Earlier today Saracens played Harlequins at Wembley Stadium. Kick off was at 15.00, though the pre-match entertainment started at 14.15.The whole event was great fun and a fantastic family afternoon out. I am not going to talk about the result!
Wembley Stadium has a spectator capacity of 90,779. In the event there was an official attendance at the match of 83,761 which was a world record for the number of spectators at club Rugby Union match.
Chiltern Railways have a station at Wembley Stadium. Compared to Wembley Park underground station (which is designed to cope with several tens of thousands of spectators very quickly), Wembley Stadium station is a relatively sleepy backwater. It is however an integral and important part of the public transport infrastructure of the stadium.
Despite having a special timetable in place and laying on extra trains and carriages, the service received by Chiltern Railways' passengers on the way to the match today was shocking. I accept that it is always difficult to accurately predict passenger flows, but the level of overcrowding on trains was dangerously unacceptable and a very poor reflection on the railway company.
For quite some time now, Saracens have been putting out regular announcements as to how many spectators were expected to attend the event. On Wednesday they stated that 'only a few hundred tickets remain on sale' and none were available on-line yesterday.
It was fairly common knowledge that quite a few tickets had been given away. I think that means a lot of tickets were given away, but I don't know. Chiltern Railways seem to have taken this to heart - I have it on very good authority (please note that this is hearsay) that their plans took account of an actual attendance today of around 60,000 spectators.
I have no idea what percentage of event attendees travel to Wembley using Chiltern Railways, but one doesn't need the brains of a rocking horse to realise that a 23,000 underestimate will have led to several extra full capacity trains that it would seem were not planned for. Don't forget that, today, the Metropolitan Line is not running North of Harrow due to engineering works. I know that a lot of people drove down to Chiltern Stations - that is what people should do when they have to make alternative travel arrangements and cannot be described as unexpected behaviour!
My personal experience today is that the train I caught with three friends was standing room only from High Wycombe. Nobody was able to board at either Beaconsfield or at Gerrards Cross. The train was also made to stop at Denham (where nobody could get on), presumably because the waiting passengers could not board the previous train. We could only wave at a friend on the platform at Gerrards Cross, through the train window. She got to her seat at the stadium just over 1/2 an hour after us. She was not happy.
A couple of hours beforehand, I also witnessed passengers being unable to board trains as far out as Princes Risborough.
Many Chiltern Railways passengers were not happy.
I should say that after the match, when passenger flows are much easier to predict, things were much better. Yes trains were full, but boarding was possible and well managed. I also noted that Chiltern were using some (if not all) of their new Class 172 carriages which have fast acceleration and deceleration and are capable of travelling at speeds of up to 100 mph. We caught a four car Class 172 train home.
I cannot assist with any bright ideas as to how to accurately predict unpredictable passenger flows, however I do have one simple suggestion as to how Chiltern Railways could improve the passenger experience on Wembley event days.
My suggestion is that for a period of about three hours, two four car Class 172 trains should run a shuttle service between Gerrards Cross and London Marylebone, calling at Denham South Ruislip and Wembley Stadium only.
These trains could run as ECS (Empty Coaching Stock) from Marylebone back out again to Gerrards Cross, and each train could easily do the round trip in an hour. If these trains were to leave Gerrards Cross immediately after the 1/2 hourly 'fast' services from way up North, they would significantly reduce the match day experience of passengers from stations just outside London. With some decent publicity, Chiltern Railways could earn some decent goodwill from this.
My suggestion is not the entire solution (as I say, some trains were full from Princes Risborough), but it could perhaps help.
Let's face it, the railway company must absolutely coin it in on match days - how about putting on enough trains and in the right places?