Fears that train seat numbers may be cut
A REVIEW of carriages used on a busy train service serving Templecombe and Gillingham has sparked fears seating could be cut back in a bid to meet Government disability guidelines.
Operator South West Trains has announced it is in the early stages of an investigation into its class 159 carriages – used on the Exeter St Davids to London Waterloo line.
It wants to make sure the fleet complies with laws introduced to make rail travel easier for disabled people by 2020.
The service also calls at Crewkerne, Yeovil Junction and Sherborne.
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A spokesman for the company said a feasibility study – the results of which could be announced within eight months – will explore options to provide more disabled access, seats and toilets.
Ideas may include changing layout of carriages and refurbishing them – which could include a reduction in seating.
But the spokesman insisted that no decisions had been made and changes to the network were not guaranteed.
She said: "If any layout or refurbishment changes to the carriages is decided, we will announce this information."
The fleet has carriages with 24 first class seats, 70 to 72 standard class seats and no maximum standing room limit. But not all have disabled toilets or seating areas.
Station users fear the news could spell misery for future passengers who could be left scrabbling for a seat on overcrowded trains.
Sherborne town councillor Susan Greene, a former transport representative for Thornhackett Parish Council, said: "We must do all we can to make it easier for disabled people to travel on trains.
"But the wider usage of the trains must be considered."
In the latest rail usage estimate figures released by the Office of Rail Regulation, 106,556 passengers used Templecombe station in 2010/2011, increasing to 112,596 users in 2011/2012. In Gillingham 410,688 passengers used the station in 2010/2011 increasing to 424,582 users in 2011/2012.
This week it was announced average UK rail ticket prices could rise by up to 4.1 per cent from January.