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Train company called on to let pregnant and disabled sit in first class during strike

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A train company has refused to open up first class carriages despite strikes causing “dangerous” overcrowding and pregnant women being forced to sit on the floor.

South West Railways (SWR) said its policy that decisions to declassify first class seats are down to the discretion of train guards currently remained in place despite the walkout.

Meanwhile, yesterday passengers complained that first class carriages were empty while commuters crammed onto “packed trains”.

One passenger, who is five months pregnant, called on the company to automatically declassify first class carriages for pregnant and disabled people, after she had to sit on the floor for 45 minutes because she could not find a seat. 

It comes as the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union embarked on 27 days of strike action on Monday – the longest walkout against on a major operator in living memory.

The walkout has forced SWR to cancel around 850 trains – almost half of its timetable – running to and from London Waterloo, which is the busiest station in the country. 

SWR has brought in 250 temporary workers to replace striking staff but the reduced service has led to severe overcrowding at peak times.

Mother-to-be Dani West, told The Telegraph she now “dreaded” her morning commute and was experiencing panic attacks as carriages had become so crowded.

She said on Monday no one had given up their seat despite wearing her ‘baby on board’ badge and that as she had been unable to reach a guard she sat on the floor for her commute from Farncombe, in Surrey, to Waterloo. 

Ms West said: “I absolutely think we should be able to take a seat in first class if there is one available as you cannot rely on others to give theirs up – especially when carriages are so overcrowded.

“Forty five minutes standing really does hurt your back, not to mention the erratic panic attack feelings of being on an overcrowded train, which I never [had] before becoming pregnant. 

“There are a fair number of pregnant women that I have spoken to who also feel very anxious about the daily commute. I personally am dreading it every morning.”

Under normal circumstances, train guards are allowed to decide whether to declassify first class carriages to ease crowding. 

Yesterday SWR said that policy remained in place. A spokesman for the rail operator said: “Many of our busiest trains do not have First Class, while on others the First Class section has already been greatly reduced in size to provide more Standard Class seats. Any spare capacity in First Class can be utilised at the guard’s discretion.”

As the strike went into its second day yesterday, other SWR passengers took to social media to warn that carriages were becoming so overcrowded people were feeling ill and fainting.

Mike Blakeney tweeted at SWR to ask: “Why are you running 10 coach trains on the Portsmouth Harbour [to] Waterloo route during the strike? It’s crazy. People [are] fainting from the overcrowding. Can’t you add two more carriages?”

Another, Chris Hazell, tweeted: “[South Western Railways], you need to get this mess sorted! The overcrowding on these trains is so dangerous! A number of people on my train [are] complaining of feeling ill”.

Unless a resolution is reached, the strikes are set to continue into the Christmas period and up to the New Year.

They began on Monday after talks between the union and SWR collapsed last week over the future role of train guards. The dispute is centres on new trains that will see doors opened and shut by drivers – a job currently done by the guards. 

SWR has said guards will be maintained in a customer service role, but the union has argued that the move will impact safety and would allow the operator to scrap guards in the future.

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