One of the most oft cited “solutions” to railway overcrowding is the introduction of double-deck trains, which are regularly used in other countries.

As often as they are proposed, they are dismissed due to the massive costs associated with rebuilding all the bridges they would have to pass under as most railways lack the height for double-deck trains.

Despite that, Network Rail is formally considering them.

A consultation for how to improve congested railways into Waterloo over the next few decades offers up the double-deck train as an option.

The report dwells mostly on more usual solutions, such as signalling improvements and more clever use of capacity, but the exotic double-deck trains are in there as well.

The document says that the ” route study also sets out a bespoke double decking option that would see some services from Basingstoke and Woking inwards operating with double deck stock.”


The report warns that double-deck services may suit operation over a limited geographical area during peak hours only, in order to minimise the investment required to adapt the rail network and depot and stabling facilities.

Of the two proposed routes, the most likely would see double deck services operating between London Waterloo and Woking and Basingstoke (excluding the Alton line), with seven existing high peak services into London Waterloo operated by double-deck trains. During off-peak hours of operation when the number of passengers travelling is significantly lower, it is proposed to stand down these trains at Clapham Yard, before working a return journey departing London Waterloo in the evening peak.

That’s the equivalent of an extra 42 (single deck) passenger vehicle arrivals into London Waterloo during the high peak hour, an increase of 18 per cent

Another option to expand the operation of double-deck trains down to Southampton looks less likely, due to the cost of tunnel works south of Basingstoke. There is also a risk, as double-deck trains won’t be able to divert onto alternative lines should the approved route be blocked or otherwise out of action.

Just to show how expensive it would be to switch to continental style double-decker trains, Stagecoach carried out a study in 2005, and just the bit between Waterloo and Clapham Junction would have cost almost £1 billion to convert for full-scale double-deck trains (The Times, June 2005). So what is needed are double-deck trains that won’t need a fortune spent on railway modifications.

However, the report warned that an assessment of the suitability of double-deck rolling stock currently in operation internationally has not been able to identify a vehicle suitable for use in Great Britain, and as a result, the report suggests that a new double-deck Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) or an adaptation of an existing design, would be required for operation on the Wessex Route.

A British solution is needed. And provided.

The report has already developed an outline ‘concept’ double-deck train, comprising three 26 metre vehicle units operating in multiples of three (or alternatively, a fixed formation 9-car unit) with doors situated at the vehicle ends at standard floor height. This concept provides an estimated 50 per cent increase in useable floor area compared to existing Class 444 and Class 450 stock deployed on the route.

That could see modern double-deck trains operating in a manner slightly similar to an experiment that ran from London Charing Cross to Dartford between 1949 and 1971 — using a customised standard train which had a smaller upper floor squeezed in.

In addition to the issue of developing a double-deck carriage that will fit on the railway, is the issue of passenger dwell time. More passengers per carriage means longer to get on and off at stations, and during the rush hour, that can at times hold up trains waiting to get into the station.

In addition, larger surges of passengers arriving at once put more pressure on stations to cope with crowds, although the report also acknowledges station capacity issues and proposes some improvements there as well. That is regardless of the arrival of double-deck trains.

There are plenty of concerns, but there is something curiously exciting about the idea of the double-deck train that would probably see a lot of public support for them, drowning out the naysayers.

Maybe it may also spur funding to restore that original train as well?


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  1. Adrian says:

    Does the GWML electrification plan for double decker trains? Is HS1 suitable for them? HS2?

    • ianvisits says:

      The report doesn’t deal with any of those lines, so it can’t speak for them.

    • Daniel Tonks says:

      HS2 is being built for Double Deck from the outset, the GWML is not, likely due to stuff like the Severn Tunnel.

  2. LadyBracknell says:

    Passengers would still be standing. Really, there seems to be very little will on the part of train operators or the regulator(s) to improve conditions for the travelling public. This proposal will be quietly shelved.

  3. Mr Andy McIntyre says:

    Both Bi-Level Rolling Stock contestants for route ‘HS2’ (Alstom & Vogler’s ‘Aeroliner3000’ will be fully compliant with the UK structure-gauge thanks to their clever ‘interlocking’ of decks. This is irrespective of whether increased ‘station dwell-times’ are significant enough to render them captive to high-speed routes. However, HS1 to which you refer, shouldn’t be a problem.

  4. David Winter says:

    For minimised dwell times, four things are needed:
    1. Shorter cars around 16-16.4m;
    2. Wide doors on the mezzanine: 1m leaves, 2m clear opening;
    3. Wide internal staircases; >1m
    4. Uncluttered mezzanine, suitable for standees, wheelchairs, off-peak bicycles, prams, mobility scooters and wheeled luggage. A few tip out seats for parents with prams, folk with luggage.

    For good performance, all axles should be motored.
    Wide gangways, fully weather sealed.
    Floor height matching platform height (using sensors to micro-adjust each door). “Gap filler” extending step.

    For inner urban, lower deck has perimeter seating one side, 3 a side bays the other. The upper deck has three a side bays, plus face-to-back high density seating for a 3+2 configuration with narrow aisle.

    For fit within vehicle envelope, excellent ride control is required. The vehicle material must be nonconducting so it can ride close to the third rail. I’m expecting with the short bogie centres, that c.150mm ARL will be adequate underneath the aisle. Maybe 70mm clear above 3rd rail for dynamic movement anbd safe air gap. Headroom would be similar to many double deck buses (1750-1900mm). Overall height likely under 4m, possibly even under 3965mm.

  5. I’m the Chairman of The Bulleid 4DD Double Deck EMU Supporters Group and Co-Owner of the Original Bulleid 4DD Double Deck Train as seen above. We’re currently restoring the Kent based Carriage 13004 4902. The story of Double Deck Passenger trains is a long running saga. Overcrowding was a problem even after WW2! The design of the 1949 Bulleid double deck train, was unfortunately flawed from the start, and today wouldn’t have been even looked at. The Bulleid double decker only stayed in service 1949 – 1971 so it could pay off what it cost to design and build! Today, double deck passenger trains could run again, of course cost is the main factor with infrastructure etc. However, with a bit of thought, and you only need to look at the Hastings line from Tonbridge and its narrow tunnel, back in the mid 80’s and the electrification of the line, the EMU stock couldn’t go through the tunnels! Solution was to make the tunnels a single line to gain clearance…. modern signalling methods then and now can make this happen. Yes over bridges need clearance, look at the line again from Tonbridge down to the Channel Tunnel (not HS1) all the bridges were modified to take extra height and side clearance for the proposed High Freight service by Union Rail. Yes some major restructuring will be needed, but when you consider the amount of money spent on Crossrail and other projects, the cost would be small in comparison. This is the short version. If people our interested in my groups Restoration of the original Bulleid double deck carriage and it history please visit our website or Facebook Bulleid Southern Railway 4DD EMUs or Email me on:

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