New seat layouts, and the train load standard is increasing from 798 to 900

So, now we know which train is which

If you’re a regular on Melbourne’s trains, particularly in the southern and western lines, you’d have noticed the recent changes to seat layouts, but the process of reducing the number of seats on metropolitan trains actually started some time ago, during the huge patronage growth of last decade.

Back in 2008, it was flagged that the second major order of X’Trapolis trains would have fewer seats, with a wider aisle, and more handholds. Further X’Trapolis trains ordered have been of the same design, and subsequently the older trains of that type were altered to also have 2 x 2 seating.

This made a lot of sense. In blocks of three seats, it’s common to see people failing to fill all three (the middle seat in particular is very cramped), choosing to stand instead, and the narrow aisle made it difficult for crowds to circulate around the carriage, especially when there aren’t many places to hold onto.

X'Trapolis train

In 2009, then-operator Connex showed off a trial Comeng train design, which cut about 15 seats from each carriage. As of a few months ago you’d still see these three carriages around on the network.

Changing the load standard

In 2012, it emerged there was a proposal to modify the entire train fleet along these lines, and amend the load standard. This is confirmed by a Metro operations document which came to light last year.

Currently the load standard is 133 per carriage, or 798 per 6 carriage train.

It’s worth re-iterating that the load standard is NOT a maximum capacity; it’s a measurement of crowding. It originated in the 1999 privatisation contracts — if trains carried more than 798 people, it was meant to trigger action to add more capacity, such as adding extra services. (In practice it rarely seemed to trigger anything.)

The proposal is that the load standard be increased to a nice round 900, or 150 per carriage.

If one accepts that seats should be moderately reduced in number, making more space for standees, this actually makes sense — there’s no question that the new designs increase the capacity of each carriage.

Mass removal of seats: Comeng and Siemens fleet

Fast forward to 2016. In the past year, current operator Metro has made modifications to many Comeng and Siemens carriages, basically removing all of the seats closest to the doors.

This was done firstly on the Alstom Comeng fleet (which are recognisable from their green poles, handles and seat backs) and now similar modifications are being rolled-out on the EDI Comeng fleet (yellow poles, handles, seat backs). The latter are a bit different — because the closest remaining seats face the doorways, metal barriers have been installed as well, so people sitting have some space from standees.

Increasing numbers of Siemens carriages also have similar modifications, and their changes appear to be being done while replacing the horrible old plain blue seat cushions.

New Comeng train layout, December 2014

How many seats gone?

It varies by train type. My rough counts (NOT verified):

In the Siemens trains, it’s a removal of about 16 seats per carriage, or in a 6-car train a total of 96 out of 528, or 18.2%.

In the Alstom Comeng fleet, about 12 removed per carriage, for a total of 72 removed out of 536 (13.4%).

In the EDI Comeng fleet, I think it’s 17-24 per carriage, a total (if I’ve got my sums right) of 116 out of 556 (20.9%)

In the X’Trapolis trains, it was 12 removed, or 72 out of 528 (13.7%).

(By comparison, recent B-class tram changes reduced seats by over 30%, though that was partly countered by “bum-racks”… which ultimately don’t save much if any space, I reckon.)

Siemens train: new layout February 2015

The result

The new design isn’t ideal. Clearly it’s a compromise between providing more standing space and making a modification that’s cheap and quick and easy to do — in many cases, whole 2-3 seat units are removed, rather than trying to chop up existing units, so aisles are still narrow on the Comengs. Door positions are not modified — that would be very expensive.

In the Comeng and Siemens trains there still aren’t enough handholds, so while there’s now more space around the doorways, the bulk of standees still remain around the doors.

(Why aren’t there enough handholds? I was told repeatedly during late 2000s that it was due to a fear of vandals swinging on them to kick out windows. It’s unclear if that ever actually happened, or if it was some paranoid fantasy from some desk-bound risk assessor. Either way, the change in X’Trapolis design indicates it’s no longer feared.)

Comeng train

Priority seats

For a while in the reconfigured Comeng and Siemens carriages, there were now virtually no Priority (disabled) seats. Almost all of them are the seats that have been removed. As this blog post points out, this is a big problem for some users, such as the vision-impaired. Apparently part of the issue was they ran out of stickers! New stickers are appearing now, though of course these seats are now farther from the doors.

A recent legislation change means that able-bodied passengers must now give up any seat to those with special needs. But this change hasn’t been communicated at all, and the wording is ambiguous, saying that it:

applies if all designated special needs seats to which a person with special needs has reasonable access in the bus, tram, carriage of a train or premises are already occupied by persons with special needs.

What if the carriage in question has no designated special needs seats? This has been the case for some carriages while the stickers are sorted out.

What if the only priority seats are unoccupied, but are at the opposite end of the carriage — some Comeng “M” carriages now have them only adjacent the driver’s cab (though perhaps that’s temporary) — and the person can’t easily get there?

Passenger reaction

Some people really like the new design. If you’re resigned to having to stand anyway, this provides more space in which to do so. I overheard one person exclaim “ooh, spacious!” when boarding, just after the new designs started to be introduced.

Of course, some are miffed about reduced seats, particularly those having to make long trips on busy lines. In the PM peak they might have to wait for longer for a seat to become available. There are tales, for instance, of people having to stand from the City Loop all the way out to Dandenong.

Is it good, is it bad? There’s no one right answer — different people have different views, and different needs.

I’ve certainly seen cases (typically after cancellations) where trains have been so crowded that with the old design, people would have been left behind on the platform.

But the issue of Priority Seats clearly needs to be resolved.

And ultimately the question is whether it reduces dwell times, allowing more trains to run, which can help counter the reduction in seats in each train.

When will the load standard change take effect? Not sure — some carriages haven’t been converted yet, but I’m guessing this year.

14 thoughts on “New seat layouts, and the train load standard is increasing from 798 to 900”

  1. 1
    misguidedjenni says:

    Why can’t they say “You must give up this seat for a person with special needs”? I’ve seen many people with disabilities struggle to get to a seat post removal of the conveniently located seats near the doors. As usual, these people are marginalized, probably because the people who make the decisions are able bodied. Make them wear blindfolds and test out the product on a crowded train! ;)

  2. 2
    Mike says:

    Pah, a measly 150 per carriage :-)

    Mumbai manages some unbelievable numbers. From https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-best-thing-about-Mumbai-Local-Trains?redirected_qid=1163389: “4,700 passengers are packed into a 9-car rake during peak hours, as against the rated carrying capacity of 1,700. This has resulted in what is known as Super-Dense Crush Load of 14 to 16 standing passengers per square meter of floor space.”

    I know this is a totally different environment to Melbourne – just sharing it as a fun fact. Fun exercise – imagine a 1 sq m box in front of you, and now try and imagine squeezing in to it with 15 other people!!

  3. 3
    Kiwi Nick says:

    I am a James Bond junkie, and even I don’t have thoughts about swinging on handholds to kick out windows. Any bureaucrat having fantasies about that should be locked up on national security grounds.

    Myki balance of $0.07, that’s more my style :-)

  4. 4
    Michael says:

    Wasn’t Metro required to make all trains 2-2 seating as part of their operating contract? Took over in December 2009. Its now January 2016.

    The lack of priority seating near the doors (such as on the xtrapolis units) and grab handles away from the doors is a personal bugbear. I think it reduces accessibility for those who need it. Personally i thought the Hitachi layout was the best (if they removed the 3rd seat).

    Given that the Network Development Plan has each proposed line being allocated their own rollingstock, layouts could vary from line to line with busy lines such as the Sunshine-Dandenong and Baxter-Craigieburn line have a high capacity metro style layout. Whilst less busy lines such as the Clifton Hill Loop Line might use a 2-2 layout.

  5. 5
    John.S says:

    I still don’t understand why they don’t just run the seats along the windows. I did a rough calculation, and I believe for every “set” of four seats that stick out from the window, you can fit 2.5 to 3 seats along the window, if you were to extend these all the way to the door, you would probably end up with an almost equal number of seats per carriage (well at least for the siemens and x’traps, the comengs would take a hit because of the sets of six seats). You can either go for the long bar seats they have at the front of the siemens trains (and maybe others? can’t remember), or the individual ones you see in the new york subway (for example). I would then run a handrail bar from the roof at about 1 to 1.5m from the window, plus a rail along the middle of the carriage attached to the floor for people who are shorter, or who feel uncomfortable about reaching up to the overhead handrails.

    During the Peak times, we need this capacity as the government is not willing to spend the money on other track capacity improvements (many of which can’t be implemented before level crossings are removed, such as ato). Although in-cab signalling can be provided without the removal of level crossings, many lines share tracks with vline or freight making in-cab signalling unnecessarily expensive, but the segregation of metro and freight/vline is a topic for another time.

    Outside of Peak times, the seats provided would be enough for 90% of the journeys. The trains are really not that full, at least from my experience, on the pakenham line inter-peak with the 10 minute frequency provided. A lot of one or two people per “set” of four/six seat areas, but no one standing until south yarra or so, because by then it’s only a stop or two to the city.

    IMHO, outside of the metro tunnel, the government should be looking to:
    *Move Traralgon / Sale / Bairnsdale services to terminate at Flinders Street
    *Duplicate Belgrave / Lilydale / Hurstbridge / Upfield / Altona Loop / Cranbourne / + any other’s I’ve forgotten. These are a major choke point on the network, as a delay in these sections have massive follow on impacts.
    *Look at the possibility of adding a fourth track pair from platforms 15/16 at southern cross to flinders street. We need to get more services consistently out of the city loop, including weekends, to allow an increase in frequency on all lines, as the new track pair would provide 24tph in theory in each direction, allowing the remaining city loop lines to also have an increase.
    *It’s not too late to go back to the original plan for the metro tunnel, which meant it going via dandenong road, freeing up a south yarra – caulfield track pair for vline / freight.This is the reason why the south yarra station was never in the original plans, the metro tunnel never went near it!

  6. 6
    Fred says:

    Priority Seats are not just for people with a disability – they’re for people with special needs ie “a person who, because of age, disability, illness or pregnancy has a special need to travel in a seat”.

    As someone in their late 60s with cancer, I mightn’t look disabled. However, standing places me at the risk of fractures and falls. I’ve become a little more interested in Priority Seats than I used to be.

  7. 7
    Ange says:

    I am currently in Europe and have travelled around on numerous trains in Italy (inter city (Milan to Padua; Padua to Venice; Venice to Florence, Florence to Naples, Naples to Rome), regional (Florence to Pisa) , local (Naples) and metro in Rome and Naples)) and France (Paris to Rennes) and also in London ( tube and above ground), not to mention the Eurostar. My observations are that the London tube trains and metro trains in Rome are better configured than Melbourne’s trains. They are smaller and have the seats along the Windows. This has the benefit that the seats are easier to access ( no having to climb over knees and bags to get to empty seats) and also that everyone standing can hang onto the bars that go overhead. Although there may be more space in the Melbourne trains with seat numbers reduced, that extra space is next to useless unless there is something to hold on to. I have a particular dislike of the yellow loop handholds in some of our trains as shown in your first photo – these provide no stability as they swing around ( especially on the bend coming into Caulfield station on the Dandenong line). Handholds need to be either fixed vertical or horizontal bars.

    Interestingly, the local above ground local train in Naples that I caught back to the city from Pompeii was manufactured in 1974 and it was showing its age – it had the 2 x 2 seat arrangement and plenty of space in doorways, but no hand holds… I don’t think I can even remember what type of suburban trains ran in Melbourne back then. In contrast, the Naples metro is brand spanking new, beautifully clean and was a pleasure to travel on.

  8. 8
    Roger says:

    As usual, you provide a thoughtful summary about an issue that receives little publicity but affects hundreds of thousands of commuters, including me, several times a week.
    For crowded trains, it does make sense to have wider aisles for people to move away from the doors. I am one of those people who pushes past people “sorry, excuse me..” to get to the one empty seat in the middle of a row of three. This usually annoys the person who has their laptop on his knees or the person who had used the empty seat for their shopping/backpack/Macca’s containers.
    PS Your 10 second grab on last night’s news only lasted 3 seconds. What happened to the rest of it?

  9. 9

    […] station is a real standout to me – 220 car parking spaces is the equivalent of a single carriage of passengers, and the area surrounding the station now has apartment blocks so tall they require a tower crane […]

  10. 10
    John says:

    Good in parts, but a lot more could be done.

    To encourage people to move away from doors (vital for minimising dwell time), it’s essential to have adequate handholds along the aisle. Simply making aisles wider by retrofitting 4 abreast won’t do the trick, if the handholds aren’t there.

    In the Xtrapolis, presumably the longitudinal bars are so placed for some structural reason. As a result the yellow straps are so far from the aisle as to be useless (similarly in the Siemens, although the structure seems to be a bit different). There should be more crosswise bars.

    In the pictured green Comeng cars, handholds away from the doors are still hopeless (is there any plan to improve this?)

    A simple measure to would be to retrofit front to back seating. Then you double the number of seat back corner handholds. I’ve never understood why Melbourne uses the inferior front to front seating. [note 1] My observations suggest that this might be a relatively simple job of flipping the seats around on their supports.

    It’s also important that crosswise barriers beside doors are set back far enough so that people leaning against them don’t reduce the effective door opening. That means at least 400mm—the renovated yellow Comeng car in the video is still far from good enough in this regard.

    Has there been, or is there any plan to retrofit Comeng cars for four abreast?

    Note that seats are at about 3 per square metre. 3 per square metre is also a good ‘normal maximum’ target for standing passengers, because it’s the maximum density at which there is still reasonably free circulation. Reasonably free circulation is also necessary to encourage people to move away from doors—they won’t move if they fear being trapped inside the train when the time comes to get off.

    It that’s the target for standing passengers, it means that the ratio of sitting to standing doesn’t make much difference to target total capacity of the train. But of course ease of circulation in the car does affect dwell time, which affects the headway and the total capacity of the line.

    @John S: Longitudinal seats are certainly best in high volume situations with lots of boarding and alighting. They’re not fabulous for comfort on trains with good acceleration and braking. You’re constantly bracing yourself so as not to end up too intimate with the people beside you.

    Note 1. Front to back seating is also better in terms of privacy and personal space. For example, in your first Green Comeng example, note how the Chinese woman takes the aisle seat to avoid sitting opposite someone. This makes it harder for the next comer to access the window seat.

  11. 11
    Kevin says:

    @John “Note that seats are at about 3 per square metre.”
    Does that include legroom?

  12. 12

    […] Previously designed to maximise seats, this has been curbed recently, allowing more standees and greater capacity, but most models of train still have too few places to […]

  13. 13
    Ian Deans says:

    Danial,
    Is there any plan to install central vertical poles that split into four separate poles (similar to those in E class trams and Sydney trains) in the doorway areas of our modified Comeng fleet? There is so much space around the doors now, but the grab bars above are so high many people just can’t reach them. I remember so much blah-blah about the ideal height of new handhold bars in the late Lynne Kosky’s time as Transport Minister. Crowding around the door areas still exists and always will it appears.
    It seems to me there is no logical reason why a vertical pole can’t be fitted. I reckon it would be a godsend to many.

  14. 14

    […] removal around the doorways in 2016 to help get more people on-board and provide more standing […]

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