Train seat design needs more scientific approach

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The rail industry has called for more research into train seat design, to provide a more informed approach to making seats both comfortable and safe for passengers.

According to rail industry body RSSB, there is an opportunity to develop a more scientific approach to measuring and specifying comfort in train seating.

New research aims to develop a more sophisticated “human factors” approach to understanding comfort, taking into account the shape of the seat, cushioning, material choice, lumbar spine support, vibration, legroom, the length of the journey and many other aspects.

Train operating companies, owning groups, rolling stock owning companies, suppliers and seat design manufacturers recently gave their backing for work to start, and have expressed a real desire to move forward.

train seats

The goal is to put together a seat comfort specification for manufacturers with a set of minimum requirements, allowing comfort to be properly considered as an essential feature, alongside other needs such as crashworthiness and fire safety.   This could help organisations involved in rolling stock procurement, such as ROSCOs and the Department for Transport.

RSSB’s Senior Human Factors Specialist, Jordan Smith explains: There simply aren’t any reliable industry-approved measures to quantify passenger train seat comfort – they don’t exist. The rail industry wants us to challenge that, by exploring the potential of a new specification which takes full account of the complexity of the human factors involved, and allows owners, suppliers and government procurement teams to efficiently specify and deliver seating in line with passenger comfort.

Further information

RSSB is managing research project, Defining the requirements of a seat comfort selection process (reference T1140) on behalf of the Vehicle-Vehicle Systems Interface Committee and the Seat Comfort Group.  The research forms part of RSSB’s R&D programme, which is funded by the Department for Transport and supported by RSSB’s members.

The work builds on an initial knowledge search “Measuring Rolling Stock Seating Comfort” (reference S240) which is available on SPARK, which was published in 2016 –

Has this research been commissioned in response to recent reports about seating on new trains for Govia Thameslink Railway?

No – the rail industry had already recognised that seat comfort was an issue that could be better informed by new research.

Recent passenger satisfaction scores revealed that 72% of passengers (n = 25,541) reported “satisfied” or “good” level of comfort of the seating area (National Rail Passenger Survey, 2016).  The rail industry wants to achieve higher scores here.

In addition, designers and suppliers are keen to understand how they can best provide comfortable seating to the rail market.

The rail industry asked for a knowledge search on this topic (which was published in 2016) and then called for further research, which has been under development for six months and now begins in earnest.

The outputs from this research could help improve specifiers’ consideration of comfort when procuring future rolling stock or interior refurbishment.


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