Managing overcrowding on trains

With the release today of the MP’s report declaring that overcrowding on trains will only get worse attention will surely turn to how design and human behaviour can help.

On the BBC website today one expert declares that it is all about creating and maintaining flow.  This may well be true but it seems to us to deny many of the basic motivations that govern human behaviour in this situation – in an overcrowded train, with potentially a long journey ahead, you want a seat or at least a good place to stand. Mass transit is a de-personalised experience – as evidenced everyday by the impersonal behaviour that everyone exhibits on the Tube. So selfish acts become easier and everyone wants to be first never mind keeping the “flow”.
So the real need seems to be to look at how design can address the challenge but accepting the way that people will behave.  Obviously the easy solution is to avoid the overcrowding in the first place but there seems to be limited appetite to spend enough to increase capacity as the MPs highlighted.  So can you change the design of the doors or the vestibule area? Can you change the way the passengers are managed at the station and on the platform? 
At CCD we have certainly worked on station and rolling stock projects that have attempted to address some of these issues.  Projects that have sought to understand the human behavior better, or where we have worked with the designers and engineers to improve the interior of the carriage.  All of these projects have been successful but it seems that the challenges are only increasing and perhaps now is the time for more innovative thinking.



  1. I would like to see tube trains designed so that people move along the carriage. When I have my nose crushed against an armpit right by the door, I want to kill the people in the middle (eight yards way from me)who have room to swing a family of cats. Good design might be a better solution than murder.

  2. I believe the Rail Safety and Standards Board have issued reports that deal with crowding in stations and on trains. These reports, which I believe were commissioned from human factors/ergonomics consultants, include investigation of behaviours (and what perhaps drives them) and suggestions for how design and passenger management can be utilised to improve the situation. Many of the suggestions have been gleaned from best practice and they include information about which work best for the different circumstances (long-distance vs commuter train, etc). This information is all out there waiting to be used, the question is do the train operating companies have the will to improve rolling stock and station layout, and give their staff training in how to best manage crowding?

  3. Andrew, I think your point about motivation for change is key. I'm pretty sure that there isn't much of one at the moment. Staff training is an interesting one. I personally saw recently the lack of staff training and contingency planning when there are failures and station staff have to manage large crowds.

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