British rail franchise London North Eastern Railway (LNER) is to trial a new technology featuring sensors that will help passengers to distinguish between occupied and vacant train seats in a bid to address the issue of spare seats ending up unused.

As part of the trial, high-tech sensors will be placed above every seat on a train. The sensors are capable of recognising which place is taken and will communicate this to passengers by causing a light to shine red, amber or green above it. Red will symbolise an occupied spot, amber will indicate that the place is reserved, while green will be used for unreserved seats.

Designed by McLaren Applied Technologies, a sister company of the Formula 1 team and supercar manufacturer, the sensors could be trialled throughout LNER’s entire fleet as soon as this autumn and can help address overcrowding in certain parts of the train. They are able to distinguish luggage and bags from passengers thanks to a height-sensitive functionality.

A spokesperson from the company, which recently purchased the East Coast Line from Virgin, told The Telegraph: “We know how frustrating it can be when you can’t find a seat on a train. That’s why we’re really excited about the seat sensors we’ve been installing on our trains over the last few months.

“These sensors are part of a new seat reservations system which will allow customers to find a seat far easier and quicker. We’re testing the system throughout August and, if successful, hope to launch in the autumn.”

Rail operators in Germany recently implemented a similar digital seat reservation system on intercity trains, where electronic displays show if a seat is reserved. However, this type of technology has no sensor capabilities and only alerts operators about an unreserved seat 15 minutes after the train has left the station.