Longer trains in the SE - Are they a good idea

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DynamicSpirit

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Network Rail's solution to overcrowding seems to place a very high priority on longer trains. In much of the country where trains are only 2 or 3 carriages, increasing to 4 carriages seems very sensible. But around London, most commuter trains are already 8 carriages. Increasing to 10 or 12 carriages doesn't seem to me a great idea, especially for local services. Clearly something needs to be done about overcrowding, but I'd much rather see the focus put into increasing the frequency of services.

My reasoning (which is really from the perspective of a commuter) is:

  1. Increasing the frequency of services helps passengers hugely: They can be more flexible about when they start their journey, and their journeys will be quicker (less time waiting, especially if they have to change trains). Somewhere around the every-10-minute-frequency mark there will also be a threshold where people will tend to just turn up anytime and wait for the next train, without worrying about checking and working round the actual train timetables - which itself is a big boost to convenience. Making trains longer carries none of those benefits.
  2. The longer you make trains, the further many people have to walk to get to a seat. This problem is made worse by the fact that so many stations have only one entrance, right at one end of the platform. And it's not uncommon that there's a road bridge blocking the platforms where the entrance is, so that any platform lengthening to accomodate longer trains has to go at the far end - not good for passengers.
  3. For people travelling long distances, walking a long way along a platform is inconvenient (and I'm sure for some it is a disincentive to rail travel), but for short journeys where you might only be on the train for 15 minutes, it starts to look absurd. You can almost spend as long walking along the platform as you spend on the train! The results are obvious and predictable: Trains that are packed out with many people standing at one end (usually the 'London' end) but spare seats at the other end. Longer trains will just make that problem worse.
  4. Then there's the problem that TOCs often reduce train lengths at quieter periods, which means passengers then often don't know where on the platform they need to stand to get their train, and end up having to run along the platform when the train arrives. Clearly if there's 6 or 8 carriage lengths of wrong-place-to-stand instead of 4 carriage lengths, that problem becomes far worse. To some extent you can solve that with better information systems, but I think it'll be next to impossible to prevent some passengers from being confused.

Some of these problems could in principle be solved if Network Rail started putting additional entrances to stations along the length of the platform, but I don't see any sign that they're doing that, and I'm not sure whether from a security perspective having only one entrance is seen as desirable anyway? Believe me though, it is incredibly frustrating if, because of where the station entrance is and where you're coming from, you have to walk the entire length of a platform outside the station to get to the entrance only to then have to walk back some distance along the platform to get a place where you'll have a seat. That's yet another problem that, in the absence of more work on the stations, will become worse with longer trains.

In the end, which would you rather have? A train every 6-7 minutes with a shortish walk along the platform, or a train every 10 minutes with a long walk along the platform? Clearly the former is going to be far far more attractive to almost any passenger.

So why are Network Rail putting so much emphasis into delivering the latter and - as far as I can see - around London, almost no emphasis into the former? I realise that more frequent services will presumably require resignalling work and may require track work at the terminal stations to allow increased capacity, and that is all very expensive, but isn't extending platforms and any other work to allow longer trains also expensive?

I'm curious what other people think. Is there something I've missed that makes more frequent services too problematic?
 
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tbtc

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Is there something I've missed that makes more frequent services too problematic?
There just isn't the capacity.

Stand at London Bridge or Clapham for a few minutes and you'll see services every few minutes. With all the conflicting movement there just isn't the space for more trains.

Plus (without trying to get into an argument) you can run a twelve coach train with as many staff as a two/four coach train - staffing costs are an expensive consideration on the railway.

Someone wiser than I can discuss the track access charges for a short train vs a long one
 

DownSouth

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Well that begs the question - what are the track access charges for?

Are they to pay for the path and the signalling systems, in which case longer trains should be cheaper because they occupy only a single path? Are they for track maintenance and electricity, in which case running two shorter trains would be equal to one longer train? Or is it for both?

Staffing costs definitely come down in favour of having longer trains.

--------

On the whole question of capacity against frequency, the OP's stance strikes me as being all about having cake and eating it too, specifically wanting the benefits of a metro system to be applied to his mainline railway without the detriments (like longitudinal seating, slower speeds, more trucks on the roads because freight has no capacity on rail, etc).

If frequency was to be increased, that would require untangling lines and reducing the number of routes which have through trains to London in favour of good connections. Metro services can only run with such high frequency because the number of junctions and diverging routes is kept to a minimum. Wishing for the network to be converted to metro-style lines could come back to bite the OP if his route required changing trains mid-journey.

I doubt that the trains would be able to be much shorter because you would still have a huge number of people trying to get towards the same place at roughly the same time. How long is a ten car train anyway - 200-240 metres or so? That's only 2-3 minutes to walk from one end to the other on the platform so hardly anything to get in a great flap about since the number of times you'll be at opposite ends should even out over time.
 

Hydro

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For people travelling long distances, walking a long way along a platform is inconvenient (and I'm sure for some it is a disincentive to rail travel), but for short journeys where you might only be on the train for 15 minutes, it starts to look absurd. You can almost spend as long walking along the platform as you spend on the train! The results are obvious and predictable: Trains that are packed out with many people standing at one end (usually the 'London' end) but spare seats at the other end. Longer trains will just make that problem worse.ematic?

How long do you think these platforms and trains are?! People tend to pack onto the part of the train that is closest to the entrances to the platform, be the train 4, 8 or 12 coaches long. Almost spend as long walking along the train as you are on it? Be realistic, for Christ's sake.

Even with Metro frequencies, people would rather jump on the first arriving train, regardless of how packed it is, than wait for the next one or the one after that. Look at the Tube. People grease themselves up and dive into a rammed train rather than wait 2 minutes for the next one, or 4-6 minutes for the one after that.
 

eastwestdivide

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From experience in North Kent with 10-coach commuter trains (they've had them there since the 70s), the perceived problem of station entrance positioning relative to the train is alleviated by two things:
- most of these are stopping trains, and different stations have their entrances at different positions,
and
- regular commuters (the majority at peak times) soon work out where to go on the platform to get the best chance of a seat.
 

DaveNewcastle

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Track Access Charges are composed of several elements, most of these are calculated as a price per mile with different tarriffs for each type of vehicle. The longer a train, the higher the price per mile. Foe example, Traction charges for any given train type are almost directly proportional to train length.

As others have said, there are barriers to increased frequency in addition to cost. The network simply hasn't got the capacity.

I will assume that your proposals really are just a personal musing and informed by no research; it beggars belief that any significant sample of passengers would equate 'a long walk along a platform' with 'a longer train in a platform' where in fact the opposite would apply.
 

W-on-Sea

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As a former c2c commuter of several years standing (well, sitting - I commuted from far enough out for finding a seat never to be a problem), I can't agree with the OP.

Longer trains may not be always the most attractive option, but on a railway network as crowded as are large parts of that around London in the rush hour, they are effectively the only option: services that are already frequent (on many lines) are always crammed close to capacity. And there isn't room for more trains!

Building/quadrupling more lines would be an attractive option - but immeasurably more expensive (and slow to implement) than lengthening trains and platforms.
 

Shimbleshanks

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[[Some of these problems could in principle be solved if Network Rail started putting additional entrances to stations along the length of the platform, but I don't see any sign that they're doing that, and I'm not sure whether from a security perspective having only one entrance is seen as desirable anyway?]]

They are putting in an additional exit at East Croydon leading to the Cherry Orchard Road area. It uses the space left by the old parcels and mail ramp to the post office. It's all part of a regeneration scheme for that part of town.
 

yorksrob

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I agree with what most people have said on here. Additionally:

With regard to the OP's point 2, I don't think this is too much of a problem in itself - remember many Southern Region services have had 12 carriage trains for a long time already (much longer and tunnels have a tendancy to get in the way).

Also, with regard to point 4, lengthening trains at peak periods is the most effective way of providing extra capacity in the peaks without having empty capacity running around the network at other times. Frankly, there are few other ways to cope effectively with heavy medium distance commuter flows.

Also, since we've never really gone in for seat reservations for such trains, and with multiple units, 1st class tends to be distributed along the train, rather than up one end, knowing where which bit of the train is going to be in the platform isn't really a problem.
 

6Gman

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The Brighton - Bedford I caught on Tuesday needed eveery one of its twelve coaches!

And there certainly wasn't the capacity for two 6-coach trains through London Bridge !!
 

DownSouth

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If you could make infrastructure adjustments to fit 20.00m cars that are 3.03m wide (0.23m wider than an Electrostar) and 4.41m tall (0.63m taller than an Electrostar) then CityRail double-decked units could be used pretty well off the shelf, with the traction system altered of course. The new Waratah sets currently being built seat 896 people in eight cars including wheelchair spaces at the middle level near the doors.

 

DownSouth

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Oh well, you've always got your current sardine cans then if chipping four inches off the edges of platforms is too hard.
 
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10 and 12 car trains run on my line.

I cant say I'm remotely bothered by the walk along the length of the train. It's not exactly a marathon.

And as a previous post rightly identified, most regular commuters soon work out where there are likely to be vacant seats anyway.
 

Nym

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Oh well, you've always got your current sardine cans then if chipping four inches off the edges of platforms is too hard.
And making every single tunnel and bridge 2ft higher? Get real!

Quite aside from the matter of double decker stock not being suited for UK commuter trains, they wouldn't fit, so it doesn't matter.
 

sprinterguy

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Oh well, you've always got your current sardine cans then if chipping four inches off the edges of platforms is too hard.
As well as having to enlarge tunnel widths and heights, install larger bridges with greater clearances, and either re-align tracks or develop an innovative feature that allows trains to "breathe in" when they pass each other on sections with restricted clearance between adjacent tracks ;) Plus, just how much time do you think it would take and how much disruption would it cause if every platform all across the South East region was to be altered to allow wider trains? Not to mention the large jump across from platform to train and vice versa that passengers travelling on other trains not formed of European gauge double decker stock would have to negotiate.
 

Failed Unit

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There are a lot of 6 / 8 coach trains in the London area, but I wouldn't like to see the cost of making the London Moorgate - Welwyn Garden City / Hertford route longer, while they are at it keep tunnelling and link up with a South Eastern route. Thameslink 3012?
 

Ivo

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As a former c2c commuter of several years standing (well, sitting - I commuted from far enough out for finding a seat never to be a problem), I can't agree with the OP.

Longer trains may not be always the most attractive option, but on a railway network as crowded as are large parts of that around London in the rush hour, they are effectively the only option: services that are already frequent (on many lines) are always crammed close to capacity. And there isn't room for more trains!

Building/quadrupling more lines would be an attractive option - but immeasurably more expensive (and slow to implement) than lengthening trains and platforms.
I wondered if you'd pop up here :lol:

I can only nod my head in agreement at this. Indeed, on the c2c route, sometimes even 12-car trains aren't enough. The 1730 is often full-and-standing out of Fenchurch Street, and it's non-stop to Benfleet! In fact, in BR days some trains ran skip-stop patterns in Southend (skipping even Central in some cases), although there were fewer trains at the time. Four tracking really is the only option to increase capacity further (increasing all stations to 12-car capacity is already underway), and that isn't possible...
 

WestCoast

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[*]For people travelling long distances, walking a long way along a platform is inconvenient (and I'm sure for some it is a disincentive to rail travel), but for short journeys where you might only be on the train for 15 minutes, it starts to look absurd. worse
Personally, I'd say not being able to board the train was more "inconvenient"! It's not really a disincentive for most people either...

Quite aside from the matter of double decker stock not being suited for UK commuter trains
Why do you say that? If you have continental gauge, double decker stock has proven to be a very effective on busy commuter lines out of major cities and major conurbations on the continent, and among many other examples they are present on the Paris RER network and lines into Amsterdam and the Randstad conurbation in the Netherlands. They are very high volume lines with frequent stops. As long as you have wide circulation spaces, which UK gauge doesn't allow for, they're absolute crowd eaters!
 
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Failed Unit

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It is interesting that in Scotland the other view has taken place that 6 coach is long enought for the key Edinburgh - Glasgow route via Falkirk route.

Extending the platforms to 7 or 8 coaches on this route will be challenging to say the least, I know 7x 23m coaches can fit on platform 7 at Queen Street, I have send a 170 share the platform with 2x 156s. Making it 8 coaches would involve heading into the concourse, not impossible but extremely expensive (Waverley has enough platforms that could cope)

By creating the express Edinburgh - Glasgow service call in Haymarket only they feel that they will have enough capacity as it will relieve the normal services. This may be true if couple with making services to Stirling 6 coaches on all routes (these are typically 4 car from Edinburgh in the peak and 5 from Glasgow).

Likewise services such as the 1733 ex Glasgow towards Kirkcaldy and the 1727 express Dunblane out of Edinburgh are only 3 coaches so there is a but of room for growth.

However it does come back to the pathing, I still don't see how they are going to path the express service on a 2 track railway, even with the Linlithgow - Dalmeny diversion it will still be tight! Lets say the Express leaves at 0.57, will the service stopping at Falkirk High, Linlithgow and Polmont still be out its way? Maybe but it does bring me on to the next point, when the line floods at Winchburgh, will they regret only have 6 coach lengths a they need to cut the frequency?
 

transmanche

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Not to mention the large jump across from platform to train and vice versa that passengers travelling on other trains not formed of European gauge double decker stock would have to negotiate.
Something like this might help with the platform problem!

OK, that's totally unfeasible for the whole L&SE network - but I have often wondered if something like that has ever been considered for Bank (Central line), Waterloo (Bakerloo line) and other tube stations with sharply curved platforms.
 

DynamicSpirit

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Personally, I'd say not being able to board the train was more "inconvenient"! It's not really a disincentive for most people either...
That's unfair. I did not say that nothing should be done. The point I was making (perhaps I didn't make it sufficiently clear) was that, if you had the option to add a certain number of seats either by lengthening trains or by providing more frequent trains, then providing more frequent trains is going to be a far better option for most passengers, and I was querying why Network Rail doesn't seem to have given any thought to that option.
 

transmanche

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[...] if you had the option to add a certain number of seats either by lengthening trains or by providing more frequent trains, then providing more frequent trains is going to be a far better option for most passengers, and I was querying why Network Rail doesn't seem to have given any thought to that option.
Take the 2tph, 8-car Waterloo to Reading service. Would it be a better option for most passengers to run a 4tph, 4-car service instead? At the Reading end it probably would. The problem is the lack of capacity at the London end.

So perhaps this lack of spare capacity means that Network Rail didn't need to think about it for longer than a few seconds. The only way to add that extra capacity is via vast and expensive engineering projects such as the Thameslink Programme (née Thameslink 2000).
 

tbtc

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If you have continental gauge, double decker stock has proven to be a very effective on busy commuter lines out of major cities and major conurbations on the continent, and among many other examples they are present on the Paris RER network and lines into Amsterdam and the Randstad conurbation in the Netherlands. They are very high volume lines with frequent stops. As long as you have wide circulation spaces, which UK gauge doesn't allow for, they're absolute crowd eaters!
It sounds fine if you are starting from scratch, but we don't have that luxury.

If you are going to have double decker stock then:

  • You'd need to to have a significant number of trains (to justify the infrastructure improvements)
  • You'd need to ensure that it was a fairly self contained network (since you don't want these double deck trains used on other duties for obvious reasons!)
  • You'd need to do it on a line that cannot take longer trains

...for me the only suitable place would be LTS/ C2C - it might work there.

It is interesting that in Scotland the other view has taken place that 6 coach is long enought for the key Edinburgh - Glasgow route via Falkirk route
Well, when the 170s were introduced they were replacing a half hourly four-coach 158. There was scope to introduce new paths, so the fifteen minute service with three/six coach 170s was still a big increase in capacity.

The line appears to be at almost full capacity now (e.g. four trains on the Bathgate line, trains stopping at Edinburgh Park), and Queen Street seems to be almost at capacity (scope for an extra coach on the Falkirk High trains, but not much more without spending silly money), so I'm not sure where the scope is to improve the capacity on the Edinburgh - Glasgow line. I don't think there's scope for "fast" services (despite certain people making claims about 125mph!) since you'd catch the train in front up far too quickly. A three/four coach EMU (like a 380) seems a sensible way to match demand (peak/ off peak) to supply.
 

Ivo

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Take the 2tph, 8-car Waterloo to Reading service. Would it be a better option for most passengers to run a 4tph, 4-car service instead? At the Reading end it probably would. The problem is the lack of capacity at the London end.
A better option would be to run the line at 10-car lengths but with a limited-stop pattern west of Ascot (as well as east of Staines), calling only at Bracknell and Wokingham and with the smaller stations served by a half-hourly 5-car service (using the same stock) between Ascot and Reading. However, such a plan would be at best difficult to implement and at worst detrimental to the local communities with sizeable numbers of London commuters.
 

WestCoast

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It sounds fine if you are starting from scratch, but we don't have that luxury.

If you are going to have double decker stock then:

  • You'd need to to have a significant number of trains (to justify the infrastructure improvements)
  • You'd need to ensure that it was a fairly self contained network (since you don't want these double deck trains used on other duties for obvious reasons!)
  • You'd need to do it on a line that cannot take longer trains

...for me the only suitable place would be LTS/ C2C - it might work there.
.
I agree fully, but I was responding to a point about double decker trains not being suitable (i.e. in terms of interior layout e.t.c) for UK commuter routes in general, aside from the logistical issues. My point was that if you've got continental gauge to play with, they can work very successfully on commuter routes.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
That's unfair. I did not say that nothing should be done. The point I was making (perhaps I didn't make it sufficiently clear) was that, if you had the option to add a certain number of seats either by lengthening trains or by providing more frequent trains, then providing more frequent trains is going to be a far better option for most passengers, and I was querying why Network Rail doesn't seem to have given any thought to that option.
In an ideal world, trains running more frequently would be a great option, but insufficient track capacity and increased cost are preventing this. Apart from people with reduced mobility or those with heavy luggage, I still don't see how walking along a platform is that much hassle for rail users. If you're a frequent user, then you're also going to know where is better to stand. Clearer signage and marking may be needed in some locations though. Perhaps I see it like this because I tend to walk to my local station and I prefer that to taking a bus/car, I don't know.
 
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tbtc

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I agree fully, but I was responding to a point about double decker trains not being suitable (i.e. in terms of interior layout e.t.c) for UK commuter routes in general, aside from the logistical issues. My point was that if you've got continental gauge to play with, they can work very successfully on commuter routes
I could see them working, but only if we had the infrastructure to play with, and I can't see that happening (rightly or wrongly) - sadly that's a big "but".
 

DynamicSpirit

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How long do you think these platforms and trains are?! People tend to pack onto the part of the train that is closest to the entrances to the platform, be the train 4, 8 or 12 coaches long. Almost spend as long walking along the train as you are on it? Be realistic, for Christ's sake.
I don't think I'm being unrealistic. In my experience, normal walking takes just under about 2 minutes to walk the length of an 8 car train. So that's nearly 3 minutes for a 12 car train. For someone who's elderly or infirm (and those are the people who most need seats) you can easily add 50% to that. If the platform is very crowded so you need to filter around other people you can add a bit more again. So in the most extreme case, if you have to walk most of the platform at both ends of your journey, you could be looking over 5 minutes walking along the platform (assuming you are sufficiently concerned to get a seat that you're willing to walk to get a seat). Now granted I don't make many complete journeys of less than 5 minutes, but it does happen. If my journey involves changing trains then it's quite common that I spend no more than 5 minutes on a single train.


Even with Metro frequencies, people would rather jump on the first arriving train, regardless of how packed it is, than wait for the next one or the one after that. Look at the Tube. People grease themselves up and dive into a rammed train rather than wait 2 minutes for the next one, or 4-6 minutes for the one after that.
Indeed, something that I've long puzzled about - especially on the tube when the next train might literally be 1 minute away. In that situation, if there's any reasonable likelihood that the next train will be less busy and I'm not in a real hurry, I'll almost always wait. I assume I must just prioritize getting a seat higher than many other people. Not sure how this is related to the points I was making though :)
 

HSTEd

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Wasn't there that proposal to clear the entire WCML to GB+ for freight services at one point.....?

Ideally Crossrail should have been built to take double decker trains like the RER but oh well..... Maybe Crossrail 2 will be?
 
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