Having launched a petition in November 2014, signed by many hundreds of local commuters, which called on First Great Western to relieve over-crowding in Standard Class carriages, Alok Sharma, the Member of Parliament for Reading West, has welcomed today the progress made by First Great Western (FGW) to accelerate the increase in Standard Class capacity by reducing the number of First Class carriages on trains running through Reading.
Following the launch of his petition Alok held a meeting with FGW Managing Director Mark Hopwood and Rail Minister Claire Perry in January 2015, during which he called on the train company to speed up the conversion of First Class carriages to Standard Class seating and to make sure the increased capacity trains became available within weeks rather than months. At the Ministerial meeting Alok also called on FGW to further increase Standard Class capacity on local stopping trains by getting rid of First Class completely on these services.
Alok was therefore delighted to today attend an official ceremony at Paddington Station to mark the launch of the first ‘composite carriage’, those carriages made up of a mixture of First Class and Standard seating. Previously these carriages consisted only of First Class seating. The conversion of these composite carriages is the final step in converting First Class carriages on the way to providing 3,000 extra standard class seats, amounting to a 16% increase in capacity. 2,500 of the 3,000 extra seats being delivered are now in service.
The first composite carriage, which Alok and Mark Hopwood launched this morning, will be available for use from this evening, the second will be available over the weekend and the third by the middle of next week. The conversion work on all 18 First Class carriages to turn them into composite carriages will be complete by late Spring 2015 and will mean that all High Speed Trains running through Reading to Paddington will have just 1.5 First Class carriages.
Alok also welcomed the news that work to install WiFi on FGW’s High Speed Trains is almost complete and will be available free of charge to passengers in both First and Standard Class soon.
Alok Sharma said: “Following my petition and meeting with the Rail Minister and FGW in January I am delighted that FGW has started delivering these composite carriages within weeks rather than months of our meeting and this move will be very much welcomed by my commuting constituents. I want to thank the many hundreds of people who signed my petition on overcrowding for giving this campaign momentum.”
Alok continued: “For me increasing the number of Standard Class seats is still a work-in-progress and, today again, I raised my suggestion with FGW of further increasing Standard Class capacity by getting rid of First Class completely on local stopping services. I understand FGW are considering this suggestion and I will continue to press the company.”
Alok concluded: “I hope that this common-sense policy of converting First Class carriages to Standard Class will see an end to rows and rows of empty First Class seats when there is simultaneously overcrowding in Standard Class.”
Mark Hopwood, Managing Director of First Great Western said: “We know that, ultimately, the only long-term solution to busy services is more trains. New Intercity Express trains are on their way, however, it is still some time before they will be ready for service. The conversion of these carriages to create more Standard Class seating is crucial in the interim period.”
Photo: Alok Sharma with First Great Western Managing Director Mark Hopwood on the very first ‘composite’ carriage