Although a number of new train fleets have been introduced onto the British rail network in recent years, with more still to come, they haven’t all met with universal passenger approval. Some have described the seats as “ironing boards”, a reference to their comparative hardness. Others have observed that the initial impressions might lead one to think that the seats are hard, but in fact they remain comfortable after a long journey.
After a safe and punctual train, seats are probably the most important customer requirement, but, with people coming in all shapes and sizes, and journeys being for a variety of purposes, customer requirements for seats would not come into the category of “one size fits all”.
In days gone by, the importance of seats would be inferred by a requirement that seat comfort be judged by the managing director and his (in those days it was inevitably a man) directors – a process that survived until at least the 1990s.
More recently, enlightened project directors have organised customer clinics and provided the seats that the customers liked most. Less-enlightened project directors have bought the cheapest seats compliant with the various requirements (that do not include comfort).
Compliance is everything, and modern trains must comply with the interoperability regulations. In the case of seats, train buyers have to ensure that the seats meet some pretty basic ergonomic requirements, show they are strong enough in service and in a crash, and meet stringent fire safety requirements.
The result has been a large number of complaints about so-called “ironing board” seats, and recent customer satisfaction scores show seats (at 67 per cent) fall a long way short of overall passenger satisfaction (at 83 per cent).
All this led to RSSB commissioning research into seat comfort, with the aim of producing objective criteria for assessing seat comfort and, hopefully a standard against which compliance may be measured. If customers dislike the seats on a new train when this process is in use, it will be easy to see whether the specifier has been too undemanding or whether the seat supplier has failed to comply.