Passenger surveys show that apart from ‘dealing with delays’, and ‘value for money’ (which is probably in part linked to over-crowding), insufficient room to sit or even stand is the biggest sources of passenger dissatisfaction with the train service. As an article in the Sevenoaks Chronicle demonstrated, the inadequacy of seating, often arising from inexplicably short trains, remains a real frustration. The situation is not helped by reports that the Department of Transport (DfT) is intent on defining away the problem by relaxing its standards.

The allowance for standing room is typically 35% of the number of seats based on 0.45m2 per person. For Southeastern’s class 376 Metro stock the standard is 0.35m2 per person.

‘Passengers in Excess of Capacity’ (or ‘PiXC’) is an overcrowding indicator established and monitored by the DfT. Under the franchise agreements between the DfT and the train operating company (TOC), the operator had an obligation to produce a Train Plan to demonstrate that it was planning its timetable and allocating rolling stock in a way that best reconciled its available capacity with passenger demand to keep overcrowding to a minimum.

The standards set by DfT for PiXC were for loadings of no more than 4.5% above capacity for any one peak and no more than 3% above capacity across both peaks. No penalties were levied on operators which failed to meet these standards, however. The DfT now sets a variety of performance targets for individual TOCs.

The DfT is currently considering how best to measure crowding for future franchises.

How is PiXC measured?

The PiXC measure was applied to trains arriving in London between 7.00 am and 9.59 am and then again for trains departing from London between 4.00 pm and 6.59 pm.

For journeys of more than 20 minutes, which should have covered all commutes using mainline services from Sevenoaks to London, capacity was defined as the number of standard class seats. For journeys of 20 minutes or shorter, an allowance for ‘normal’ standing room of around 35% of the number of seats (the exact figure depended on the type of train) was also added.

Source: Peak crowding and passenger demand” Autumn 2010, Office of Rail Regulation, August 2011 and earlier National Rail Trends Reports.

Overcrowding at an acceptable level?

The chart above compares actual conditions for Southeastern’s services with the standards. (Annual observations below the broader dashed lines indicate that the standard has been met.)

As well as there being a trend improvement, the overcrowding data appear to reflect the economic cycle. The data for 2010 also reflect the introduction of HS 1 services.

Until 2005, separate data were provided for Outer Kent (i.e. Mainline) and Inner Kent (Metro) services and in 2005 the Outer Kent morning peak figure (most relevant for Sevenoaks commuters) was in breach of the 4.25% standard. Unfortunately, these separate figures are no longer published. The Outer Kent data would have enabled us to track the impact of HS1 on the loading of Kent Mainline services.

We remain sceptical of the way the data is compiled. For example, if a mainline train stops at Chelsfield, it is deemed to fall into the ’20 minutes or less’, ‘Inner Kent’ category, so its assumed capacity was increased by around a third because of the addition of the ‘acceptable’ level of standing room factor. In our view this treatment biased the results.

Comparisons with other TOCs

According to the latest data, Southeastern’s PIXC figures compare very favourably with those of other operators (including Govia’s neighbouring franchise, Southern) –

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