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SWT trains more suitable for ‘armless monopods’ than humans – MP

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt has criticised overcrowding and discomfort on South West Trains’ Portsmouth to London services, saying 59% of passengers “do not fit within the confines of the seats” and that people must travel “face to face and literally knee to knee”.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, she explained the background – how, in 2006, South West Trains (SWT) introduced Class 450 Desiro carriages, to replace the Class 444s, to try to address overcrowding.

She said: “SWT argued that a rake of 12 450s has 140 more standard-class seats than a rake of 10 444s,” she said. “And, to justify the move, SWT used the passengers in excess of capacity surveys conducted in 2005 and 2006. However, there are two problems with the rationale: one a flaw in SWT’s logic and the other a flaw in its argument.”

She said: “First, SWT contends that by substituting a rake of 450s for a rake of 444s, 140 standing passengers will be allowed to sit. For example, the 5.50am train from Portsmouth Harbour showed a peak count of 164 standing passengers. When the 450s were introduced, SWT supposed that that would leave only 24 people standing. On paper that seems to work, and when replying to the previous debate, the then minister seemed to agree with the premise that the 450s mean fewer standing passengers between Woking and Waterloo. However, in practice, matters are not so simple. The 444 carriages are four seats wide – two either side of a wide aisle and all with armrests, so there is space between each seat. The seats are mostly arranged in an airline style and one can face a fellow passenger only across a table. The tables and personal space allowed by the wide seats permit commuters to work or take refreshment in acceptable comfort. What is more, each and every one of the 299 seats in a 10-carriage rake can be used.”

She said the notion that there will be an increase of 140 seats when a 10-carriage rake of 444s is replaced by a 12-carriage rake of 450s is “total fantasy”.

“The 450 carriages have five seats squeezed across their width arranged in a 3+2 format with a narrow gangway in between. There is no space between seats and there are no armrests; many passengers must travel face to face and literally knee to knee. Laughably, SWT’s own ergonomic investigation found that 59% of passengers do not fit within the confines of the seats,” argued the Portsmouth North MP.

“Simply put, that means that nearly 60% of people do not fit because, unfortunately, human evolution has not kept pace with SWT’s aspirations and Britons have stubbornly refused to mutate into the armless monopods for whom the company would clearly prefer to cater.”

Mordaunt did concede that overcrowding happens when the train is nearest London, as the vast majority of passengers will use the Waterloo terminus. However, even for the short journey of passengers in and around the capital the seats are still uncomfortable, she said.

Transport minister Stepen Hammond said the increase in the number of people wishing to travel on a number of routes means that “we need to find ways to increase capacity”.

“The Class 450s that were put in place by SWT on that route have undoubtedly increased the seating capacity, but she is right to raise issues about how that capacity is reached,” he said. “There is a regional trend towards the common adoption of three-plus-two seating in standard class, which allows more passengers to be seated and fewer to be required to stand, but I recognise that there is a judgment to be made on comfortability. We must consider whether the balance between capacity and the appropriate comfortableness of passengers is right.I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss in some depth the merits of the 444 against the 450 and its appropriateness for her commuters.”

At an ATOC event last year, as reported in RTM’s June/July 2013 edition, Passenger Focus boss Anthony Smith explained why passengers universally hate 3+2 style seating. As we reported then:

He said: “Comfortable seating is important. The train company that gets the highest rating on seat comfort in London & South East is London Overground, which has the least seats!”

3+2 style seating is “strongly disliked”, Passenger Focus’s research shows, and comes up as a spontaneous negative. It’s “socially awkward and cramped”, Smith said, and other speakers at the event backed that up with their own anecdotes, including event chair Kate Bellingham.

That story –  ‘Passengers’ most-loved (and hated) rolling stock’ – is here.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Mikeyb   13/03/2014 at 17:07

Compared with commuters in other parts of the country, who have to cram into Class 142 Pacers and Class 150 Sprinters, Penny Maudaunt is relatively lucky that she can travel in Class 450s.

Henry Law   14/03/2014 at 12:12

2+3 seating can be quite satisfactory but the vehicles must be 3.5 metres wide, for example the Swedish "Regina" type. Otherwise, forget it.

Joel Kosminsky   14/03/2014 at 13:34

450s vice 444s on the 'Pompey Direct' is purely an application of money criteria. Instead of specifically-designed long-distance trains, the route now has off-the-shelf regional/suburban trains. Allegedly, because no-one else wanted 444 types, Siemens 'threw away' the body jigs, so no more can be built except at full set up and certification cost. Passenger trains exist only to carry passengers - too many politicians and industrialists forget or don't get this. Trains (like buses) are 'instruments of derived demand' - not used for themselves but to enable another function to be completed.

Kent Railman   15/03/2014 at 20:31

Seating 3 + 2 used to work well (remember the VEP and HAP stock on Southern Region?), although not particularly comfortable for longer journeys. But internal dimensions of trains are a little narrower than they used to be, to allow for sliding doors and stronger body sides. And seats are wider than they used to be to accommodate the fattening of the British population who still manage to hang off the sides of the seats. As a result, the aisles between 2+3 seats are very difficult to walk through. Bring back the EPBs with their 6-a-side seating, nearly 1000 seats on a 10 coach train.

ARNOLD BRANDRETH   16/03/2014 at 21:17


Nonsuchmike   18/03/2014 at 15:13

Well, I'm not a great fan of Penny Mordaunt despite once owning a property and playing sport twice a week for eleven years in her constituency, but I have to admit that she has hit the nail on the head! More does not mean better, and frequently means worse. Where I live now in Nonsuchland we have the choice of either getting 8 or 10 car trains into Waterloo from one station or the same from another equally near station to Victoria. However, the quality of journey is infinitely better from the latter because the rolling stock is more modern, more comfortable (and we can sit in First Class seats without penalty!) so the journey is a pleasure not a chore. They try to tell us that the lengthening of trains by two carriages will solve the problem. The must live in Hope, but will regret at Caergwrle. The answer to overcrowding is to put on trains more frequently - but that needs more drivers, more rolling stock, more relief drivers, more overtime, more effort to get trains in the right place at the right time to satisfy customer demand - all for which the TOCs just can't be a***d.

Paul Meek   30/03/2014 at 18:30

I travel regularly from Fratton to Walton on Thames and the 1st class seat I purchase in a desiro 450 gives me the same seat and space as standard class in a 444. Madness and expensive. The new First buses in Hampshire have more leg room and free Wi-Fi.

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