At face value, it sounds simple to convert first class coaches into standard class to reduce congestion.
Think of first class and many will think of large seats arranged in pairs on one side of an aisle and singly on the other (so-called 2+1 seating). Trains used by commuters with first class, such as Southeastern’s Class 375s, have their first class compartments arranged with pairs of seats either side of an aisle (2+2 seating). This is the same as in standard class which means that converting a compartment from first to standard yields few if any extra seats. More could be done be removing tables from standard class and using the space for extra seats.
If there’s little difference in seating capacity, there’s a bigger difference in fare. I’ll stick with my Southeastern theme and take a look at an annual season ticket from Bat & Ball station to London. In standard class, this will cost £3,208.00 (£6.68 per journey); in first class, it’s £4,812.00 (£10.02 per journey). So for Southeastern to convert its coaches it must accept lower fares revenue and, in turn, government will need to pay a higher subsidy to the company.
The problem is slightly different at First Great Western. Here the company has already converted one first class compartment of the diesel Turbo trains to standard class. It is now facing pressure to convert a 2+1 HST coach. But these HSTs are long-distance, inter-city trains that run to South Wales, Bristol and the West Country – all destinations for which classic first-class seating is needed. However, given its small and short fleet of Turbos, FGW is forced to use long-distance stock for commuters.
It’s a mix that doesn’t fit well. The answer for FGW is electrification and provision of 12-car electric multiple units as used into just about every other London terminus. Unfortunately, that answer is still some years away.