Understandably on crammed, overcrowded trains someone voices their dissatisfaction saying ‘Why can’t they just add another carriage?’. It’s presumed that the ‘idiot’ train company, and in the recent past British Rail, can’t organise an extra carriage or two. Well consider this:
Historical loss of rolling stock
Firstly, I should like to briefly mention a part of Beeching’s unparalleled reshaping of British Railways of the 1960’s. The railway closures made headline news but the ‘financial analysis’ also covered rolling stock. Rolling stock was not managed efficiently until the introduction of the computer system TOPS, . For many years BR retained former front line carriages to cover peaks in timetables ie Summer holidays or special events. These were quite basic vehicles with no air conditioning and only steam heating. The level of maintenance costs would have been low in comparison to more modern stock. Despite this, they were NOT seen as a resource that could be easily used for planned or unplanned demand. They were simply viewed as a cost burden. As a result, they were scrapped. Passengers began to think that railway companies were disorganised and that was why a train lacked additional coaches.
Railways in the 1980’s and 1990’s
The railways have never really recovered from the loss of flexibility in capacity to meet peak passenger demand. During the 1980’s and early 1990’s Inter City Charters had a number of rakes of Mark 1 coaches. These were used to cover specials and occasionally meet demand for additional timetabled services to prevent overcrowded trains. They had the added benefit of being cheap to maintain. However, in recent years the loss of suitable locomotives to haul coaches and the demand for vehicles with power operated doors has contributed to the loss of Mark 1 slam door stock.
Clearly BR was under pressure to save money right though to the 1980’s. It had to find ways to replace first generation diesel and electric multiple units. By increasing vehicle seat capacity on the replacement carriages, British Railways realised building two new coaches replaced the capacity of 3 older carriages. Passengers feel the effects of this policy today. It is the reason why seats do not line up with windows and there are very few seats with tables.
It’s very important that modern railway carriages are as safe as possible. They need structural integrity in the event of an accident to protect the passengers. This greatly adds to the cost of a new build railway carriage. Just one carriage costs well over a million pounds. Adding another carriage to a train to prevent overcrowding is expensive. Since privatisation, passenger demand on our railways has exceeded predictions. Throughout the national network, huge swathes of old BR designed vehicles have been replace including all slam door Mark 1 and 2 electric multiple units.
Despite this massive investment, demand for train travel is greater than the speed at which multi-million pound new trains are funded and built. Management of rolling stock is far better now than pre-TOPS and this continues to improve. However, the prohibitive build cost of a vehicle,means it isn’t a simple case of just adding another carriage. This railwayman of over 40 years wishes it was a simple task because when I hear people say ‘Why can’t they add another carriage’ it adversely affects me. How does it make you feel?
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I think people do always wonder this, especially when a small two carriage train rocks up for what seems like hundreds of people!
I have always wondered this! The amount of people that spill out on to our local platform from just a few carriages can look quiet commical – they just keep coming!
Dave Harris says
Was thinking about this yesterday at Slough, as two new 8-car trains went to Maidenhead due to the electrification works not yet powering all the way to Reading and my 3-car 165 rocked up rammed. I wish each major station had one or two ready to use multiple units to attach in times if need, but it’s simply not economically viable.
Another factor to bear in my mind is the maintenance of trains which fixed set formation makes much easier to manage
Andrew Jarman says
It took TfL a huge amount of cash and investment making the Overground units five coaches rather than four. Even then some of the stations cannot actually take five coaches so SDO is used to lock out the last coaches doors.
Bert Quigley says
Ive been banging this same message for years to anyone who raises the point. Ive even in the last year had one woman blaming british rail…. One omission though, its not just the build cost, Many TOCs lease a lot if not all of their legacy ex-BR stock, and certain types like the ubiquitous 14x are at a real premium. I have not seen figures but have been told by insiders that the charges by the ROSCOs are not exactly cheap, and the lease cost on a single 2 car unit was in excess of £100,000 a month. Personally i think thats probably a year, but when TOCs are leasing 40 of them its a huge dollop of cash. Actual figures aside, fleet compatibility, staff competency and logistics do matter and running three types of units will cost more than 2.
Most of which will be readily understood by most punters, but it doesnt make the argument any easier when youve got some guys elbow in your ribs and youre rammed in like sardines.
Alastair Majury says
Thanks for writing a post on this. This is a common thought that goes through passenger’s minds. Regards, Alastair Majury
Mark Townend says
Layout of stations and junctions also poses a major problem for notional lengthening of trains. Most major commuter and Intercity services are already running many of their peak trains at maximum length for the route. Typically 12 x 20m cars or 10 x 23m cars are used on commuter routes such as SWT into Waterloo for example. When the old Eurostar platforms at the terminus became available after the International services departed for St Pancras, there were ideas floated for 16 car domestic trains to the west, but while that terminus might have been able to handle such trains, elsewhere, at Woking, Basingstoke, Guildford, Portsmouth and Southampton for example such trains could not be accomodated without blocking throat junctions at one or both ends of the stations blocking other movementd and seriously lowering overall capacity. At terminals in particular, an over-long train can completely deadlock the station approach throat junction meaning nothing (including he overlong train itself can arrive or depart. Often at these locations, the railway formation narrows significantly immediately beyond the platform ends, so extending the platfroms and moving the junctions out to suit would be eye-wateringly expensive, also due to the location of bridges, tunnels and in the case of Portsmouth, The Solent. Look at the extent of demolition proposed to achieve the new 400m platforms for HS2 at Euston.
Bill McGrath says
It’s a pity that this message is not made frequently or prominently enough in the public domain. I’m sure many of the travelling public think that after a few driving lessons you can become a train driver. Once you tell them about psychometric tests, rule book, traction learning, route learning, block signalling, etc., they lose interest. Most have no clue as to what goes on behind the scene and, worst of all, how much it costs. Nationalisation won’t alter any of that.