‘Every man for himself!’: The chaos of commuting from Urmston to Manchester on overcrowded Northern Rail

This week Andy Burnham proclaimed ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to Northern Rail’s service. With this rallying cry he’s become the voice of the voiceless – and we’re counting on him to be heard.

I’m a commuter. Every day I catch the 8:46am service from Urmston to Manchester Oxford Road. A delayed train doesn’t faze many of us at this station. No, most of us can handle being a few minutes late for work because quite frankly we’re used to it. The real worry is what awaits us when a train does finally pull up.

Overcrowding. Crushes. Chaos.

PACKED: Sardines have more room to move around

Almost routinely we’re faced with the most uncomfortable journey you could imagine.  One where you can literally feel someone’s breath in your face because you’re squeezed in so tightly. These conditions last for around 17 minutes. And what’s the worst part of it all? You actually have to fight to be a part of it.

You see, there’s no way to guarantee that you can secure your place on this service. The monthly railcard we pay £86.10 should do the trick, but it doesn’t. Even being on the platform 10 minutes early doesn’t ensure that you’ll make it into Manchester as planned.

Let’s look at how things usually pan out.

ROUTINE: Severe overcrowding isn’t out of the ordinary

There’s a collective groan when a brimming train first arrives. This sense of camaraderie doesn’t last long though. After all, we all know that there isn’t enough room for everyone to get on. It’s now every man for himself.

The service starts at Liverpool Lime Street before stopping at a further 13 stations on its way to Urmston. It’s already heaving with passengers by the time it reaches us, some of which consider the carriages to be at full capacity. These people are in for a shock though because streams of commuters are just seconds away from fighting their way aboard.

The first to climb on are those lucky men and women who have positioned themselves right where the doors open on the platform. They are the envy of everyone else. The rest scatter to the front, back and middle of the train where queues have already started. It’s anyone’s guess who will or won’t make it on.

DEFEATED: Commuters can be forced to make alternative transport plans

The situation can appear dire, but there are moments when you see the good in others. For example, a fellow passenger – now one of your brothers in arms – shouts ‘can you all move down?’. There’s often very little movement, but the effort is appreciated nonetheless.

Soon it becomes obvious that some people will have to make alternative plans. The thought of going through this again in half an hour just isn’t an option, so now it’s time for the excuses. ‘I’ve got a doctor’s appointment’, ‘I’ve got an exam’, ‘I’ve got a job interview’.

This is the reality of using the service provided by Northern Rail. You have to almost barter your way onto a train. People use everything in their arsenal so that they can be that person who’s squashed against the door rather than one of those left on the platform.

UNACCEPTABLE: People are paying over £1,000 a year to be left on the platform

I’ve been one of those who’s been told there’s no more room, and it’s a bitter pill to swallow. An angry tweet to @northernassist can feel like it’s your best plan of action at the time, but it feels almost like shouting into an abyss. You can only admit that you’ve been defeated – and it’s not even 9am.

Meanwhile, there’s little sense of achievement when you do make it on the train. There’s no such thing as personal space and you daren’t make a peep unless it’s to mutter something derogatory about Northern Rail. You’d certainly cause uproar if you took a call, especially since there’s barely enough room to squeeze your arms down through the sheer mass of bodies.

You only pray that when you do manage to slide your mobile out of your pocket, your fellow passengers will presume that you’re texting your boss to let them know you’ll be late. In actual fact, you’re just letting off steam by texting a friend. ‘Train is packed, this is ridiculous’ is the standard template. It’s the same message they sent you two days earlier.



Is this really acceptable in a city like Manchester in 2018?

Greater Manchester commuters are clearly being pushed to breaking point with the current rail service. Fares rose by 3.4% in January, meaning we’re now spending more than ever to experience daily delays, hourly cancellations and severe overcrowding. The excuses no longer fly and the apologies just don’t wash.

Time will tell whether Andy Burnham’s call for an investigation into Northern Rail will be the turning point people are looking for. Until then, there’s just not much light at the end of this tunnel.

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