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South West Trains puts squeeze on commuters

'Evidence shows people prefer to travel with their elbows'

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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 that fare-paying cattle travelling on Class 450 carriages were obliged to "squeeze into hard seats measuring 43cm (17 inches) with no arm rests or spaces between them".

The Class 450s boast five seats across the carriage, in a "two-plus-three" configuration. Mordaunt reported she'd attempted to cram three colleagues into a trio of the offending spaces, but one ended up "90 per cent in the aisle".

She said: "It seems that South West Trains expects its passengers not only not to work while traveling in standard class, but not to have elbows either."

She elaborated: "A report commissioned by South West Trains on the ergonomics of its Class 450 carriages, which are now on half the Portsmouth-London line, found that 59 per cent of people, when their elbows are taken into account, will not fit into the seats.

"My admittedly anecdotal evidence shows that most people prefer to travel with their elbows most of the time."

A spokeswoman for South West Trains owner Stagecoach defended: "Class 450 trains are modern, reliable, air-conditioned rolling stock and every aspect of these trains, including the seats, has to comply with strict legislation and Railway Group standards.

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

She concluded: "Our customer feedback shows that getting a seat is high on the list of priorities for our passengers – these trains, when run as 12 cars, provide 142 additional seats per journey compared to a 10-car Class 444 train."

Mordaunt countered: "A seat on which one cannot sit is a seat in name only. South West Trains dismisses criticism of the 450 carriages as mere 'comfort' concerns and a simple preference for the 444. Well, quite.

"The 444s have two-plus-two seating, tables, arm rests and seats 45cm wide, with a 4cm space between them. What's not to like?"

Transport Minister Theresa Villiers agreed to meet Mordaunt to discuss the matter further. There are some snaps of the latter's attempt to fit three elbow-endowed people into three seats here. ®

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