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Packed trains 'safer', claim UK rail bosses

Good news for cattle-class commuters

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Those among you who are accustomed to the daily cattle-class commute on Britain's world-class rail network are advised to do some deep-breathing exercises and pour yourselves a stiff brandy before reading on.

And here's why: according to the Evening Standard, bosses of said network have declared that - contrary to what the uninformed man on the street might think - packed trains are actually safer in the event of a crash.

The claim comes from the rail safety watchdog the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), in response to a letter from Newbury Tory MP Richard Benyon asking for action against First Great Western for the "appalling" service from West Berkshire to London.

An ORR spokesman replied: "Research in the late Nineties...found that where there was a crowded or overcrowded train carriage there was no detrimental effect to people involved in crashes. In a lot of cases people were better off in train carriages where there was overcrowding."

He continued: "Service levels are set by the Department for Transport. We are the safety regulator for the industry. However, there is no legal limit on the number of passengers that can travel in any given train. There is no safety law regarding the maximum number of people in a train carriage."

Cue general outrage. Conservative MP for Didcot Ed Vaizey thundered: "That's got to be the most ludicrous thing I have ever heard. It's like arguing you should pack a family saloon with 12 people as a road safety measure. People have got to stop passing the buck."

Shadow transport secretary Chris Grayling weighed in with: "Given the scale of the problem of overcrowding, it's insensitive and crass, to say the least, to say people are better off in packed trains."

A Department for Transport spokesman, meanwhile, sought to assure MPs and commuters alike that "action was being taken to deal with overcrowding and claimed £88m was being spent every week for five years to improve the network".

He added: "We are already increasing capacity on Britain's busiest rail routes, and this will continue. Investment is at record levels and we're also working to make best use of existing capacity.

"Major projects which will deliver more services include the high speed line between London and the South-East which will provide 10,000 extra seats in the peak, and the West Coast Main Line modernisation which has already delivered longer trains into Euston.

"We're seeing more peak services, for example on Chiltern Railways, and South West Trains will deliver longer trains on key commuter lines. This month, First Great Western started introducing refurbished high speed trains, which increase capacity by 35,000 seats a day."

It remains to be seen whether commuters will warm to the idea of actually sitting down on a train, or will opt for the comparative safety of being packed like sardines in a can. ®

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