Let the train take the strain?
Marketing rail services in a similar style to ‘no-frills’ airlines and improving the reliability of trains could help to reduce stress levels among commuters, researchers at The University of Nottingham believe.
The psychologists in the University’s Institute of Work, Health and Organisations have examined the existing evidence into stress levels among rail passengers and how it might be associated with crowding on trains.
Few research projects have been carried out into the topic of rail passenger stress, but a literature review of the studies that have been done suggested that there was a link between overcrowding and stress on trains.
However, the review found that it was not just the number of people packed on to a train that directly caused stress levels to soar.
They found that when passengers had the impression they had greater control over their journey, such as a selection of entrances and exits and an option over where to sit, and felt that they could rely on arriving at their destination on time, their stress levels were reduced.
The research, which is published in the latest edition of the journal Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, has implications for the marketing of services, which could be adapted to give customers a more realistic idea of what to expect from their journey.
Jonathan Houdmont at I-WHO said: “It appears that if people feel they have options and have faith in the reliability of the service the whole experience becomes far less stressful.
“The research has highlighted that, if you modify people’s expectations and perceptions of their travelling, expensive measures to address train overcrowding, like lengthening platforms or adding extra carriages, may be unnecessary.
“This could be achieved by adopting similar principles for rail travel marketing that are used by the low-cost airlines. With those you know that it’s no-frills and that it’s likely to be busy, but you know that in the majority of cases you are going to get to where you need to be on time. Overcrowding then become far more bearable.”
Although the findings point to a link between overcrowding and stress, no one really knows the extent of the problem and the Government is concerned about the issue, leading to the House of Commons Transport Committee calling for further studies to be carried out on the subject.
The concern is that, particularly for regular commuters, the long-term stress caused by overcrowding on trains could have serious implications both for passengers and for the economy.
Jonathan added: “More research is needed into the financial consequences of this stress. It’s a common story for many people, particularly those working in London and using the underground — you are stuck on a crowded train and you have been seriously delayed. You’re late for work, you’re tired and you’re in a bad mood. It means that you may be less likely to perform well at work and if this is happening to enough people, it may have implications for the economy.
“Stress also affects people physically over time and it may be that people don’t even realise they are stressed until they start to experience symptoms such as high blood pressure and heart problems.”
The I-WHO report has been sent out to key figures in the rail industry and the psychologists are keen to continue studies in this area, which may include looking at the use of calming colour schemes and pictures on trains and a more scientific look at the health implications of commuter stress.
Emma Thorne | alfa