21 November 2007
In which I stand around on Putney station for two hours in the freezing cold and learn next to nothing
Patrick Crozier

The idea was that I would get up early, travel up to Putney1, take some photos and report back on the sardine-like conditions on London’s trains in the rush hour.

So what went wrong?

The sardines didn’t show.  What I actually saw were scenes like this:
And this:

So, everything’s hunky-dory, then?  Proof positive that overcrowding can be solved without your plan of punting the fares into the stratosphere.

Well, hold your horses.  While things were a lot less crowded it could have been because it was a Friday.  More to the point, it did occur to me that almost no one on board could be described as comfortable.  If you were standing the chances were you would be doing so in a rather contorted position and if you were sitting… well, the seats are too narrow, there’s no legroom, they’re far too upright (Tornado position3) and if you’ve got a window seat your legs’ll be crushed by what appears to be metal trunking placed there for that sole purpose.
Frankly, I think I’d rather take my chances with the Tokyo rush hour.

You’re kidding me!  Don’t they have people pushers?

Apparently they do, not that I have ever seen them.  And I’ve my own memories.  But last time I went things were much more civilised.
The point about this, is that although everyone’s standing - they have to be the seats are locked out of use - they’ve all got a grab handle and can stand upright.  Plus there at least four doors per carriage2 so they’ll be able to get out easily. The thing is I suspect that British seats are so bad with knock-on effects to those standing because of incentives written into the franchise agreement between government and TOC.


Well, these thing are subject to commercial confidentiality.

How convenient.



1. I chose Putney because in the days when I did commute, this was by far the worst stop with long waits as people shoved themselves aboard.

2. In some cases there are six.

3. So named due to the amazing similarity between the position they force the passenger to adopt and the position a Tornado pilot adopts immediately prior to ejecting.

Update.  People pusher link fixed.


  1. I agree that the seats are too narrow.  Often no-one sits in the middle seat of a set of three because it’s more comfortable to stand.  Sitting in this middle seat means being far too intimate with other passengers, and so unable to move that even reading is difficult.

    My friend who works for a railway company told me that there are regulations about how many seats must be on the train.  Hmm.

    Unfortunately the people pusher video no longer works, but I get the idea.  I’ve seen (and suffered from) the opposite problem in London: closing the train doors before everyone can get on (the doors will close 30 seconds before departure, etc).  Another hazard is that when alighting, there are people sprinting towards you to make sure they get on.

    I like this dialogue form of blogging, by the way.  Perhaps I will try it.

    Posted by Rob Fisher on  22 November 2007 at 12:02 am

  2. I think there is already a little bit of pre-Christmas wind-down, actually. (This might be people not feeling the need to be quite so punctual rather than just people on holidays). Trains seemed more crowded a month or two back.

    For a “sardines” station on the tube, I might suggest trying to board the Jubilee Line going east at Canada Water at 8.45am. This is bad now, but it is going to be horrendous when the East London Line extension opens.

    Posted by Michael Jennings on  23 November 2007 at 08:28 pm

  3. “a little bit of pre-Christmas wind-down” - ah, the coming recession/depression/disaster.

    Posted by dearieme on  25 November 2007 at 04:46 pm

  4. dearieme: It’s possible. I hope you are wrong, obviously.

    Posted by MIchael Jennings on  01 December 2007 at 09:51 pm

  5. To be quite honest it seems your there at the wrong time, i noticed that on the platform display the time read ‘07.33’...if you had showed up half an hour to an hour later that sardine situation would definately be there.

    As a regular commuter on South West Trains from Putney, i’ve also come to find that you should avoid the 08.42 service to Windsor ER, simply because i’ve had the worst experience in history on there, and yes it can be more unpleasant than the underground, it is actually possible!

    Posted by Damian on  15 December 2007 at 05:53 am

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