What’s wrong with the trains?
Passengers dislike blue Class 450 seats which are cramped, uncomfortable, hard and narrow with restricted legroom. “Middle of 3” and tip-up seats are often un-useable. Passengers have little personal space and are unable to work with papers, use laptops or relax, all of which are desirable commuter activities. There are no luggage or bicycle stowages. Portsmouth –Waterloo is a 97 minute mainline rail journey for which high density suburban trains (blue Class 450) were not designed. Adequate mainline trains (white Class 444) were originally allocated to Portsmouth but now only form 50% of the services. There was no public consultation about the changes.
How have passengers and local authorities reacted?
Thousands of complaints have been lodged with SWT, Passenger Focus, the Dept for Transport, local MPs and councils. Following a 1500 signature petition Portsmouth City Council conducted a passenger survey of nearly 1000 passengers. The report entitled 'Uncomfortable Reading' revealed that over 98% of passengers intensely dislike the blue trains. The Leader of the Council held meetings with SWT and has personally invited the Transport Minister, Philip Hammond MP, to resolve the situation. The council is unhappy because Portsmouth is the only south coast destination served regularly by suburban trains from the capital. A good train service encourages people out of their cars.
How has SWT reacted?
Only by adding a small number of Class 444s on Sunday schedules. In Aug 2007, with complaints from passengers who suffered from back pain and sciatica, SWT were obliged to publish a Health & Safety review. This report, the “Class 450 Ergonomic Assessment” was conducted by consultants and funded by SWT. Only a limited summary was made available to passengers, none of whom were consulted during its compilation. The report showed that 59% of the population did not fit in the seats and that seat back tilt fell outside recommended tolerance. It did not address the lack of personal space, legroom or passenger overspill into the centre aisle, blocking safe passage through the train. Many passengers prefer to stand, leaving the middle of 3 seats unoccupied, hence negating the supposed advantages of additional capacity.
Why has SWT failed to respond to passenger complaints?
Because this is a profit enhancing measure made possible by SWT’s route monopoly. Class 450 trains are 20% cheaper to lease than Class 444s (Source: Angel Trains). DfT is reluctant to interfere and under pressure to reduce overcrowding in the London suburban areas. SWT was allegedly invited to increase seats on its network at Franchise renewal in 2006, although no mention is made in the Franchise document. SWT took the opportunity to replace 35% of its popular mainline stock with the low cost suburban trains.
How overcrowded are Portsmouth trains?
They aren’t generally, except for some weekday peak services and only on the Woking – Waterloo leg, or in the event of delays, short formations or previous cancellations. Woking is amply served by 19 trains per hour to the capital at peaks, or one every 4 minutes. Weekday and weekend Portsmouth services can comfortably comprise 5 car white Class 444s, doubling to 10 car at peaks. High density seating is not required as over 95% of Portsmouth weekly services run below capacity. Lack of overcrowding on the route is confirmed by SWT’s own capacity figures and two recent government reports.
South West Trains Summer 2001 "Gold Service" article.
In this article South West Trains clearly give their vision of the future of passenger comfort for long distance commuting. This was delivered of course until the changes of late 2006.
What can you do about it?
Write to your MP on www.theyworkforyou.com. Write to Andy Pitt, Managing Director, SWT on firstname.lastname@example.org. Write to Anthony Smith, Chief Executive Passenger Focus, on Anthony.email@example.com. Ask what actions they are taking to improve your comfort as a fare paying passenger. Sign the petition above. Put your thoughts on the Forum.