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As First Great Western launches a £63m train design overhaul, a cabal of angry passengers pitched a ‘fare strike’ to protest at overcrowding and delays. How far can interior and product design go to alleviate the growing problems of overcrowding on the trains?

The trade-off between comfort and profit can only be dealt with at a systemic level, but careful design can bring improvements in passenger comfort without the deadening homogenisation that infects the experience of so much travel. The ‘innovations’ of recent refurbishments have existed for decades on trains in other countries; purely in design terms, the UK will remain in catch-up mode for years ahead. We may have lost the cultural connection between rail travel and pleasure that exists elsewhere.
Miles Hawley, Creative director, PDD

Simple principle – you can’t squeeze a pint into a half-pint pot. Design is a powerful problem-solving tool, but it can not warp space-time. Thinner, transformative seats, radical carriage layouts, ‘bum’ rests and sensitive materials and lighting can alleviate the physical and psychological effects of overcrowding. But there are just too many people and too few carriages. Rail operators and the Government are prepared to treat people like cattle. If you push them too far, they strike. Worse, they might get back in their cars.
                                 Nick Talbot, Director, Seymour Powell

All 12 Tube lines have stations with fixed lengths of platform, so the ability to adapt trains to suit different needs lies within the carriages and can be led by innovative design solutions. London Underground, which recently carried four million people in a day, has perch and flip-up seats in its trains. Unless the mainline operating companies increase the number of carriages, they need to look at innovative solutions within the existing space.
Innes Ferguson, Group design manager, Transport for London

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