How can you design a train with so many mistakes?

*** MAJOR UPDATE *** Seatback tables are arriving

Seatback tables are being retrospectively fitted


That’s right, only 14 months after introducing the least user-friendly trains in the world, Govia Thameslink has finally begun to retrospectively fit seatback tables on the new Class 700 services.

This is a huge deal, because it finally gives you somewhere to rest your phone / laptop / coffee / book / paper while you travel and begins to right the multitude of wrongs that commuters have experienced with these trains.

However, what I’ve also discovered is that it merely serves to highlight how little legroom there is. The new tables are a welcome addition, but it has reduced the space all passengers have to manoeuvre their legs.

Anyway, gripes aside, let’s see how long we have to wait for the long-promised power points.

*** 30/05/17 UPDATE: I’ve chased up GTR again for further progress and had a new response.
Latest platitudes at base of post ***



*** 11/11/16 UPDATE: I have finally, received a reply to my complaints about the new 700 Class trains. See addition at base of post ***

For my sins I spend around 15 hours a week commuting on the Thameslink line between London and Brighton.

Since the franchise passed to Govia, we have been promised new trains. It now appears we have them. I have got on new rolling stock twice today and my bewilderment over the things that appear to be wrong has only increased.

The good points

I should acknowledge some improvements. The on board electronic information (see main photo) is much better and clearer, including details on how busy carriages are and whether the on board toilets are working.

The awkward interconnecting doors have largely been removed. They were rubbish and broke continually. 

What isn’t so good?

In two journeys, this is what I’ve noticed so far.

1) The number of seats has been reduced. This seems like an enormous issue. The trains may now be 12 coaches long, but giving people more room in which to stand isn’t exactly a progressive move.

Given the frequency with which coaches seem to break I can’t see 12 coach trains being constant. 

2) There are no arm-rests. If you cut the number of seats you could at least make it comfy for those who aren’t standing. But no. Anyone with an oversized rear end or sharp elbows will make their companion very uncomfortable,

Is this really such a cost-saving against passenger comfort?

3) No increase in baggage storage. The Thameslink line travels to 2 of the country’s biggest airports: Gatwick and Luton. Lots of people use the train to get to and from these airports and travel with large suitcases. 

There never used to be adequate space to stow this luggage. There still isn’t. A massive oversight

New train4) Tables and seat back trays removed. These are commuter trains. People spend hours on them (see para 1). This means they want to work to make the most of their time. 

They will now have to awkwardly balance their laptop on their knees (yes, I know it’s called a ‘lap’top for a reason),  which isn’t hugely comfortable. 

5) No charging points. Intermediate rolling stock had plug sockets to allow phone/laptop charging. No more!

I tweeted this oversight and received this reply from @TLRailUK 

Why would you build something without and then be forced to add afterwards?

Where are the user needs in all of this?

When you design a new product, you ask what customers want! In a commuter train, you’d be looking for comfort, useful functionality, seats… you get my drift?

I get the impression these new trains have been designed with not a single piece of customer feedback. 

I pay Govia in excess of £4k a year to use their trains. The least they could do is solicit opinons from me (or people like me). 

Prove me wrong Govia, or at the very least show me what audience research you did.

Response from Thameslink

‘Thank you for getting in touch and letting us know your views on our new Class 700 trains.
You have mentioned a number of issues and I am grateful to provide more information on some of these:

In regards to your comments on the sockets, most tablets, smartphones and laptops have good battery life – iPads, for example, offer up to 10 hours and laptops between three to nine hours. As very few Thameslink passengers will have journeys of not much more than an hour – with many journeys of only around 30 minutes- it did not justify the large cost and significant weight increase (the trains were specified to be lightweight) that would be incurred installing power points throughout 1,140 carriages.

My reaction: what a joke! Don’t put plugs in because everyone gets on a train with a fully-charged device, don’t they?

In regards to the tables and seat-back flip-down tables, passenger research for rail watchdog Passenger Focus and London TravelWatch carried out to inform the design of the train showed that people recognised the main priority was to maximise capacity so they were not incorporated into the specification. Seat tables can also slow people down getting on and off trains – and we’ll have just 30 seconds to get people on and off these new trains in central London.

My reaction: the thought that people are unable to prepare for their station and that a lack of table gives extra time to get off is ludicrous. The reduced ‘capacity’ no seat back table offers is irrelevant compared to the usefulness of having a table; somewhere to rest a drink, a snack, a book or paper.

However, the DfT is exploring opportunities for fitting charging points for laptops and other mobile devices on the new Thameslink trains. A decision will be made by Ministers. The DfT is also working with Siemens and GTR on a proposal to provide seat back tables. These would be retro-fitted to trains that have already been built.

My reaction: the subtext here is Govia knows the decision was wrong.

Regarding the seats, the design was undertaken by Fainsa, on behalf of First Capital Connect (pre-2014) in conjunction with Siemens. The design is the same as current 387 seats, and a number of other fleets, which have been in service for several years. Its ergonomic design has been created to be comfortable for people of varying heights.

The final choice of design was done in conjunction with stakeholders and user groups, such as London Travel Watch and Passenger focus and included testers of all shapes and sizes including those who were over 6ft and comfort improvements were made to the original design as a result of this.

The materials and design have been chosen to be hard wearing, being able to withstand usual and unusual wear and tear including vandalism (slashing/burning of seats) and meets all current standards including crash worthiness and fire.
I hope this information is of use and please accept my apologies for any inconvenience caused.

My reaction: the design may be the same, but they’ve clearly used less padding and the removal of arm rests means they’re closer together.

I would also like to thank you again for taking the time to contact us and let you know that we appreciate your comments. these have been passed on to the relevant team as feedback.’

Overall, at least they’ve replied, but they still ignored my questions about arm rests, baggage space and reduced seating.

As I understand, the trains were ordered by the previous operator (Thameslink) so Govia didn’t have a say. However, they clearly decided to bite the bullet and not make any improvements before putting them into service.

Now they’re probably ruing that decision as they will have to take the new trains out of service in order to retro-fit plug sockets and seat back tables.

RESPONSE NO.2

As it was six months since my last contact with Thameslink, I got in touch again to see how that ‘retrofitting’ was going. 

Here’s what they told me this time: 

In regards to your query relating to seat back tables, Ministers have committed to the fitting of WiFi and seat back tables to the new class 700 Thameslink trains. 

Future trains being manufactured by Siemens will include these changes and the Department is holding discussions with Siemens, Cross London Trains (the rolling stock owner) and Govia Thameslink Railway about the best way to retrofit the trains already manufactured.

In regards to plug sockets, we are currently still in talks in relation to retrofitting trains as well as adding them to the design of all future trains for this franchise. 

Essentially, very little has changed. The response above is almost identical to the original platitudes, promising no timescale and no genuine action.

Almost a year on from the arrival of the new rolling stock, we appear to be no closer to the appearance of charging points and seatback tables. 

57 thoughts on “How can you design a train with so many mistakes?

  1. I travel daily on London Midland trains in and out of London. London Midland are also part of Govia.Some years back they introduced long awaited new stock. At the time the trains were either really quite old, or were fairly new trains, with 4 seats across.

    The new ones came with 5 seats across the carriage – a 2 and a 3 arrangement, which meant that the seats were very narrow. On the 3 seat banks in particular this means at crowded times people deliberately make it difficult for people to sit 3 abreast. This leads to fewer seats being used, and less space for standing. Pretty much everyone on the crowded trains is uncomfortable – seated or standing. They also removed all armrests, all back of seat trays, all tables, and most litter bins. This makes taking a cup of coffee on board almost impossible. Eventually after lots of complaints they agreed that the new ‘new’ trains which have come on line in the past year or so, would go back to being 4 seats across. They now once again have armrests, trays, tables, and litter bins. Many seats now have plug sockets for charging laptops and phones etc. So much better – but why did they waste all that money in between times ?

  2. Didn’t anyone think about how humans use trains? The new Thameslink trains have in effect reintroduced third class back to rail travel. Ironing board seats, no leg room or width, no accommodation for laptops. Twice the price of US commuting and barely usable. Every journey home is so uncomfortable I have physical discomfort for the rest of the evening. If you read this and have the same issue say so – this is a politician’s decision originally and to fix. The service is run for government by operators so don’t be fooled into seeing this as another Govia problem.

    • I think the key issue is how Govia sees Thameslink compared with its other brands: Gatwick Express and Southern. You will not notice this if you buy a weekly or monthly tickets as the ticket allows you to go on all three brands from Brighton to London. However, buying a day single or return ticket is cheaper on Thameslink before 9am, and clearly Govia’s plan is to reflect that difference in price in terms of of quality and service. Thameslink trains are more likely to be slower, and remembering the old rolling stock (luckily almost phased out), much more uncomfortable. This has been carried forward to the new stock. Going on a standard Southern train feels like a treat in comparison.

      The problem is that for people working at London Bridge, the City or further north, have to ride on a second rate train. I too am amazed at the very low spec for new trains almost utalitarian. I note first class on these trains have tables and armrests and power sockets, so why do give these small benefits to all.

      Travelling on this line, it is hard not to be cynical about Govia, judging by their handling of the Southern Railway strike crisis, but this is not doing them any favours. My take is that Govia is trying to make Thameslink the budget line, therefore convince some of us us to pay more to go on Gatwick Express and Southern or upgrade to first class.

  3. I agree entirely. I travel from Bedford to Croydon and I’m gobsmacked how wrong they got this. I’m 6’3″ and I simply don’t fit with the lack of leg room and the seats are as hard as granite. I’m getting a bad back as the weeks roll on. I’m probably going to change my job over this, not that Govia would care I guess.

    Fingers crossed they do actually refit these trains, they are actually a disgrace.

  4. I could not agree more.
    I was incensed for much the same reasons and wrote to my MP pointing some of this stuff out.
    I have received a reply from the current rail minister (Paul Maynard) dated 14 Sept 2016 saying “we expect to finalise the contractual arrangements so the changes can be made in the next fewe months”.

    I would be happy to share this letter with you if that might help! I am planning to follow up, but the more people that do the more pressure we can bring to bear.

    I am tempted to declassify first class until these fold down trays are retro-fitted and I agree it does smack of a tacit acknowledgement of design failure.

    • Thanks Andy. It’s just such a waste of time and money. They’re now going to have to take the new rolling stock out of action while they retro-fit plug sockets at the very least, which will inevitably cause problems to passengers.

      We also have very active MPs in our neck of the woods in Caroline Lucas and Peter Kyle who are incensed by the way Govia has acted across the board in the past few months. Doubtless this story will run and run…

    • I agree, too. The relatively new class 387 trains may have the same seats as the class 700s, but they also have plug sockets; reading lights; full size tables in the face-to-face seats; tip-up tables in the ‘airline style’ seats; armrests, and crucially spacing between the seats and the window-side wall, which prevents ‘overspill’ and so each passenger has more personal space.

      Even the 377/5s and some of the 319s (the 319/2 variant) have tables, in both the ‘3+2’ and ‘2+2’ seating areas. When I complained to GTR about the class 700s I was told that ‘they’re short-distance commuter trains, and fitting tables and armrests would significantly slow down boarding and alighting times at the central London stations’ (funny how this doesn’t apply to first class passengers!) – and that they were only adhering to the DFT specifications for the rolling stock anyway (which was ordered by the previous franchise holder, First Group. Personally; if they’d had a free choice they probably would have ordered 387s instead to have standardisation across their fleet).

      Well; I don’t consider 1 hour 20 minutes from Brighton to Farringdon, or over 2 hours from Brighton to Luton Airport (a trip I make at least 5 times a month for business) short commuter journeys’.

      It’s more than a bit galling that we will now have to endure the 700s for the next 25 years or so, whilst passengers making the short 30-minute trip from Victoria to Gatwick on Gatwick Express will get to travel on the vastly superior 387s.

      I sincerely hope that GTR’s promise to retro-fit the 700s with tables and plug sockets, to at least bring some semblance of comfort and convenience, but I’m not holding my breath!

  5. Would be great to see that letter Andy, as I couldn’t agree more. With my job moving from West London to East London, I’ve gone from Southern to Thameslink. I’d heard about the new Class700 trains and was looking forward to it. Only to find them being the Ryan Air of train travel. The lack of seat back fold down tray and arm rests are the biggest issue I think. No where to put coffee of water down, or use laptops, or place iPad / phone while watching catch up video – all very common, and important for the modern commuter, but for some reason ignored in the design.

    I’d be really keen to find out progress or the retrofit, or indeed approx dates when it might be so. Failing that – a good place to know where and how to complain to speed up the decsion!

  6. I agree entirely with the comments and thanks for writing about this – there isn’t much out there on this. When I first travelled on the trains I was generally gobsmacked that the DoT procurement department could have approved the interior design of these appalling trains. I felt that the removal of seat back trays in standard but there inclusion in first class represented something laughably and profoundly soul destroying about the DoT. Despite the “progress” undoubtedly less comfortable than the previous rickety trains.

    • Thanks Tim. Sadly, I think we all know that recent administrations are all for cost-cutting – passenger welfare doesn’t appear to be top of their agenda.

      I also fear we’re now stuck with these trains for many, many years. The early evening train I catch is regularly one of the old-school ones and I can’t believe how excited I am to see it pull in every day!

  7. I was studying mechanical engineering, my specialisation was trains and my master thesis was about interior design of train mainly seats and organisation AND there is something I have to get out of my system.

    I want to share some info why you are right and it can be deduced to 2 areas:

    1. Money per passenger seat is low, dont remember exact numbers but I remember lectures at our school from people who worked in railway. Rails have to be donated by state, even than many trains are in the loss especially regional trains, long distance trains are not that problematic, its mainly because regional trains have frequent stops and to put motion into 500 tons behemoth takes alot of juice.They even sell trains under price and many times the only profit they get is trough maintenance. Wages in Railway sector are one of the lowest in mechanical engineering. They are trying to reduce weight by every means necessary to when you have to move daily 500km than energy consumption is Quite high and every weight saved makes train more profitable. But comfort should be number 1 priority nevertheless.

    2. 2 words UIC standards, the train standards. I changed my specialisation thanks to UIC standards, yes its THAT horrible. I will tell you how absurd they are, I tried to copy car seat from a sports car that was designed with orthopedics and fit them into train, they were delightfully comfortable,one of the best seats I have ever seat in and I had access to them so it was only matter of measuring. And now comes the funny part according to UIC standards these seats that were designed with doctors, professionals in ergonomics and orthopedics are not ergonomic and do not met UIC criteria….I am not making this up I wish I was, yes its THAT RETARTED. Even my mentors in company that is making trains said that those standards were lastly actualised before 30 years, 30 YEARS!!!! That trains are lightyears away from other transportion in terms of seats and comfort. I tried to make seats larger but NOPE standards wont allow me to, I tried to do seating rows more like in airplane NOPE standards wont allow me to, I tried to decorate interior somewhat NOPE standards wont allow me to, I tried to give more luggage space but again NOPE standards wont allow me to, optimalize interior space NOPE NOPE AND NOPE. Thats why every goddamn interior looks the same, every single train seat is the same because UIC standards are so stupid and strict in stupid things that its borderline stupid, the only way you can meet UIC criteria in terms of seats is to make them back breaking. Even my fathers friend who works his whole life in design of trains curses those standards. Even our lecturers and teachers at school literally said that UIC standards are brake to the evolution and modernisation of trains, but luckily everyone in railway industry is trying to make them obsolete but of course frenchies wont give up their buisness easily, even the prices for those standards are ludicrious. Making my master thesis was hair pulling experience but I managed to somewhat find roundabouts but they disgusted me so much that I literally changed specialisation its THAT horrible.

    Hope this clears alot of things up, dont damn designers, damn those french bureaucrats.

  8. Just wanted to add my voice to this. The post is a good one. For me, as a regular Brighton to Farringdon commuter, it simply isn’t true that very few people have journeys of not much more than an hour. Generally the train is half full when it leaves Brighton, and takes around 1hr45 mins. They all have access to the passenger stats and know that. Spilt cups of coffee because people juggle a laptop and a coffee and no tables. It is a tube train on an intercity route.

  9. I waned to add also that the seats are too small. I am a small person but my shoulder still spills over the gap and I guess the train is designed for skinny people and without the seat handle to seperate the seats makes it impossible not to invade another’s space. It seems to designed for uncomfortable travel.

  10. Having spent millions upgrading facilities (lifts etc) to improve access for the disabled and elderly, I am staggered by the size of the seats on the new 700 series thameslink trains. Tray tables, arm rests, power sockets are all nice to have, but what is the point of providing half a seat. I now, like others, find myself avoiding these trains to save myself from the back pain associated from perching on half a seat for 40 minutes. These trains are so uncomfortable and there are so many people that use them that they are bound to create back problems for all but children sized people who use them. I am staggered as to how this can have happened….

  11. Just to add to this useful convo, a further major design issue is the apparent lack of air con or, at least, air circulation. The 700s don’t have openable windows, and in my experience on even an average day with an average train load of people the 700s are too hot and there is no air. There is much anecdotal evidence on social media of people fainting or becoming unwell. The journey between London and Brighton is now uncomfortable at the best of times, temperature wise, This seems to be an issue that Govia have been talking to Siemens about for many months but nothing has changed. Now that we are into the warmer months, some journeys are absolutely unbearable and I have just had to apply for flexible working at work so that I can travel on trains outside of the main peak to avoid the worst of it. Don’t know if you have ever approached Govia about this issue? I have asked my MP and Transport Focus to look into it, but with little response.

    • Hi Susan – good point. Must confess I haven’t really encountered that yet this summer, thank goodness, although it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

      I’ll make a note of it and bring it up when I – inevitably – chase it up again.

  12. This is normal incompetent cut corners fucking GTR yes they’re being replaced but have you seen the shit state the Great Northern Class 313s are in, not seen a lick of paint since well First Capital Connect and inside is filthy and full of shit god bless the cleaners who try as hard as possible but it needs a complete revamp which was promised but as usual the pricks never deliver and in regards to the new 700 I absolutely agree why the fuck would you create a train and remove all the necessities the predecessor had which customers benefitted from is beyond me and yeah as usual never ask the customers because there plan is to cut corners but its there loss because I’m pretty sure its gonna cost more to retrofit all the plugs and tables than have it fitted first time round by the manufacturer but that’s what those high class ass holes get anyway, take everyones money and run and still deliver a shit service.

  13. This was a government decision. Contact Stephon Hammond who signed off on these trains. That fat bloke would not fit on one of the seats but was happy for everyone else to do so.

  14. After just a week of commuting on the 700 class between Redhill and Luton I was thinking I was alone before finding this website.
    I’m 6ft 3″ and my tibia doesn’t fit in the space between the seats so I have to sit sideways. It looks like I’m hogging the whole double seat when in fact I physically don’t fit in it. It isn’t so bad as I can sit in a four way seat and jam my feet under the opposite seat (that is until someone sits there and I have to hook my legs over my ears).
    What makes it worse is those seats are so incredibly uncomfortable, there is no position I can get into that doesn’t hurt after a few minutes. The sad part is I can’t see them ever changing these to something else. Not until someone wins a personal injury claim against them.

  15. I travel from Carshalton to Blackfriars at the moment so only 35 minute journey…Carshalton is the 2nd stop. With the old trains pretty much all the Carshalton commuters would get a seat. They have only just introduced the new rolling stock on this journey this week so now everyone who doesn’t get on at Sutton, where the train starts, has to stand. It’s crazy. It might be nice to find out how uncomfortable the new seats are! All I can say is at least they are air conditioned and smell better than the old trains…..Do you happen to know how many fewer seats there are? I was thinking at least 20 less/carriage…

    • I think the theory is that the trains are longer, so that offsets it, but my research tells me otherwise.
      The old 319 Class trains (which have been phased out by Thameslink) could carry 319 passengers (or double that on an 8 coach train).
      The new Class 700 trains can carry 666 when there are 12 coaches, but only 427 on an 8-coach train, so that’s almost a 50% drop in capacity.
      What’s more the new seats are narrower and also feel like sitting on an ironing board.
      All in all not a great upgrade 🙁

  16. I wish they could cut down on the announcements. We do not know at each stop all the stops the train will be making until the final destination. I get on at Peckham and go to Bromley south. 8 stops in 20minutes sometimes the train has hardly finished its announcement of all the stops before it reaches next station. If you forget headphones, most annoying. I guess it’s done for blind passengers, though I doubt many blind people get on a train without knowing how many stops they are going and a simple announcement of just the next station should be sufficient.

  17. Class 700 and luggage.
    Airports notwithstanding, St. Pancras International, anyone?
    (This may have been mentioned before)

  18. As far as the additional “accessibility” for disabled people, I should point out that there are MANY disabled people who don’t use wheelchairs and who look just like everyone else. These people (me included) feel extremely uncomfortable asking someone to give up a seat for them. Less seating means I am more likely to have to stand over an hour longs journey, which leaves me in tears of agony. When they say consumers wanted more capacity they somehow, gobsmackingly, didn’t grasp that the sentiment meant SEATED capacity! I would be forced to either quit work or buy a first class ticket to travel to work every day if I had not already had to leave my job due to my pain. The commute conditions are a massive part of my inability to do my job. Before I even get to the office, if I didn’t manage to get a seat, I would be in pain and exhausted. It sounds like the design of the new seating would have caused as much pain as standing, so hearing that they have made changes increasing the likelihood of that happening, I am disappointed they even dare to say they are “Accessible”.

  19. I agree with all of the above, thank God I will have retired long before these hateful trains are scrapped. Bit surprised that although many have said how awful the seats are, I can’t see any comments about the stupid design of the seat brackets. I can’t put my feet back under my seat because of the mounting bracket and I can’t stretch then forwards under the seat in front of me for the same reason. Therefore, on the rare occasion I can get a seat, I am forced to keep my legs and feet in one position. Maybe if I were a thin and supple 20 something guy I wouldn’t mind. But as a fat bloke in my 60s I have to decide between the pain of standing or the pain of sitting.
    No wonder I now add extra time to my journey by using the Gatwick Express for my Brighton to London commute despite my office being half way between Blackfriars and Farringdon.

    • I hear you on the bracket, although I find at least it gives you a different position for your feet during the journey. Small comfort, though.

  20. I travel from Brighton to London Bridge everyday and these new trains are the last straw. I’m 6ft and don’t fit in the seats. The one thing that gave me sanity during the commute was that I could do work/music production en route. Now that simple dignity has been taken away, and I am forced to sit with knees against seats in front of me and constantly rubbing arms with an equally annoyed traveler. FML.

  21. I’ve had one journey on a class 700 and hopefully there will be no more
    After about half an hour my back was aching,something I have not experienced in about 250,00 miles of train travel.A numb bum after a long journey yes, but no back ache
    I complained to GTR and got the following replies

    Thank you for taking the time to get in touch with the customer relations team. Given the clear seriousness of the points you raise your case was passed to me and I’m pleased to respond below.

    It was disappointing to learn that you felt the seating on the class-700s had caused you some back issues. Indeed, I hope your back has now returned to normal after your trip to Brighton.

    (it has returned to normal but I’m glad I don’t use these on a regular basis as I’m sure I would finish up with long term back problems)

    It may be of interest that the seats were designed to current industry standards and thoroughly tested prior to installation. That said I should make it clear that the specification was decided by the previous franchise holder, First Capital Connect, in consultation with the Department for Transport; no changes could be made on our part. This is incidentally why the new trains don’t feature Wi-Fi which will have to be retrofitted as it is clearly much more desirable now than it was back in 2008.

    The seats are built by a company called Fainsa who have been making seats for buses and trains since 1935. The reason I mention this is because they’re very experienced and are fully conversant with the latest health and safety guidelines in the industry. They also supply Alstom/Bombardier as well as Siemens, so most UK train fleets will be fitted with similar seat designs when brought into service or refurbished in the future.

    The final choice of design was made in conjunction with stakeholders and user groups, such as London TravelWatch and Transport Focus, and included testers of all shapes and sizes including those who were well over 6 feet tall; indeed, comfort improvements were made to the original design as a result of feedback from taller people and so it was hoped the seating would be comfortable for all. Of course it is never possible to please every passenger on every train sadly.

    The materials and design have been chosen to be hard wearing, and for their ability to withstand both usual and unusual wear and tear, including vandalism such as slashing or burning of seats. Most importantly they also adhere to all current standards including crash worthiness and fire safety. As a result, I can confirm that the seats are not going to be changed.

    Once again, I’m sorry that you find the seats uncomfortable although I hope that I’ve provided enough information to reassure you that they were designed with the comfort and safety of every user in mind.

    Note the comment in the 2nd last paragraph “As a result, I can confirm that the seats are not going to be changed.”

    And

    I do take your point about the seats and it’s true they are very different and they have provoked a lot of feedback from customers. I personally commute via Great Northern and obviously working for a train company have tried out many different types of train for short and longer journeys. While I fully agree that the seats on the new trains are firmer, I honestly don’t find them any less comfortable.

    (well he would say that wouldn’t he)

    As a train operator, we lease trains from Rolling Stock Operating Companies, or ROSCOS, and so don’t ‘own’ any of them. The trains in operation feature in the franchise agreement we have with the Department for Transport which lays out the series of commitments we will deliver for the length of the franchise. In essence and while this may be quite a direct statement, the trains we have in place will be here for the duration, will help us deliver extra capacity across the route, and it is extremely unlikely if not improbable that the seats will be changed.

    There is also something to be said in that change can sometimes take a while to be embraced and what can initially seem unacceptable may become more palatable over time, as one becomes more familiar with a situation. Further, from a practical point of view the seats themselves will soften to a degree with prolonged use.

    Finally while I can fully appreciate your personal preference it is also the case that other customers have expressed a completely opposing view and as is the case with many aspects of public transport, we can’t meet the expectations of everyone. Even so we are still extremely positive about the introduction of a modern high tech fleet on the route that’s built to help us deliver a railway fit for the future.

    (how many have complained compared with those praising those abominable seats)

    Give GTR credit though it only took 3 days in both cases to get back to me
    You try getting a response out of Northern .1st complaint over a month to reply
    2nd they said they hadn’t received my e-mail
    3rd been waiting over a month again

    • Hi Tim
      Thanks for this – very illuminating. I think they’ve expanded their original replies on this topic clearly. It’s more than I got.

      I can guarantee GTR that “change can sometimes take a while to be embraced and what can initially seem unacceptable may become more palatable over time” is a load of old hooey. I’ve been using these trains for more than a year now and they’re no better and definitely no softer.

      Cheers
      R 🙂

  22. I’ve been commuting on the 07:32 Brighton to London Bridge Southern service for ten years now.

    Naturally, over such a long period there have been times where I’ve taken a Thameslink train into work or home in the evening (e.g.: where I have started late or finished early). I’ve always derived a modicum of comfort from the fact that I could usually enjoy the relative salubrious environments of the 377 Electrostars or Wessex class trains. Traveling on the old Thameslink 319 trains and latterly on the class 700 Desiros always left me feeling slightly smug knowing that I don’t have to do this every day. There was a reason why the phrase “slum it on Thameslink” became so popular in commuter circles.

    I had occasionally used the class 700 trains since their introduction in 2016. The train’s design faults were immediately obvious: no fold down table for sets of two seats; no tables on 2-facing-2 seats; tiny legroom (except for first class and priority seats); booming on-board announcements; overly bright lighting; ironing board flat and hard seats; no carpets or material clad half-walls; no arm rests; seats closer together; insipid colour scheme of greys and blues lending to a depressing sterile atmosphere, the vastness of the train’s 12 walk through carriages resulting in a generally impersonal environment). I can see how these trains could work on a metro over ground service, but there’re distinctly unsuited to long distance commuting. The class 700 is to commuting what the deep cleaned waiting room is to the NHS.

    Imagine my shock then when a class 700 train was presented to me on Monday 18th September for the 07:32 Brighton to London Bridge. Surely some mistake? Surely just a one off. My heart sank when a platform assistant told me that a class 700 train will form the 07:32 from now on. In one fell swoop my commute has gone from bearable to unbearable. Oh, GTR, why do you make me suffer so?

    But surely the 07:32 is a Southern service, so why use a Thameslink train? It has always been advertised on the departure boards and announcements as a Southern service. The platform assistant told me that it’s always been a Thameslink train. Really? The service is not listed on the Thameslink timetable PDFs on it’s website. Yet it is listed in the Southern website PDF timetables.

    So, not only do I now face the discomfort of 76 minutes on the 07:32 but also the confusion of a Southern service transferring to Thameslink overnight.

    • I feel your pain, Stuart. For a good few months after the introduction of the Class 700s, I learned which trains were more likely to run the old-style Class 319 carriages.

      It’s most odd that the 7.32 is now classed as a Thameslink train, as I always assumed it was a Southern service, too. I think that’s a recent change.

      • I hadn’t realised this either. For a long time, the 07:32 (especially when it was the old-style Gatwick Express train), was the train I took whenever I was in too much main from the class 700’s. Now there is no escape unless we go via Victoria, which takes longer, and costs more for my journey to Farringdon.

    • Hello Stuart. I tweeted Southern about this and was informed that the 7.32 service had been transferred from Southern to Thameslink. I’m wondering if this is part of the ongoing dispute on Southern – this way GTR (who own both Southern and Thameslink) can protect a vital service when there are strikes over DOO services.

      I applaud every comment on this thread. How GTR is behaving is disgraceful. Just one example of their total disregard for passengers can be found in this comment from them, “research for rail watchdog Passenger Focus and London TravelWatch carried out to inform the design of the train showed that people recognised the main priority was to maximise capacity.” To take that piece of research and conclude that it means the removal of seats and the creation of smaller seating spaces is crooked thinking of the highest degree. Capacity can refer to number of services. I would also hazard a guess that passengers actually want trains to run to time.

  23. I’m getting RSI in my neck from trying to read for work with my neck at an unhealthy angel, my buttocks feel like I’ve been basted and my knees are crushed – all this for three hours a day! Love the newsletter thanks so much for it. Brilliant.

    • Oh god, I was feeling exactly the same this morning. I use the Headspace app to try and make my body feel better for 10 minutes, but it’s a small comfort 🙁

  24. All I can say is welll done everybody for this thread. I totally agree with everything here. the only thing I’d add is i don’t think it should only be a matter of retrofitting tables and sockets – which of course are totally needed. But surely they should be made to rip out the seating too? In fact why don’t they just start again??? I wonder if the threat of some kind of class action around health – back problems etc from the rock hard seating – should be made by those commuting on these sparkling but miserable trains. I know they say they meet all minimum requirements blah blah blah but perhaps a lawyer should be consulted?

    • Hey Gavin – I’ve been having similar thoughts about what sort of legal challenge is possible. I fail to believe that they tested the seats beyond someone sitting in them for a short period of time – I’m relatively short at 5’9″ and I feel so cramped both in my upper body and my legs.

      If anyone has any thoughts about that sort of class action, very interested to hear.

      • I’d be interested – I have a herniated disc in my lower back which started about 6 months after these trains were introduced (I spend 1hr40 each way, 3 days a week, on them).
        I’m pretty sure it was caused by the change in design.

  25. I agree with most things everyone is saying here. It is clearly not suitable for long journeys, which will become evident soon enough as long as the pressure keeps up. Is it therefore a case that DfT have bought the wrong train? If so would the Bombardier Aventra have been a better alternative – without getting into the tender process. Have a look at the website here http://uk.bombardier.com/en/transportation/presence-in-country/future-concepts-projects.html, the CGI’s of the inside look very comfortable, arm rests, carpeted floors etc.

    If not and the 700’s are a well built train, then it might not be the end of the world as the inside of these trains – at great expense – could be remodelled with all the benefits suggested above. I appreciate this ins’t going to help those in the short term and your gripes are more than justified.

    Just a thought,
    James

    • It should also be worth noting that the new South Western Railway franchise are dumping their almost brand new Siemens Desiro 707 trains (almost identical to the new Siemens Thameslink 700 class) for the new Bombardier Aventra class trains. Why? Because these trains are hopeless!

  26. It should also be worth noting that the new South Western Railway franchise are dumping their almost brand new Siemens Desiro 707 trains (almost identical to the new Siemens Thameslink 700 class) for the new Bombardier Aventra class trains. Why? Because these trains are hopeless!

  27. I agree with your points Rob. To add to the list: No coat hooks. The old Thameslink rolling stock had them. These trains seem to have been rushed out half finished but as the responses by GTR demonstrate it’s a “We couldn’t care about the passengers and the accountants want to save money to pay the shareholders”

  28. All very good points and I have great sympathy for the commuters who will have to use these trains every day, especially long distance travellers. And they will be joined next year, from May 2018, by users of the semi-fast trains from Cambridge and Peterborough to Kings Cross, which will be operated by Class 700s and diverted via Thameslink route. The sad thing is that there is little that can be done without the government spending a lot of money to modify a lot of trains.
    The key original idea of the design was to ensure that large numbers of commuters could join and leave the trains quickly at the core Thameslink stations, and thus enable trains to run at least every 3 minutes through the underground section. Hence there are three doors per carriage and a lot fewer seats. This is a fine design for a local train but isn’t great for a long distance one – especially when you want to encourage people to use the new Thameslink services as an alternative to the M25.
    The poor design decisions were taken by (essentially amateur in railway terms) civil servants in the DfT in 2006-7, when they wrote the invitation to tender (ITT) for the trains (probably with the assistance of consultants). This was then issued as part of an EU-rules procurement. One of the key rules is that once you’ve issued an ITT and recieved bids, you can’t change the spec much without restarting the whole lengthy tendering process. So all the poor features that your readers describe were essentially set in concrete then, whatever the various parties may say about consultation etc. You can’t blame the train companies (FCC/Thameslink, GTR/Southern etc) as they had the trains foisted on them by the DfT, and they don’t have the money to spend huge sums improving the trains. They have promised some minor improvements.

    Lack of support for electronic devices, tables for laptops etc may be partly explained by the somewhat lower usage of such devices 10 years ago. But they coud have specified comfier seats for longer distance trains.
    See Wikipedia “Class 700” for full details of the train.

    Some tips:
    – The first class is comfortable, with tables and power points. It’s located at the front and rear extremities of each train. The REAR first class accommodation on ALL Class 700 trains (in direction of travel) is always declassified and is available to second class passengers. This is official from GTR management. Also, on stopping trains (Sutton, St Albans, Sevenoaks etc) both FRONT and REAR first class accommodation is available to second class passengers – check the timetable to see if first class is advertised.

    – Look for the 2018 timetable consultation on the Southern or Thameslink website for details of the new timetable and train routes.

    – I’d urge you to join your local rail travellers’ group to keep up to date. The one in St Albans called APTU is very good – google “APTU” and you find a lot of info on its website, incl latest on Class 700 modifications.

    • Thanks for your comments, John. The word ‘amateur’ is totally spot on.

      My partner gets a train fairly regularly from Brighton to Southampton and comments on the fact that this Coastway service is a bit like a glorified bus route, with many passengers only using it for a couple of stops at a time.

      As you point out, though, the Brighton – Bedford line is a major commuter route and carries lots of passengers who spent upwards of an hour each way, which really begs the question why no-one identified the length of journey as a key factor in comfort of the trains.

      I’ll definitely start making use of the rear 1st class carriage, though. In the evening that’ll be heaven!

  29. Don’t know what you are all complaining about. Southeastern still heavily rely on the old 466 units built in the early 1990s. 0 leg room and the bloody heater takes up a quarter of the space for your feet… if you can sit straight in the seat. And the newer trains are no better. Cheap. Cheap. Cheap. Suburban trains are terrible for passenger comfort.

    • Although the seats are cramped I fond the seat back a lot more comfortable on the Southeastern trains. They seem to slope back more and are much less likely to make my back and shoulders hurt.

  30. Interesting announcements from our drivers recently on one of these trains to City Thameslink: they don’t really know how to fix the train doors as they haven’t been trained sufficiently, so when these don’t work we often can’t leave a station for about 15mins if one door won’t close.

    Also, they train drivers don’t have any control over the air conditioning, as told by our driver this morning – and as there are no windows to open and so often trains stop along the route for up to 10mins for various reasons (other default trains ahead, letting other trains pass, red signals, etc.) it gets so uncomfortably hot and there is a lack of fresh air that people get really hot and I actually almost fainted this week standing on one of these trains that had stopped halfway between two stations.

    As one of the other travelers commented above, my stop is only the second station in the morning (Kent House from Beckenham Junction) and there were always enough seats for most people getting on at my stop, however now when the train arrives it often already has people standing so no chance of getting a seat.

  31. Well there’s a modicum of common sense breaking out on Greater Anglia
    They were going to fit those awful Fainsa seats but will use seats from German supplier Kiel,the seats being fitted with e-leather headrests AND tables

    Here’s an interesting article about GWR class 800

    http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/people-really-dont-like-hard-13849595

    Hard seats on Inter City as well
    GWR say 70% of comments are positive or neutral
    It would be better if they told us how many were positive
    And also 30% complaints on a brand new train that is supposed to be the bee’s knees isn’t a good start

    Just what have the DoT,TOCs & ROSCOs got against the fare paying public
    Some of the fares are very expensive,the least they could is provide us with a comfortable journey

  32. These trains are a complete disgrace

    One of the many ironies is that Go Ahead – partners in GTR – provide free wifi on their Brighton & Hove Buses

    As cars have become more comfortable in the last 20 years the clowns in the DoT and the supine deliverers in Siemens and GTR have produced arguably the most unfit for customers/passengers trains on the modern network

    It is quite maddening that no one seems accountable for this farce

  33. Hello Rob

    Great work here

    Has anyone contacted the MPs on the Bedford- Brighton line to try to increase pressure on GTR/DoT/ROSCO?

    Already Southern are under spotlight – not sure about Thameslink
    http://www.nicholassoames.org.uk/content/southern-rail-3
    http://www.peterkyle.co.uk/the_latest_on_trains
    http://www.worthingherald.co.uk/news/transport/county-news-sussex-mps-urge-transport-secretary-to-invest-in-rail-network-1-8188934

    I really feel for those of you who endure these trains daily

  34. When the new Thameslink timetable comes into effect, which is currently planned to be May or December 2018 – all trains that run through the Farringdon tunnels will be Class 700-operated. To see which these are, you can find the draft new timetables at the links below. For example, the Littlehampton-Hove-London Bridge trains will be routed via Thameslink and will be operated by Class 700 trains, as well as some trains to Horsham and East Grinstead. The draft new timetables can be found at:
    https://www.transformingrail.com/download-southern-timetables
    https://www.transformingrail.com/download-timetables

    The Brighton mainline draft timetable is at:
    https://www.transformingrail.com/-/media/goahead/transforming-rail/files/sn-brighton-mainline-2018.pdf

    Here is a description of the changes, now a little out of date:
    http://www.southernrailway.com/download/42915.6/timetable-consultation/

    (Btw Thameslink Class 700 trains will no longer serve the Beckenham Junction line. Trains will terminate at Blackfriars.)

    You certainly should continue to campaign for more comfortable seats, but I think it will be a long slog with the class 700s, given that they are bought and paid for by the government. But, longer term, the message needs to get through, as there are too many other uncomfortable trains out there. One handicap is that in passenger surveys, respondents tend to prioritise issues such as trains running on time, cleanliness, price of tickets etc, and seat comfort has not appeared high on the list.

    Re reliability, it was reported recently that the Class 700 reliability was not what it should be. A figure of 5,500 miles per casualty (defined as causing a minimum 5 minute delay), is well below the target figures of 20,000 miles plus, although it is improving. Software seems to be the cause of many problems.

  35. Just had the pleasure (not) of using one of the these trains on the SWT franchise. Why are there so few seats? The whole train is very poorly designed. In the standing areas, 75% of the train, there are very few handrails to hold onto. Thank god they’ll only be around for two years.

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