37

In Europe, railway carriages have had two types of layout: coach-style big room with plenty of seats or compartment cars with a side corridor giving access to small, usually 6-seat or 8-seat compartments. This is for day trains; overnight sleeper services are not covered here.

While eastern countries still have the compartment versions running and refurbished (like in Poland for instance), most western countries are phasing out the compartments in their newer trains.

This is the case in France (old former-intercity coaches now used on regional services only have those) and in Germany for instance (refurbishments of ICE trains are taking away the compartments and replace them by coach-style seating).

Interestingly, some railway companies make a new version of the comparments, but make them a premium product above regular 1st class (like OBB Railjet Business in Austria, Club / Executive in Italian high speed trains) in comparison to something that was available to all classes of travel.

Compared to coach-style seating, I found some amenities in train compartments that made the trips more enjoyable, such as:

  • Light switch. Turning that bright light off, especially during early or late hours, makes it easy to get some rest. It is also practical when leisurely watching a movie on a laptop. In general, I like to travel with dim lights or no lights at all depending on the situation. When travelling at night, it is easier to view the scenery outside as well when the light does not reflect into the window.

  • Long row of seats. When the train is not full, one can raise the armrests and lie flat to sleep.

  • Door separation with the corridor. Reduces overall rolling noise. In addition, it allows to be a little noisy at times (loud talking with friends, phone calls) without disturbing the entire carriage.

Why is this trend going on? Is there something that most travellers dislike with compartments?

  • 2
    I vote to close this question as too broad. Even between Western European countries, there are likely different reasons for the choice of carriage types. This is also not a new phenomenon. West German Railways already decided in 1970 to abandon 2nd class compartment carriages. They have less seats per carriage and are more expensive (time consuming) to clean and maintain than open carriages. DB has still tried to reintroduce them a few times on several services, but surveys show that most passengers actually prefer open carriages. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Nov 26 '19 at 11:14
  • 1
    I prefer the coach area as you can usually recline the seat further back. Also the compartments often feel too "intimate" as you may be forced to seat facing strangers (gasp), you have to sort out the leg situation, only the window seats get a table.. – smcs Nov 26 '19 at 18:41
  • And one could even sleep at the top on the shelf if the bags were put down between. 4 benches in total. – Vladimir F Nov 26 '19 at 22:08
  • 11
    Because the biggest advantage for those compartments lies with long trips, but long trips are being done nowadays through airplanes that are for the most part, at least in Europe, both cheaper and faster. – devoured elysium Nov 26 '19 at 22:46
  • 1
    @devouredelysium "cheaper and faster" <-- so much! We visited last summer and really wanted to take a train from one city to another, but simply couldn't justify spending a whole day on a train for twice the price when a plane would get us there in a couple of hours (including getting to/from the airports). Sigh... – FreeMan Nov 27 '19 at 22:13
33

In the past most railways in Europe ran carriages that were built to a common design. These standard UIC designs are still quite common in Eastern Europe, but are disappearing everywhere else.

Such a standard UIC compartment car has usually only 66 seats in 2nd class, whereas a open coach has 88 seats. For the operating railways that is big difference, especially in countries where rail is having a bit of a renaissance, and thus passenger numbers are increasing. The new DB IC-4 trains have 100 seats per carriage in 2nd class...

Traditional loco hauled trains, using standard rolling stock, are also going away. Railways are increasingly running trains in fixed consists, and most trains ordered now are multiple unit style trains.

| improve this answer | |
  • 5
    The new DB IC-4 trains are absolutely terrible. The DB is becoming an airline on rails. Except, they're never on time. – Leandros Nov 27 '19 at 11:22
  • 16
    So exactly like an airline on rails, then...? – Roger Lipscombe Nov 27 '19 at 13:47
  • 9
    "fixed consists"? What's that? Are what are "multiple unit style" trains? – einpoklum Nov 27 '19 at 13:54
  • 4
    @einpoklum-reinstateMonica "fixed consists" are fixed combinations of carriages and motor sections that are permanently (or semi-permanently) mated, rather than the old way of building trains that had locomotives and carriages separate and shunted together as needed and available. – jwenting Nov 28 '19 at 4:32
  • 2
    @HagenvonEitzen: The French even have the TGV Duplex, a high-speed bi-level train. – MSalters Nov 28 '19 at 7:14
10

I think this has to do with:

  • Airplane-style individual seats instead of benches. It is now possible to manufacture a separate comfortable seat for every passenger even in the cheapest class, and compartment can only practically fit benches.
  • Movement towards flexible layouts. Instead of having a car of identical 9 compartments, in modern train car you would expect to see: A special area for passengers with disability, kids area, a meeting room, and several rows of chairs with and without tables. It is possible to have mixed-use compartments but it is harder. BTW, a meeting room is practically a compartment, it's just that you usually need to book it as a whole.
  • Also, a different approach to privacy. Of course, on average the open layout is more noisy, but it beats being stuck in a compartment with a noisy/unsafe neighbour. To avoid complaints it is easier to average out the experience.
  • As an added benefit, modern online booking allows you to choose the precise seat that you are travelling on, so there is more worth to customization and less desire to have all seats equal in all aspects. This compared to the time when you had to stuck your face in a booth to book a ticket and was happy if you got the correct train, not to mention the specific compartment or seat.
| improve this answer | |
  • 13
    Both German and Austrian compartments usually have separate seats just as in open carriages and not benches, so your first point does not hold. As I also already wrote in a comment to the question, German railways started to phase out compartment cars in 1970 long before flexible layouts became common and online booking allowed the selection of an individual seat, so your 2nd and 4th points are doubtful. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Nov 26 '19 at 14:13
  • I don't see what "airplane-style" seats have to do with anything. I'm pretty sure ICE compartments (2nd class, nothing fancy) have exactly the same seats as the rest of the carriage. They're certainly not just benches. – Chris H Nov 26 '19 at 14:49
  • I googled it, and it seems that ICE compartments with seats waste even more space than "just" comparments. I also think that maybe it is affected by decrease of average travel length due to competition from airplanes. – alamar Nov 26 '19 at 15:31
  • 1
    One noisy/unsafe neighbor can be preferrable to a whole noisy/unsafe neighborhood- also, if you feel unsafe in a compartment, you can almost always leave and find non-reserved seating elsewhere. – rackandboneman Nov 26 '19 at 21:43
  • 1
    It is now possible to manufacture a separate comfortable seat for every passenger even in the cheapest class It may be possible, but do they? – Azor Ahai -- he him Nov 27 '19 at 15:00
8

First time poster, just one point to add in addition to the other answers, the change between compartments and corridor style rolling stock in the UK was accelerated by the murder of Deborah Linsley, and concerns surrounding the vulnerability of isolated passengers, particularly in stock with compartment access only from the platform.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Deborah_Linsley

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    I don't think the question is about compartment carriages without a corridor. – MJeffryes Nov 27 '19 at 17:07
  • 1
    I wonder if Edward Ratchett's murder also played a role... – Federico Poloni Nov 27 '19 at 19:53
  • 1
    Has any modern country had compartments without platform access in the past 100 years? I've only ever seen this on the Isle of Man Steam Railway. – gerrit Nov 27 '19 at 22:49
  • 2
    @gerrit in most continental compartment carriages you can only move between the platform and the compartment by way of a corridor: the carriage has exterior doors only at each end. By contrast, the UK carriages mentioned here had no corridor; the only way to get in and out of each compartment was through one of its two exterior doors. – phoog Nov 28 '19 at 7:09
  • 1
    @gerrit - the corridor wastes a lot of space that could be used to cram more seats in. Non corridor compartment coaches were commonly used on suburban commuter services where the extra seating was needed, and doors in each compartment allow passengers to get on and off more quickly. Corridor compartment stock used to be quite common on UK longer distance services (personally I preferred it), but think the last built were variants of the MK2D coaches built in 1971/2 – Kickstart Nov 28 '19 at 9:23
6

A combination of passenger demand and cost efficiency.

As explained in DavGin's answer already, you can fit more seats and thus more people into a car with an open seat arrangement.

However, that would not have been possible if passengers would not actually prefer that seating. I've travelled a lot by train in Germany where this transition is still ongoing. During the years where most trains (including the IC and ICE trains) had both compartments and open seat areas, the later where always more crowded than the compartments. In fact, for a long time I intentionally booked my seats in compartments and typically had it half full, sometimes the whole thing to myself. Until I once got stuck for several hours with a 7-head family that had booked only 5 seats (small children can sit on your lap, right? until they run around everywhere...) and then I understood why compartments aren't popular.

I also noticed that people in compartments have a considerably higher average age than in the open seating areas. There might be a trend there as well.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Compartements are great for families. Good luck for you in an open seat area to sit behind/in front of a two year old.. – lalala Nov 28 '19 at 14:14
  • 1
    @lalala: TGV in France has coach areas specially designated for families in 2nd class: they're smaller (usually 8 to 16 seats, with 4 seats around a table) and separated by a door from the main coach area. It keeps the other coach areas silent and makes it easier for kids to stand up and get around. The ideal setting IMHO. – tricasse Nov 28 '19 at 14:19
  • All the open seat areas I've ever seen in trains contain an area with 2 tables, each having 4 seats facing each other. So if you reserve seats, you can sit in a group of 4 or 8 all together, no problem. – Tom Nov 28 '19 at 15:33

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.