analogies such as sardines in cans and peas in pods came to mind as the train left Euston, and the crush was added to with more passengers at Watford Junction.

On arrival at Coventry a large number of people tumbled out of the train, but even more seemed to be waiting to get on. This is perhaps not surprising, since the number of rail passengers using Coventry has grown faster in recent years than at any station outside London. Passenger growth over the past decade at Coventry has been more than double the national average, and higher even than at Birmingham New Street or Warwick Parkway.

Growth has accelerated recently, and between 2008 and 2012 passenger numbers rose 80 per cent to 5.4 million, with a further increase of nearly 40 per cent expected by 2024, according to Coventry City Council, and 100 per cent by 2043.

Having arrived at Coventry, I awaited the 18.30 London Midland service to take me to Tile Hill. During this time, the 18.27 CrossCountry service from Bournemouth to Manchester pulled in which, with many standing passengers, was clearly suffering from similar crowding problems to the train I had just travelled on from Euston.

And the London Midland service I then boarded was no different – crammed with people, particularly crowded around doorways with their substantial luggage.

On arrival at Tile Hill, there were some 50 more passengers waiting to board the train, which was now so full that the conductor had difficulty in getting the doors closed around the passengers and their bulging luggage.

And as I walked back to my car I noticed that, as usual, there were many cars parked around and about on grass verges (risking the potential £70 wrath of Coventry traffic wardens) because there had been insufficient space available for them in the official car park – even though this now has some 330 spaces, more than three times greater than before it was expanded by Centro.

All of this is clear demonstration of the rising demand for train services. Yet those opposed to HS2, like James King, seem to think that some tinkering at the edges with the existing infrastructure can resolve the problem.

The reality is that the existing rail network is increasingly under pressure to cope, while Network Rail and the train companies have been, and are, working on measures to squeeze whatever extra capacity they can out of the present system.

Lengthening of platforms for nine-car trains at several Chiltern Line stations was recently announced, for example, while London Midland is now starting to receive ten additional 110mph ‘Desiro’ trains so they can provide additional commuter services to and from Euston on the ‘fast’ lines behind 125mph Pendolinos from next December.

One thing James King is right about is that HS2 will not be ready until 2026 – assuming objectors and parliamentarians don’t delay it any further.

So in this respect it is just as well (when things are going to plan and trains are not cancelled) that there is still some capacity on peak hour long-distance services – because that is the only principal capacity remaining to absorb continuing growth of inter-city journeys. HS2 is not intended to deal in 12 years time with historic demand, but to help cope with the long-term growth widely anticipated in rail travel of all kinds.

Alan Marshall, Inchbrook Road, Kenilworth