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8:20am Thursday 19th April 2012 in Leader
Welcome as the news is that progress is being made in cutting overcrowding on trains running through Oxfordshire, it only underlines how much remains to be done to bring the rail network into the 21st century.
Newly-released Department for Transport (DfT) figures show just one Oxford to London Paddington train was in the spring 2011 list, compared to four in the autumn 2010 figures.
In those 2010 statistics, First Great Western featured in all 10 of the DfT’s top ten list of overcrowded trains in the South East and London.
Four Oxford to London trains appeared in the list, including the 6.15pm from London — which was an astonishing 77 per cent over capacity and came third in the table — and the 6.07am from Oxford — which was 68 per cent over capacity and came sixth. The company now has five of its trains in the spring 2011 figures, including one between Oxford and London. The 7.31am train from Oxford to London Paddington, since replaced by the 7.15am from Charlbury, was the third most overcrowded, operating about 55 per cent over capacity — with 210 more passengers than the 381 seats.
To give credit to the company, users’ groups are full of praise for its efforts and First Great Western hopes that a project to roll out 4,500 more seats on rush-hour routes up to September this year will continue to reduce overcrowding. But the company recognises this is no cure-all.
The continuing growth in rail passenger numbers is relentless. Latest figures from the Office of Rail Regulation show an 8.6 per cent rise in 2010/11 in the number of people using rail stations nationwide.
We can be certain that the figure for Oxfordshire is even greater, which is why the need to improve the infrastructure around the county’s stations is pressing.
So it is welcome to note that work is under way, at last, on a much-needed £6.7m scheme to revamp Didcot Parkway forecourt. Improvement work, first outlined more than a decade ago, was originally due to start in March last year, but was postponed following safety assessments by Network Rail.
The crying need for improvements to parking alone is obvious, with cars littering roadside verges near some busy rural stations.
One of our correspondents this week also questions the continuing delays over improvements to the Oxford-Marylebone rail link and wonders if the completion date for the planned new station at the Water Eaton park-and-ride is too optimistic. For the sake of everyone we hope he is proved wrong on both counts.