back to article South West Trains puts squeeze on commuters

South West Trains stands accused of attempting to provide more seating on its service between London and Portsmouth by simply reducing the width of seats to such a degree that they're suitable only for commuters without elbows. That's according to Penny Mordaunt, the Conservative MP for Portsmouth North, who told Parliament …


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  1. some-reg-reader

    From South West Trains:

    From South West Trains:

    "It is also clear from our passenger loading statistics that these trains are well used by customers."

    Wow - I didn't know I had a choice... ! I shall remain on the platform until a suitable train comes along next time.

    1. Paul_Murphy

      Is it just me.

      Or does the term 'passenger loading' cause a mental imagine of cattle being loaded onto a wagon to spring to mind?

      Excuse me I'm off to practice my 'moo'.


  2. alain williams Silver badge

    Make rail management travel cattle class

    I have long believed that there should be a legal bar to transport management from travelling first or business class -- even if paid for with their own money. This would result in a rapid improvement of what most of us have to put up with. As it is these people get subsidised first class travel - so what incentive do they have to make life more pleasant for the rest of us ?

  3. Tom 38


    I just saw the photo as well. I can't believe she is complaining about that - she should try the trains on the metro service to Southend - same configuration, except the carriages are well over 30 years old and have tatty soiled seats. Those spanky new carriages look lovely in comparison.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the problem with minimum standards

    Is that the norm tends to drop to meet them.

    Few things are as detrimental to quality than minimum acceptable standards in a monopoly. (It's a monopoly as you normally only have one real choice per geographical region. Occasionally their may be an intercity service of some sort that isn't the main operator, but for most journeys you can only use the incumbent.)

  5. Bronek Kozicki


    ... and make that travel, in the standard class, part of the duty of all management, under terms of franchise!

  6. dotdavid
    Paris Hilton

    What do they hope to achieve?

    I can understand the concerns; yeah the seats are ridiculously tight - anyone can see that. But are Southwest Trains going to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds replacing them? Unlikely to say the least.

    Unfortunately it's just another reason for commuters to resent the train companies who run effective monopolies on travel into London.

    On a slightly related note, I once saw an advert for a train company in London asking "When was the last time you were in a train jam?", with a photo of a long queue of cars on a motorway. Actually as any commuter knows, these "train jams" can happen, and besides some might ask when was the last time you failed to get a seat in your car.

    Or failed to fit into it.

    Paris because she'd fit into one of those seats.

    1. John Sturdy

      Looking to the future

      Even if the rail companies don't replace the seats, it might be possible to pressure them away from using this seating arrangement in future designs. But if that worked, we could all fly pigs to work.

      1. Dave Walker
        Thumb Up

        2+2 seats replacing 3+2 in Philadelphia

        Our local transit agency (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority or SEPTA for short) after running 4 generations of cars with 3+2 seating has now seen the light and is using only 2+2 in its next build of cars.

        People are getting *ahem* bigger, and it became obvious that almost no one wanted the middle seat, so out they go and there is more standing room.

  7. Leona A

    Not the first

    to use this configuration, we have cattle trains down in the South West with that configuration and they are a good 20 years old! (class 143?). Typical commercial attitude, pile them in, take the profit.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wonder what kind of seat the driver gets

    human sized one? no shit.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They're full so they're popular?

    "It is also clear from our passenger loading statistics that these trains are well used by customers."

    Yes - what happens is two trains arrive at the same time. One with 2+2 and another with 3+2. Then we all decide which one we like best (think "Runaround"). We love the 3+2 so much we all go for it and the poor old 2+2 is left empty most days.

    I should like this person to turn up on the platform and repeat that quote to our faces.

    "It is also clear from our battery cage loading statistics that these cages are well used by chickens. They must love 'em."

  10. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    discuss the matter further

    "Transport Minister Theresa Villiers agreed to meet Mordaunt to discuss the matter further. "

    If I can mis-quote the pointy-haired boss of Dilbert: "Kill her before she infects the rest"

  11. Christoph

    That's all right then

    "In addition, an independent assessment of the seating design and layout demonstrated that the seats on the Class 450 are ergonomically sound."

    Well, there you are. The studies show that it's perfectly OK, so the trivial detail that people don't physically fit can be discounted - the theory says it's fine so the data can be ignored.

    (Maybe they should get their carriages from Elbonia?)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    a spokeswoman for South West Trains owner Stagecoach ...

    Demonstrated an aspiration to politics by completely avoiding the points put to them and answering the points their pre-prepared spin.

    Perhaps rather than get bogged down in the details of one poor service vs another, why isn't the political asking why so many people have to travel so much to get to work?

    Could it be that to afford to live in this place we need to earn way more than is available locally?

    e.g. in order to afford a house in Brighton you have to work in London. If you work in Brighton then you are lucky to be able to afford a house there.

  13. Paul 172
    Thumb Up

    Relevant title

    She is a bit of a fox though...

  14. Cosmo
    Thumb Down

    Nothing new here

    People have been complaining about these class 450 3+2 seat patterns for years now. I'm fortunate that the train I normally get into work from Portsmouth to Basingstoke is a call 444, but if the trains are swapped around and it ends up being a 450, it's a nightmare.

    The leg room is not enough for anyone who is 6ft+ and the only way you can sit in the middle seat of 3 is if you sit bolt upright with your arms tucked in by yours sides. Not comfortable for any journey over 10 minutes.

    SWT used to wheel out some sort of design study that they had done when anyone complained during the "Ask the manager" sessions, but the fact that their PR department always spout weird and wonderful BS when pressed on the matter indicates to me that they know full well that these seats are not comfortable.

    Ironically, if the ripped out the aisle seat in the 3+2 combination seats, more people would probably sit down

  15. Tom Wood

    Move North.

    Overcrowding problem solved.

    Beer because also ours comes served properly with a nice creamy head, not all flat and southern.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How North?

      Which bit of the North?

      I can tell you from sitting on the train station that at least Manchester to Blackpool North is packed as far as Bolton, Manchester to Kirby is sardine city, Manchester to Southport isn't always that spacious (sometimes has some seats though) and Manchester to Blackburn is usually full.

      That comprises pretty much all peak time services going North of Manchester, so whichever bit of the North you're referring to, it's not Manchester going North after work.

    2. Mike Richards


      You've never been on the laughably named TransPennine Express. Overcrowded by the time it leaves Manchester (or Leeds).

  16. Sabine Miehlbradt
    Black Helicopters

    So normal size people don't fit?

    These cars are made to last for at least 30 years.

    So maybe the rail companies know something you don't. Like in a few years only imported Asians are expected to actually go to work, because they are better value.

    The British Brit is to stay home and eat his food stamps. Those will not provide enough nutritional value to get you up to what is now average shoulder width. Productivity will soar! So will bonuses.

    Cynical? Moi? Jamais!

  17. brightonBreezy

    I couldn't agree more

    It's not just South West Trains.

    3 + 2 seating on british trains is wholly inadequate in pretty well every dimension. They are there due to political and media pressure on train companies to increase the number of seats and have NOTHING to do with passenger comfort (although they have a great deal to do with passenger DIScomfort!).

    I'm a daily commuter and stand rather than endure such seating.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    I wonder if they considered...

    ...making the middle seat of the three sit a little further forward that the outer two? Repeat in a nice tessalated pattern down the carriage and at least five out of six people should have a little bit of elbow room.

  19. John Sturdy

    Brunel was right all along

    If we'd stuck with Brunel's broad gauge (7ft 1/4 inch) we would have plenty of room for more seats (and, I suspect, a more comfortable ride with less swaying).

  20. Nick Sargeant

    A problem shared ..

    I travel on a 444 on the way in from Havant to London in the mornings - and I delay my journey to do so; that gives me the chance to read the paper, do the sudoku and read a book. On the way home, I would have to delay by 30 minutes to get a 444, so I sit quietly by the window on the 3 side of a 450, and hope that it doesn't get so full that we have compression. There is a chance that nobody goes for the middle seat so there is more sideways room. The downside is that the legroom suffers, as the banks of three seats face each other; and I do mean suffer - my varicose veins give me serious jip until the carriage empties at Guildford.

    On the subject of IT, when will we see power being supplied to ordinary mortal seats on SWT?

  21. Elmer Phud

    No, Minister

    "Transport Minister Theresa Villiers agreed to meet Mordaunt to discuss the matter further"

    And offer up some platitudes, say it's nothing to do with her - it's the train company - and then fuck off in a car.

    1. Mike Richards

      Teresa Villiers

      Was on 'Dispatches' this week saying how awful the trains were but how it was nothing to do with the Transport Minister because it had all been privatised doncha know and she was just there to pay £5 billion a year over to the assorted shysters (First Great Western), bus companies (Stagecoach) and banks (HSBC) that run our railways.

      I just wish SNCF or DB would come over and run the whole thing.

  22. Ian 49
    Thumb Down

    So what's new?

    Our Regional Railways sorry Centro sorry Central Trains sorry London Midland sorry network West Midlands (with a small "n") branded Class 150s and 323s have had 2-3 seating that no-one can sit on the middle seat of since the 1980s. Hence most people stand at rush hour.

    Chiltern offer seats that people can sit on... So most people still stand at rush hour.

    Where's the news in this, exactly? The fact that it has happened in the South and South East to catch up (down?) with the rest of us?

  23. The Jase

    Working on the train

    I love people working on the train. Its amazing how many company secrets they give away with their open laptops, documents and phone calls.

    1. LinkOfHyrule

      Top Tip...

      If someone in the seat, or a few seats, in front of you is using a laptop on the class 444 or 450, look up at the glass luggage racks above the seating - they reflect the screen image quite often - it's handy for spying! Well actually, its handy if you want to be bored stiff watching someone work on a spread sheet or watching last-nights EastEnders on iPlayer. I did once see someone coding on the train though - probably one of you lot lol!

  24. Jon Press

    Nobody remember the BR DMU?

    3+2 seating on those on local commuter routes as I recall from many years back. Blame the Victorians for putting the tracks too close together.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    How out of touch .....

    .... are MPs that they think people can find room to work on trains? Obviously a bit different in first class!!

    Paul 172 is right though, she IS a bit of a fox!!

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Double Decker

    I wrote to SWT a few years ago to highlight this issue, and got very much the same response from them.

    It's a joke that you have to pay upwards of 60 quid for a day return to be squeezed to death and have your knees knocked together. Maybe that's fine for 30 minutes, but not the hour and half it takes my train to get to London.

    The TOCs should take a leaf out of other countries books, and sort out rolling stock with double decker seating, increasing the capacity but without increasing the length of the train. Sure, they've have to modify a few bridges here and there, but with passenger numbers on the rise, and no space left on the rails, what else is there to do?

    1. rpjs

      Won't fit

      Unfortunately the British loading gauge (clearance of structures from the track) is too small for double-deckers to be practical here. Bulleid tied it back in the 40s but it was not a success (

      The loading gauge on the European mainland and in North America is larger, and so double-deckers will fit. The new high-speed lines have been / will be built to the European standard so we could see double-deck high-speed trains in years to come. The cost of enlarging the loading gauge on the legacy network is almost certainly going to be prohibitive.

      The tight loading gauge is also why the 3 + 2 "high density" seating is such a squeeze. We have 3+2 seating on the Metro-North commuter rail here in the American colonies but the seats are large enough to fit comfortably in (well people here still complain about them but they really have no idea how bad it could be!).

      High density seating is not at all new - much of the old slam-door commuter stock had it, but people have got larger on average over the years and modern trains have thicker exterior walls (for better crash-worthiness) than the old slam-doors so it definitely feels more cramped.

      I'll get me anorak.

  27. Anonymous Coward


    At least when I visit a poorer country, they don't charge me 1st world prices for a 3rd service.

    If train tickets were £1, then they can jam as many sets in there as they want. Heck they can make double-deckers if they want. But for the prices they charge it is not on.

    I wish train companies were forced to automatically compensate passengers when a train was delayed or cancelled. The amount compensated should be proportional to the delay, and anything later than a minute should count as late. However this would probably put them out of business since they rely on charging high prices on the basis that there is little competition (or at best two train companies on one route but with generally different schedules, so if you have to travel around a certain time you don't get a choice) and if even they don't deliver the service they were payed for they get to keep all the money. Talk about unprofessional.


    1. Mike Richards


      In Japan if your bullet train is more than (IIRC 2 minutes) late, not only do you get a full refund, but a written apology and a letter you can give your employer.

      Having said that, you could set your watch by the Shinkansen.

  28. iMess

    Health requirements..

    They don't seem to be taking much into account for people who have specific needs or suffer from pain in the back or lower legs. I am forced to stand as I simply cannot sit in the new carriage layout.

    1. TRT Silver badge


      True that the airline style seats on the desiro are too close together. You cannot stand up in the gap without your centre of gravity being significantly off centre. I suffer from back pain and sciatica, so I have to stay seated until there's a gap in the crowds waiting to get off for me to move into. If I'm in the aisle side seat, there's usually someone trying to push past me from the window side tutting away because I've not stood up.

  29. Mike Richards

    London Midland

    I'm sure London Midland has been using 3 + 2 seating on its cattle cars for a couple of years now. They're incredibly uncomfortable for anyone of average height and build. When you then add the lack of places to put luggage and coats, they're oppressive.

    On a related note, I was wondering earlier this week if rail companies are in breach of their obligation to offer a safe railway by forcing people to stand on high speed services. In the event of a crash or catastrophic derailment the casualties would be horrific. Anyone know?

  30. Mike Richards

    SWT = RyanAir

    The world's least favourite airline and the world's ugliest liveried trains have the same width seats.

  31. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Consider yourselves lucky

    Noting a rather large southern bias I'd like to point out that the same train types have been in service with Metro on the Leeds to Skipton line for about 4-5 years (if memory serves though there's probably some train nut who can give a date and time) of which these have had the same seating configuration since launched. Yes, they're damned uncomfortable when you try to fit the seats to maximum occupancy but what tends to happen is out of politeness some of us stand rather than sit and make everyone uncomfortable.

    That and any complaints about the seating have never caught any media's attention before so I'd advise some British stiff upper lip going on as I doubt the seatings going to change anytime soon

  32. Captain TickTock

    three elbow-endowed people

    I can't their 3rd elbows, are they in their backs?

    Jake the Peg, (diddle-iddle-iddle-ump...)

  33. Anonymous Coward

    Musical Trains

    If I recall correctly, the root cause of the problem was not South West Trains having a generous desire to provide more seats for the people of Portsmouth, but being too cheap to pay for the right sort of train for the route.

    Originally, SWT had class 442s (with 2+2) seating on the Weymouth line, 444s (with 2+2) on the Portsmouth line, and class 450s and 458s (with 2+3) on the Reading lines.

    SWT decided they wanted to standardise, so leased some more 450s for the Reading line, and planned to get rid of the unreliable 458s.

    However, they then realised that the 458s were cheaper to lease than the 442s, despite being about 15 years newer. So they kept the uncomfortable 458s and got rid of the comfortable 442s (claiming they were too old and unreliable... they're now working fast trains between Victoria and Brighton for Southern!)

    This meant they had to find some 2+2 trains for the Bournemouth line, so they pinched the 444s from the Portsmouth line.

    Having the extra 450s now spare, they put them on the Portsmouth line, claiming that it was to increase the number of seats, when it was in fact, just a way of using up their excess of trains with 2+3 seating.

    Unfortunately, by the time they realised it was a big mistake, they were unable to unpick all these moves, and instead haves since kept spinning that it's for the good of the passenger.

    Having been squished into the middle seat of a 450 four times in the last 2 days, I can sympathise with the commuters of Portsmouth, even though my journey is only 45 minutes!

  34. Richard Porter

    Put armrests in.

    That would stop people deliberately spreading themselves out over two seats! Mind you, they'd still put thie handbags, shopping etc on the next seat instead of on the luggage rack.

  35. Martin Usher

    Have a look at some old carriages

    Before you get carried away by the layout of those train 'cars' (that's an American term, BTW) go off to one of those heritage railways and have a look at vintage rolling stock. What you'll find is that the compartments in carriages with corridors could comfortably hold six people and the old surbuban stock (no corridor) manages eight.

    Modern train cars do look a bit smaller than old ones, I think its the "straight side" look, makes them narrower.

    BR tried double decker surburban trains once. I don't think they were successful.

  36. Il Midga di Macaroni

    Get a life!

    Out here in the colonies we have 3+2 seating on all our long distance trains (and most of our short distance trains too). And they only go 70mph so they take longer to get there.

    I've made the trip to the mother country several times and let me tell you, you have NOTHING to complain about with regard to your trains. Nothing at all.

  37. Mips
    Jobs Horns

    Or maybe?

    We are all getting too fat.

  38. Mips

    You see, it is not just the elbows.

    The problem really is the shoulders.

    You start to develop the "Pompy slump". If you are in the middle your shoulders come forwards, and your arms, your hands go on the knees (your own knees, oh do keep up).

    If you are on the corridor side, you lean into the corridor space, putting you directly in line to be whacked on the head and other parts of your body by the continuous line of corridor travellers with bags and briefcases, rucksacks, suitcases, brollys, the odd AK47 etc. You can get a really good workout shuffling about in your seat to avoid these.

    What's not to like!


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