Straight Outta Bolton: A Passenger’s Eye View of Overcrowding on Northern Trains

In Pictures: The Evening Crush Hour

Over the last six months, there has been a lot of coverage on the Southern Rail strike and the cancellations faced by its commuters. The main reason for the strike is the introduction of Driver Only Operation on 8 to 12 car units. That’s right: 8 to 12 carriages, without a guard.

I would say the safety implications caused by DOO (with that great a number of carriages) would be adverse. Britain’s railways will be less safer and accessible than at present. Even with several stations across the network lacking suitable access for disabled passengers. Cancellations have meant more crowded trains.

Meanwhile in the North of England, levels of overcrowding seen on their trains attract fewer column inches nationwide.

Dare you ride the 1757 from Manchester Victoria?

Here’s where it gets personal. In other words, here’s my experience. Since my employer moved to offices closer to Manchester city centre, I have familiarised myself with Salford Central railway station. The chances of getting a seat at Salford Central are greater than at Manchester Victoria on my usual train home. Both stations are equidistant from my workplace.

Why on Earth is this such a big deal? My usual train, which departs from Manchester Victoria at 1757 only has two carriages. In the PM peak. As for punctuality, it is on average seven minutes late. The usual rolling stock is a two car Class 156 Super Sprinter unit. They seat up to 152 passengers. By Manchester Victoria station, there seems to be a further 90 to 100 passengers riding in perpendicular fashion.

On some occasions, there may be a two car Class 150 Sprinter unit in its place. Though alighting and boarding is quicker than the Super Sprinters (due to wider doors), fewer seats are available. More so if the version of Sprinter unit has 124 seats instead of 149 or 131.

If you’re really unlucky, the usual Sprinter family of DMU may be substituted by a Pacer unit.

The horror.

A typical Northern Pacer unit has either 106, 114 or 121 seats. As the average Super Sprinter has 140 to 149 seats, that is at worst a shortfall of 53 seats. Add a further 90 passengers (stood up), that is a grand total of 143 packed perpendicular passengers. Stood up in doorways, stood up in the corridor connector doorways. Possibly with two in the toilet. Even with the best case scenario (of a 121 seat Class 142), there’s still enough extra standees to fill a single decker bus.

With the levels of overcrowding I have seen passengers fainting. By Manchester Victoria, passengers are told to move along the corridors, fighting for every millimetre of carpet or hard flooring. Extra staff are employed to summon passengers toward the replete carriages.

Seen below is a series of pictures from August to October 2016. These have been photographed on the occasions when my usual Sprinter or Super Sprinter has been supplanted by a Pacer unit.

noddingdonkey-ampeak01
A journey on the 0746 service from Stalybridge to Southport.
noddingdonkey-pmpeak002
Seen outside Miles Platting in August 2016, the combination of warm weather and a crush load makes for an uncomfortable journey.
noddingdonkey-pmpeak003
Departing from Manchester Victoria East Junction, here’s one of the truly awful Merseytravel PTE refurbished Pacer units.
noddingdonkey-pmpeak004
Manchester Victoria, after the first few passengers have boarded.
noddingdonkey-pmpeak006
In less than ten minutes, the Class 142 Pacer unit is replete with passengers.
noddingdonkey-pmpeak007
Another shot of a Class 142, this time, mere seconds after arriving on platform 6 of Manchester Victoria station.
noddingdonkey-pmpeak008
Ten minutes later, packed, then…
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…truly rammed on departure.

In spite of recent changes to train fares and gross overcrowding, rail ridership levels continue to rise. According to Northern’s franchise agreement, the Class 142 Pacer units are slated for scrapping in 2019. Another source states that 2021 will be the final year of Nodding Donkey operation, with the Mid-Cheshire line having these heritage DMUs.

Elsewhere, it is stated that Transpennine Express will take over most of the Huddersfield line stopping service with trains terminating at Manchester Piccadilly. This is expected to take place after the May 2018 timetable. Northern trains will be seen on peak hour journeys and local trains from Stalybridge.

S.V., 12 January 2017.

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One thought on “Straight Outta Bolton: A Passenger’s Eye View of Overcrowding on Northern Trains

Add yours

  1. Hi Stuart

    I live near Guide Bridge station. As a result of TPE re-routing the Huddersfield stopping service to Piccadilly, does this mean that the service will stop at Guide Bridge and Gorton/Ashburys in lieu of Ashton-under-Lyne?

    Thanks.

    Conor

    Like

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