Adaptable Carriages: 42 Technology’s Answer For Provincial Routes

Could adaptable carriages with retractable seats be a bold move?

In spite of its expense and plethora of fare options, Britain’s railways are carrying more passengers than ever. For many people it is their only way to work. Some view buses as a slow option and drive to the nearest railway station. Anyone travelling in the peaks would be overly familiar with overcrowded trains.

Outside the peak hours we see a different story on weekdays. Though major urban centres have steady passenger flows on provincial and inter-city routes, some provincial services can be quiet. After 9.30 am, the four carriages needed for peak hour journeys can be seen by some franchisees as an extravagance.

Thanks to £350,000 of funding via Innovate UK, Cambridge-based company 42 Technology have come up with an answer. Known as the Adaptable Carriage system, it enables franchisees to change carriage layouts in a matter of minutes. In just three minutes, seats can be tipped up and pushed to make way for goods, bicycles, parcels, and luggage. Here’s a quick demonstration, courtesy of 42 Technology.

As we see in the clip, two seats and the table are pushed to the left. This gives us more room for cyclists and luggage. Or a goods trolley as we have seen in the above clip. For passengers yearning for better cycle provision, this could be an answer to their prayers. Later this year, 42 Technology aim to experiment with an off-lease Class 319 EMU or a Class 769 Flex bi-mode unit.

With airline seats, 42 Technology’s creation sees the seats stacking together. Seats could be moved to increase access for wheelchair users, or make way for standing passengers. The company also states how they could be used for deliveries.

A new take on an old idea

Before the privatisation of British Rail, the average train had a generous amount of space for cyclists, luggage, and parcels. A typical InterCity or Provincial sector express train had a luggage carriage at the front or rear of the train. The bog-standard two-car DMU had a guard’s compartment which had space for parcels. This not only gave cyclists added space: it was a boon for luggage and parcels. Wheelchair users, before advances in carriage design, were also accommodated there.

Carriages, prior to the construction of BR Mark IIIs, and some multiple units lacked space for wheelchair users. In the first generation DMUs and EMUs, most doors were too narrow for wheelchairs and pushchairs. Wheelchair users had to enter via the double doors used for parcels, next to the guard’s compartment. The original Pacer family design had a vertical bar halfway through the doors, like its bus-based siblings. Result: no access for wheelchair users.

Before 42 Technology’s creation saw the light of day, parcels used to be sent on scheduled rail service. Known as Red Star, customers could send a parcel from one station to another, so long as that station had a Red Star Parcels Point. There was also Night Star, the overnight equivalent. Today, Red Star is no longer with us: after being sold to its management for a £1, it was taken over by Lynx. Within a year, Red Star ceased to be rail based.

Ironically after its demise, internet shopping took off in a big way. How many fewer delivery vans could we see on the roads if we still had rail based deliveries? Could 42 Technology’s plan see the return of Red Star?

Today’s trains lack space for cyclists and luggage, so any move towards maximising luggage and cycle space is a positive one. This shouldn’t be at the expense of seating capacities and comfort.

Passenger comfort

As well as overcrowding, the state of our train seating has hit the headlines. Whereas the inability to get a seat is a constant feature in Northern England, the quality of seating is one among London commuters. The Class 707 units have attracted criticism over its ‘ironing board’ seats. Passengers have complained about their narrowness and thin cushions.

InnoTrans 2016 – SouthWest Trains Class 707 interior.jpg
An interior view of a Class 707 multiple unit.

If you look at this image above, I can safely say that today’s buses have thicker cushions. The seats you see above are to the Department for Transport’s minimum standards. 42 Technology’s seat design has slightly thicker cushions and slightly better backrests. Despite that, they could be tiresome on a journey greater than an hour.

It is worth noting that 42 Technology aren’t the only company who are developing retractable seating. PriestmanGoode are another one and their designs go beyond 42 Technology’s approach. For lovers of the IC70 seat, their page on the Horizon and Island Bay seating contains disturbing images.

A for Affable? Or A for Appalling?

What are your opinions on 42 Technology’s approach to train seats? Do you admire their potential for getting parcels back on the rails? Are you pleased with the boost to luggage space? Do you think their seats are a retrograde step in terms of comfort? We would love to hear your comments.

S.V., 28 February 2018.

Class 707 interior shot by Felix M (via Wikipedia, Public Domain).

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