Dec 2010 - Signals are key to overcrowding

01 June 2013

A report from the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) this month concluded that there is ‘little evidence of an increasing health and safety problem’ as a result of overcrowding in trains. It read more like a TOC handout than RSSB research.


For one thing their first recommendation proposes defining what ‘crowding on trains’ actually means. It’s quite remarkable to declare something safe before you know what it is! It also points out that there are problems like passengers not being able to see warning signs, or hear audible warnings – but as these are ‘general’ crowding problems, and not train-specific, they have decided to ignore them!


I was also drawn to their identifying ‘underutilisation of the space available on trains’ as an issue. This means the first class is empty and the second is full. Frankly it doesn’t take a genius to solve this one!


I could put more arguments showing that overcrowding is patently unsafe, but I want to talk about solving problems, not tinkering with the issues as the RSSB recommendations propose.

The solution is very simple. Rail is getting more popular every year, so we need more trains. The only way we can run more trains is by radical improvement to signalling.


Modern signalling means more trains can run safely along a piece of track. Yet not only does the UK not have modern signalling – we won’t be getting it for the foreseeable future. The days of the line side signal should be over – but each year the introduction of the up-to-date European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) slips further into the future.


Years ago we were told it would be introduced in ten years. Then it became 15 years. Now estimates for its introduction into the UK is set at 30 years – and even then it will not cover the entire network. By that time passengers will be lucky to get a place on the roof.

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