I recently began using my senior person’s railcard. Quite good, in parts, but partly prompted by the concurrrent debate on HS2 (proposed UK High Speed Rail line) I thought I would use the experience to add my two pence worth. It seems the management (aka government) reckon spending several billion is justified on the grounds of increased network capacity. I reckon you could get more bums on seats, without spending much at all, if the train staff were empowered to charge fares for every seat occupied by a bag, pair of feet etc. as well as the owners of same.
Last week I travelled on a morning service from Axminster to Exeter, early enough for it to be crowded with late commuters and early shoppers (like me). A young man was sitting alone in a table-for-four. He had placed himself on the aisle and had his feet on the seat opposite, effectively blocking access to the other two seats. Across the aisle was a ‘mature’ lady similarly spread across two seats from the aisle where her butt actually was. In the disabled area a young woman had filled the extra foot space with shopping bags and was sitting cross-legged on one seat, sideways, while she used the other seat as a cross between a social-media hub and office. The conductor came through asking for tickets, and said nothing. A community police officer came through and said nothing. It seems that those with the brass neck to ‘claim’ as much space as they want rely on the British reticence to cause a fuss and the fear of being embroiled in an altercation: people getting on further down the line passed by looking for a seat and opted to stand. I call this civic delinquency. If every seat had a fare paying bum in it wouldn’t that help the capacity shortage? Of course, those trains in the rush hour that are full to overflowing round London have no spare space – but HS2 isn’t going to ‘do’ commuting is it?
I can’t understand how, from a safety perspective, the train companies get away with that: even a minor derailment in a sardine tin is going to result in more injuries or fatalities than if everyone has a seat. Airlines aren’t allowed to have standing passengers, yet the take-off and landing phase of a flight is the most probable time to have an aviation accident and at speeds comparable with our existing trains, never mind ones that go at 200mph.