Crowded trains are 'good thing' says minister

Overcrowded trains on the West Coast Mainline are a "good thing" because it proves passengers can afford to travel by train, a cabinet minister has said.

Fury erupted today after Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon said packed carriages can be viewed as a sign of success.

Mr Hoon made his comments before the influential Commons transport select committee.

He claimed trains are packed because of the "pricing structures" in recent years – despite an above inflation fare increase in January meaning some journeys are more expensive than flying abroad.

And he even said the British rail network is the "envy" of other European countries.

Commuters groups say the problem is not limited to the West Coast Mainline citing problems on the local TransPennine Express which goes from Lancashire to Manchester and the North East.

Mr Hoon made the comments after Carlisle Labour MP Eric Martlew complained that overcrowding on the West Coast Main line during last week's half term school holidays had been "horrendous."

Mr Hoon admitted that the conditions were "not acceptable", and said the Government had allocated 10bn specifically for improving capacity on the rail network.

But he went on to say: "I am not in any way trying to lighten the difficulties we face.

"I came down on Monday (October 27) as well and the impact of half-term was noticeable, not only on the train but on the Underground, but again I hope I'm not being over enthusiastic when I say that is a good thing.

"People being able to move around the country with more freedom, particularly at half-term, demonstrates that not only can they afford to do so but structures are available to do so.

"I suspect this is quite a lot to do with pricing policies in recent years that make it possible for people to travel from the far North West to London."

He went on to praise Virgin's "sophisticated" and "modern" fleet of trains on the West Coast Mainline, which offer "excellent service" to passengers.

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