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This is an example (from a train in Japan). I circles the relevant section:

enter image description here

(Another problem is, I'm not sure whether to call those seats "chairs" or "benches.")

Example sentence:

When the passengers entered, I retreated until my back hit the __

  • Definitely not "chairs" - a chair is something for one person, with legs. I'd just call them seats. Benches is OK although a bench is usually something freestanding. – stangdon Jul 4 '18 at 15:25
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    I think it's actually a banquette ...a word I would avoid like the plague for describing train seats ;) – Tetsujin Jul 4 '18 at 15:29
  • I think most native speakers would call that flat surface the side of the seat, just as you have done, or perhaps the side panel. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 5 '18 at 15:34
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Maybe the railways have a specific word for them - but if you were to use it would anyone outside the industry recognise it for what it was?

You could call it a stanchion I suppose, but you could escape the dilemma altogether & just call it a metal bar, or pole or 'metal upright'... or for further distinction, 'the metal upright at the doorway, separating the entrance from the passenger compartment'... at the serious risk of becoming verbose ;)

Edit: for the other problem, use the same avoidance tactic - call them seats.

Another reason to avoid being too specific is the diversity of tube/subway trains across the world. That photo is of quite an old Japanese train, but compare it to a modern London tube - that's one heck of a lot of metalwork to hold onto, & no-one but the designer is ever going to distinguish between them.

enter image description here

Any reader is going to imagine their own local transportation, if they live in a city with an underground railway, or if not, one they saw on TV.

  • Thanks for the answer. So maybe I should just call those "the side of the seats." I wanted to call those bars "metal poles" but I think your suggestions are better. – alex Jul 4 '18 at 15:27
  • metal pole wouldn't be bad. I went for upright just as it gives a 'direction'. I'd avoid handrail or anything like that as it could be misinterpreted as being horizontal, even if further context removed the ambiguity. I think the overall implication is to treat it casually. Very few people on a tube are really thinking about what all the bits are called. Doors, seats, handrails/holds/straps... that's about as far as their technical awareness goes. – Tetsujin Jul 4 '18 at 15:31

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