Half the passengers on the new Blue Mountains commuter trains will be forced to travel backwards after it was confirmed the carriages will have fixed seating.
Documents obtained under freedom of information laws reveal that the government was warned “…half the passengers on a fixed seating train usually face backwards, which is not always popular for passengers on long journeys”.
Passenger feedback on the design for the new trains indicated there is “strength of preference for reversible seating” and “fixed seats was perceived as a backward step”.
While the technical paper for the transport agency in 2016 said reversible seats were popular among passengers it found them to be more complex, heavier and requiring greater maintenance than fixed seats.
Flip seats were also more susceptible to damage and vandalism due to their moving parts, and posed a greater fire risk because they comprised more combustible materials.
The documents show the overseas manufacturers bidding for the intercity train contract believed it would increase the cost of seating in the new carriages and reduce their seating capacity, resulting in more passengers standing.
In recommending fixed seats be installed, transport officials warned that “careful consideration must be given” to the communication strategy for the arrival of the new trains to “ensure customer expectations are managed, given the strength of preference for reversible seating”.
As it turned out, the government highlighted how the ‘‘trains will be more spacious, more comfortable and have features never before seen on our long-distance services’’ when it awarded the $2.3 billion contract in August 2016.
The Labor opposition has slammed the move.
“For some passengers who suffer motion sickness, travelling backwards is just not an option,” said Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle
“The journey for some Blue Mountains passengers can be almost three hours – that’s a long time to sit facing backwards or to be forced to stand.
“These new trains are being built on the cheap, overseas, using an unsuitable design. They have been a debacle since day one and they are a textbook example of that old adage that if you buy cheap you will buy twice.”