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Can Croydon's railways cope with passenger boom?


FOR ANYONE who has stood underneath a rush-hour armpit or been late for work because you could not squeeze yourself on to the train, the figures make for depressing reading.

Rail journeys are increasing to and from almost every station in the borough, according to figures from the Office of Rail Regulation, with the trend set to continue for the foreseeable future.

Use of Croydon stations increased by an average of eight per cent in a year - 2,432,467 extra entries and exits - excluding Coulsdon Town, which had a 67 per cent jump.

That unusual spike may be explained by special circumstances, but industry analysts are predicting an overall rise nationally of 35 per cent over the next 30 years.

Rail bosses are scrambling to cater for the rising demand, lengthening platforms, adding carriages and increasing services where possible.

Southern Railway spokesman Chris Hudson said the company ordered 130 new train carriages in December 2011, which will start operating at the end of this year as ten-car trains on routes into Victoria through Norbury, Gipsy Hill and Hackbridge.

Mr Hudson added that station platforms have been extended to cater for the longer trains, and another 40 carriages were ordered in December last year, for use yet to be determined on the railway's network. Croydon Council said it is also talking to Network Rail about increasing capacity at East and West Croydon stations.

"In terms of increases in passenger numbers going forward, it's very difficult to predict as there are so many influencing factors which decide whether a person uses the train or not," said Mr Hudson

"However, going on previous years, an increase in line with the current rate would not be an unreasonable expectation."

London TravelWatch, the watchdog for transport users in and around London, says stretching and tinkering may soon no longer be enough.

"Many of Croydon's stations are being lengthened and will benefit from longer services shortly," said spokesman Richard Freeston-Clough.

"London Overground has provided extra capacity, and Southern – through the Department for Transport -has ordered further additional rolling stock.

"There is always more to be done, but we are probably down to major interventions such as entirely new tunnels etc to provide significant extra capacity rather than marginal differences now."

Mr Freeston-Clough added the group had lobbied for the Uckfield line to be electrified, so carriages could be moved around more easily, improving capacity.

"At the moment capacity between East Croydon and London Bridge is a real problem, as some trains are only two coaches long," he said.

"We have pressed for platform and train lengthening which is imminent, as well as access improvements."

With train travel costing by most accounts a small fortune, the reasons for the increase in journeys may be not be immediately obvious.

But analysts point to a correlative drop in car use, along with more leisure trips being taken thanks to Oyster and Travelcard season tickets.

"Existing demand is probably even higher but some of it will be suppressed demand with passengers choosing alternative modes due to the overcrowding," added Mr Freeston-Clough.

At the sharp end of the trend, in Coulsdon Town, the station's name from the historic Smitham has put the stop on the map, some say.

"People know where the station is now," said Charles King, chairman of the East Coulsdon Residents' Association, who supported the change when it was made in May 2011.

Others put the station's boom – 467,004 entries and exits were recorded there in 2011/12, compared to 279,496 in 2010/11 – down to extra services added there in December 2010.

Late night and evening trains were added between Victoria, London Bridge and Tattenham Corner on Fridays and Saturdays, and extra all-day services on Sundays.

Peter Appleford, secretary of the East Surrey Transport Committee, said the group was pleased extra carriages for some area trains were also on their way.

"People have complained in light of overcrowding; it can get unpleasant with people jammed together," he said.

"By the time the Tattenham Corner train reaches Purley it is already full in the rush hour."

That prospect was creeping up on passengers waiting for the 7.06am service to London Victoria on Wednesday.

Jai Patel, 28, from Coulsdon, said: "I have used the station for 15 to 16 years – I just live around the corner.

"It is not bad in the morning, not too bad at all, but it is pretty crowded by the time you get to East Croydon."

Chris Hewett, 55, said: "Normally I drive to work. It can get very squashed."

Can Croydon's railways cope with passenger boom?

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