How will we all fit on the trains?

By - Friday 23rd September, 2016

Bernadette Fallon, on a commuter service full to bursting, has had a troubling thought

Morello Tower, Cherry Orchard Road.
Photo author’s own.

I write this, my hand holding the pen in a tight fist just under my neighbour’s armpit, the corner of the page sticking into his shoulder as I balance precariously on three handbags under my feet – no, just joking. The train was too packed to open my bag to get the paper and pen out of it and the only bit of space in front of my face was occupied by a fellow commuter’s backpack.

When I moved to Croydon over two years ago, I was normally able to get a seat on the train from East Croydon to Victoria during the morning rush hour. Some days I didn’t, and I would have to stand. But usually I did.

By the time it came to the end of last year, the situation had reversed. Now I rarely got a seat in the mornings. I normally had to stand all the way to Victoria.

Sometimes I’m pressed so tightly to the person standing beside me I can feel their rib cage

I took a break from full-time commuting at the start of this year and worked from home. But now, back commuting three days a week, the situation is a whole new challenge. Oh yes.

Now the dream is not to get a seat in the morning – the very idea of it! – but to find enough room to stand comfortably without the breath of a hundred people in my face and their elbows wedged firmly in my back. It rarely happens. Sometimes I’m pressed so tightly to the person standing beside me I can feel their rib cage.

And while all of this has been going on – from the time of moving to Croydon to the end of last year to now – I’ve been watching the buildings at the edge of the station platform grow and grow and grow.

The station is already over-stretched

Now the first people have started to move into the apartments in Morello Tower on Cherry Orchard Road – just last night as I walked by there was a light in one of the windows – even though most of the tower buildings are still covered in scaffolding and plastic sheeting and still growing ever taller.

And this is what I wonder.

Where on earth are these people going to fit when they try to get on the trains?

Because try to get on the trains they surely will. The apartments – just under 800 of them on Cherry Orchard Road, let’s not even think about the other few hundred on the opposite side in Ruskin Square – are being sold as desirable precisely because of their proximity to the station. In fact, being on the edge of the platform, they couldn’t actually be any closer to the station unless they start to let people sleep in the trains (which will probably the only way of getting on one in the future).

But the station is already over-stretched. Just barely coping. Whenever a train is cancelled there is a worrying build-up of people on the platform – those platforms fill up and get congested fast. So where are all the new apartment residents going to fit?

There isn’t parking for the hundreds of cars they would have to own so they could drive

It’s too much to expect they will all have jobs in Croydon they can walk to. Or that they’ll emerge clad head-to-toe in Lycra every morning and jump on bikes. There isn’t parking for the hundreds of cars they would have to own so they could drive, and the traffic on Cherry Orchard Road is already almost at a standstilll around school run time anyway.

Nope – these people will be train commuters. It’s why they’ve come here in the first place – sold on the idea that Croydon is ‘easy to get out of’.

Only it won’t be any more.

Is building new platforms the answer? It would be, if there didn’t appear to be several hundred apartments and townhouses in the space where the platforms could have been extended to…

Just a thought, people. Just a thought.

Bernadette Fallon

Bernadette Fallon

Bernadette has been a journalist since the age of 7 when she devised, designed and launched ‘Fallon’s News’ – much to her family’s delight. Brought up in Ireland, she was born in Addiscombe where she now lives, though it took her several decades to find it again. She works as a journalist and broadcaster. Follow her at

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  • Peter Staveley

    If you want a seat then you could try the all stations service, many of which start from East Croydon.

    There are plans for new platforms at East Croydon. What will happen is that the existing platforms 1 and 2 eastwards partially into the space between the existing platforms 2 and 3. That will leave enough space for two new platforms underneath the overbridge, although those (new) platforms will be slightly to the north of the existing platforms.

    However, in order to be able to use the additional capacity from those two additional platforms then new junctions will need to be built to the north of East Croydon (in the Windmill Bridge Junction area) for which there are also plans to do so.

    In order to run longer trains then more rolling stock will need to be purchased and various platforms in Surrey and Sussex will need to be extended. Again that is all planned for the next decade.

    Peter Staveley

    • Anne Giles

      The all stations service is incredibly slow. If one wanted to get to work on time one would have to leave home a lot earlier.

      • Peter Staveley

        Define the phrases “a lot” and “incredibly”. The slow trains take around 34 minutes compared to 19 to 21 minutes for the fast. So one has the option to either save up to 15 minutes but stand and do no work or have a seat where you can do some work (albeit in a cramped seat).

        However, the rail industry have recognised the overcrowding and is doing something about it. It is just unfortunate that previous Governments have not provided the authority for Network Rail/Railtrack and the TOCs to make the necessary investment.

        • Anne Giles

          Do you not know what they mean then? Why would anyone want to work on a train anyway? Reading the paper or looking at Facebook would be more interesting. If one is paid to work, then one is paid from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. One is not paid to work out of those hours. I don’t use trains anymore anyway. We drive.

          • Peter Staveley

            Yes I do know what those words mean but in the scheme of things an extra 15 minutes each way (30 minutes per day) is not long and certainly does not justify the use of the words “incredibly” or “a lot”.

            For many people reading work-related documents on the train is a very good use of their time especially as there are unlikely to be distractions. In any case reading a newspaper or looking at Facebook would be far more interesting then looking at your “neighbour’s armpit”.

            I suspect that many people have to work longer than 9am to 5pm and for them grabbing a few minutes working time during what would otherwise be unusable time which then saves time in the office is a welcome opportunity.

            All I am saying is that there are other options to standing for up to 21 minutes on a train.

          • Anne Giles

            Thank God I am out of all that now, as I no longer work anyway.

          • Jim Kelleher

            This is a very surreal conversation. Thanks both!

          • CroydonSurrey

            World has moved on since you last worked.

          • Anne Giles

            No it hasn’t.

  • Yola

    As I read this article I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’m with you in this struggle!

    I get on the train from East Croydon to London Bridge 3 days a week. Every morning I hold my breath and hope that I’m standing in the right place to get on the train, if not I probably won’t get on.

    The problem with the suggestion to use slower trains is that these predicted times are never accurate during the morning commute. So the “faster” trains often take extra time in the morning anyway.

    The addition of 2 extra platforms will help but it’s not enough and by the time that is done another expansion will be needed.

    Cry me a river…

  • CroydonSurrey

    Some of the newer tube style trains seem to have less seats but lots of standing room. I think it’s okay not to expect a seat if your on a fast train from East Croydon to London Bridge or Victoria.

    Ideally they push ahead with the new interchange and the new platforms, Longer term we need double decker trains or multi level platforms as their seems to be bottlenecks closer you get to London.

    • BTejon

      and that will mean lots of bridges have to be rebuilt….. they used to run double decker trains out of charing X in the 1950s but people are too ‘big’ now to make it I think.

  • Bernadette Fallon

    I think it’s great to hear that there are plans in place to address the overcrowding in the long-term. What worries me is what’s going to happen in the next few months as people move into the surrounding apartments.