Interior Design Takes to the Tracks

20 October 2010 (Last Updated October 20th, 2010 18:30)

Designing railway interiors is all about creating an efficient and joined-up experience for passengers. Frances Penwill-Cook speaks to various transport designers about how to create the best experience for passengers - as well as for the operator and brand - through intelligent interior design.

Interior Design Takes to the Tracks

A relaxing ambiance for passengers, localising design to fit its environment and maximising space are three of the most important aspects for designing the interior of rail carriages.

Not only is it important that people have, as far as is possible, the "at home" feel, but a joined-up experience is vital for the success of the brand, operator and customer experience.

Same space, more space

"Design has to think about how to create a joined-up experience that works on an emotional level to make people feel more at home," says Martin Darbyshire, president and CEO of acclaimed design company Tangerine, who is due to speak at the Railway Interiors conference in Berlin on 13 to 15 December 2010, following his company's success designing cabins for British Airways. Tangerine designed a new bed that not only was 25% wider, but that also occupied the same space on the plane, meaning that BA was able to increase seat capacity by approximately 8%.

Darbyshire believes it's important to join up the customer's experience between the physical hard thing you sit in and the "theatre" that's provided. "The overall experience is connected to the brand in a seamless way so that people have a really positive and lasting image of the company they've got the service from," he says. He believes that the benefit of Tangerine's experience can be used to increase the experience and level of service to the passenger. "The physical technology of the rolling stock itself, the innovations around, the service on board, all can extend what a passenger gets."

"A joined-up experience is vital for the success of the brand, operator and customer experience."

Comfort and styling

For industrial design and engineering consultancy TDI, the influence of aircraft interiors on interior design of trains has already been significant with one of its clients, Queensland Rail, which supplied this requirement as part of its design brief. Typically, TDI is commissioned to undertake the feasibility, layout, styling, interior design and production engineering of high-speed trains and commercial vehicles. In this particular instance, the client wanted to better compete with the airlines and ensure that passengers could be as comfortable on a high-speed train trip as on an aircraft.

Overhead luggage bins rather than baggage racks and toilets that maximise space as they do in aeroplanes are examples of areas that were focused on and redesigned.

Making sure that design fits its environment and meets passenger expectation is an important part of effective design. Pemberton, CEO and president of TDI, for example, says that the rotating seats TDI designed for the Sydney Millenium double-decker train (the fourth generation of electric trains purpose built for the NSW rail network) are a good example of that as the majority of users in this region "don't like to travel backwards". The Millennium train introduced new features such as internal electronic destination indicators, automated digital voice announcements (DVA), wider stairways and push-button operated internal doors.

LED lighting

Another area developing within rail interior design is LED lighting. "It's starting to be implemented now on the newest trains because it's energy efficient and easier to control," he says. But although its being used more and more he points out that there is still an issue on price. While the life of the LED is greater than the florescent tube, the initial outlay is more, but will last longer over the life of the train. "From a designer's point of view they create a nicer ambiance," says Pemberton. "You can position them in walls and put them in places you couldn't before to change the interior and the ambiance." LED lighting helps to create this all-important relaxing ambiance for customers.

Improved ambiance and the feeling of being "at home" are becoming more and more of an expectation from passengers. Transys, an independent turnkey solutions provider to the railway industry provides in-train entertainment systems (ITES) for Volo TV & Media. Volo is the only company in the world to deliver such services and collect revenue. It offers a wide range of programming yet gives the operator little maintenance costs as there are no moving parts, power consumption is low and the heart of the system is small and light.

"LED lighting is starting to be implemented now on the newest trains because it's energy efficient and easier to control."

Customers also now expect to be offered comprehensive real-time information on board and train companies are expected to implement technology to accommodate this and reduce operating costs. Such technologies include Wi-Fi, CCTV, passenger information and information and entertainment systems, and upgrading existing stock with such features can be complicated and involve system integrators and working through legislative regulations.

Passenger information systems (PIS) are a requirement on all new trains and are used to provide audio and/or LED display information in respect of station stops, emergency announcements, destination indication and live or recorded public announcements.

These systems use digital technology to achieve high-quality repeatable audio, and use digital networks to enable high functionality with minimal wiring.

Innovative approaches for the future

Design companies and train operators are always looking for new ways to enhance the customer experience, particularly the area of how to communicate in an efficient and less-intrusive way than by the sonorous passenger announcements. The Very Fast Train, which will run from Sydney to Melbourne via Canberra, service 10.6 million people and reach speeds of 350km/h - has been discussing a "future-thinking concept" with TDI about the possibility of compartmentalising the train without putting up walls in order to increase available space to passengers and using a particular type of technology to control sound.

"We're looking at how to compartmentalise a train without putting up walls as they can make the environment claustrophobic," says Pemberton, "but obviously a problem you have on a train is noise." The company is looking at a technology called magnetricity, which he explains can be "bent into an interior substrate like glass or aluminium to resonate frequency." By cancelling noise he says it is "theoretically possible to make a quiet environment and isolate areas" without constructing walls.

While concepts such as these are exciting for the future, currently intelligent design has to focus on improving the essential every day aspects of passenger travel. From localising design and comfort to accessibility of information and maximisation of space, designers and operators must work together to create, as far as possible within budget and design constraints, a joined-up, emotional and streamlined experience that keeps the passenger returning to the brand.