How do we solve the luggage problem on trains?

I’m not a fan of pointing out problems, without putting up at least some semblance of a suggestion for a possible solution – but I’m afraid the rapidly increasing problem of luggage on trains has got me well and truly stumped.

Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it. Quite the reverse. Sticking our fingers in our ears and going ‘LA LA LA’ is never a great strategy – but that seems to have been the DfT’s and industry’s approach – until now. It has to stop.

It’s now got so bad that both Lumo and LNER are cranking up restrictions on what the airlines call your ‘baggage allowance.’ There’s even a now standard sized wheelie bag with extending handle which is specially made for flying, which will fit in the overhead lockers and which you are therefore allowed to take aboard the aircraft as hand baggage. Any bigger and you have to check it in for transport in the hold, and then wait in baggage reclaim at your destination to (hopefully!) get your bags back. Who could forget the satirical parody some years ago of a British Airways advert?

“Breakfast in London. Dinner in New York, Luggage in Hong Kong.”

“Luggage storage space on trains has steadily declined in recent years. The advance of wretched airline seating means fewer set back spaces to store bags.”

I bet that went down about as well as that famous moment which older Green Signallers may recall, when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher took an instant and powerful dislike to a redesigned British Airways livery, where the traditional tail fin union jack design had been dropped in favour of some ‘tribal art.’ Confronted by a model thus adorned at the 1997 Tory Party conference and in full view of TV cameras, she wrapped a tissue around the offending art on the fin to obscure it – making her displeasure clear! It dominated news bulletins. She was right though – BA dropped the ethnic art livery some years later, admitting it had been a ‘marketing blunder.’

You can see it for yourself for the first time, or remind yourself, here:

Anyway, back to luggage. Easyjet have a tubular metal frame thingy at check in (well, they used to have – do they still?) and if your bag won’t fit into it, it ain’t going in the cabin and is bound for the hold. Passengers understand this. They would never turn up at check-in with a drumkit, for example, and expect to take it aboard as hand luggage! Lumo is said to have been confronted by exactly this.

Rail passengers DO seemingly expect to turn up at a station with numerous huge bags. We’ve all seen them lined up on the platform near a door. It’s now a major problem for the railway, hence Lumo and LNER formally restricting what you can carry on…and personally I think they’re right to do so.

Luggage storage space on trains has steadily declined in recent years. The advance of wretched airline seating means fewer set back spaces to store bags. The withdrawal of HSTs and Mk IV stock has seen traditional vans inexorably declining. Even luggage towers in carriage saloons seem to be in retreat.

At the same time, small wheels on solid cases mean that case sizes have ballooned. Luggage is no longer effectively limited by what we can physically carry. How many times do you see what appear to be wardrobes on wheels being pushed along a platform?!

So, storage has been slashed at the same time as pax numbers have soared so the availability of spare seats to soak up growing numbers of bigger bags and cases has fallen, meaning full and standing trains are usually made even more uncomfortable by piles of bags in inappropriate places. We’ve all seen, I’m sure, wheelchair spaces commandeered for a ceiling-high luggage stack, which can then lead to difficult situations with OBS when a passenger in a wheelchair turns up.

“We must NOT reach the point where pax are being turned away because they have too many bags.”

And finally, leisure (or discretionary) travel is booming with some routes reporting 130% of pre-covid levels. And these are the very pax most likely to pitch up with big bags. This means that especially at weekends this problem is even worse.

What’s the answer? I do not know. But we must NOT reach the point where pax are being turned away because they have too many bags. But we are unlikely to see the return of the luggage van anytime soon. Meantime the problem is worsening as folk return to trains – whatever Grant Shapps and his ilk might think, with his mad mantra that far fewer pax are using trains. Yes that has been the case, but him banging on that this is somehow permanent does everyone a disservice. It isn’t – as our ‘#fullandstanding’ campaign makes very clear indeed.

If any Green Signallers have any radical ideas – or any ideas at all – how we solve this, then drop us a line. Is it as simple as adopting airline-style policies, regarding luggage? Let us know what you think…