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Tomorrow's Trains 

11 October 2018

Vision of the Train Interior

Mobility in the Netherlands is under pressure. The need for mobility (including sustainable mobility) will be increasing in the next few years, but the capacity for further growth of the road and railway networks is limited. That requires innovation, for which NS issued a challenge in 2017, saying "How can we structurally provide more passengers with a place on the train and at the same time give them a more attractive travel experience?" A collaboration with Mecanoo and Gispen was entered into in order to find a solution to this apparent paradox, and has resulted in the Vision of the Train Interior.

This consists of a number of concrete concepts that NS has been discussing with passengers as well as industry, the government and regulatory authorities. It serves as a basis for the further development of specific proposals for implementation in new and existing NS trains in the Netherlands. How has this vision come about? What are the new concepts based on? The following article gives an insight into the background of the Train Interior of the Future.

© Mecanoo

The starting point: passengers' core needs

In line with Design Thinking, the collaboration with Mecanoo and Gispen began with an exploration phase. The starting point was the survey that NS conducted in recent years into the core needs of passengers in public transport. The average passenger appeared to be satisfied with a clean train that runs on time and provides enough seats, but the reality turned out to be a little more complicated. Although the basis of customer satisfaction comes from the core need of 'being in control' (the train is running on time, is easily accessible and the journey is predictable), it is the need for appreciation and the feeling of freedom that are the key to a really satisfied customer. These convert into an attractive travel environment, a personal approach and a feeling of being able to choose how to spend the time taken for the journey, for instance.

This information was used in the exploration phase to find out how the various needs of passengers were met in the past and would be in the future.

 The practical aspects of the railway were examined as well. How do passengers move through the station via the platform to the train? How do they distribute themselves on the train? What practical aspects apply to the interior of the train? The restrictions and challenges of regulations and safety requirements, for instance, were investigated in order to be able to test the concepts against them.

A rich history … and a rich future

Dipping into the past yielded a number of interesting insights. Old engravings showed a striking picture of the celebrations during the opening of the first line in 1839, between Amsterdam and Haarlem. The railway was an extraordinary innovation with enormous impact on society, which was reflected in the ornate design of stations, locomotives and train interiors. Partly because of the length of time that journeys took there was a range of activities and facilities on the trains, from a luxury lounge to a library, a restaurant, a classroom and sometimes even a hairdressing salon.

Emphasis moved in the 20th century to an expansion of scale, standardisation and efficiency. This modernisation has given rise to a number of conventions that determine the interior of the train to a great extent these days. At the same time, our living environment is undergoing more change than ever before. As a result of flexible working, offices are changing into multifunctional workplaces with a variety of spaces, interior solutions and facilities. Future innovative mobility solutions such as the Hyperloop also show the same diversity and flexibility in the setup, invariably bringing capacity and comfort together. Enough pointers for the train interior of the future!

From Proposal to Draft Design

A proposal for the layout of the train of the future was drawn up on the basis of the exploration phase. It is a broad look at NS, the passengers and their desired experience during the journey. Mecanoo and Gispen will subsequently be translating this into a draft design which brings together the various requirements in a creative way, combined with the use of new materials and technologies. This will strive to maintain a continual balance between the values of use and perception, as well as capacity, flexibility and sustainability.

Particular attention to sustainability

The Circulaire Design Framework* that Gispen drew up with TNO has been used, allowing sustainability to be highlighted and controlled where necessary. The application of the most innovative technologies in the field of sustainability has also been investigated, such as 3D printing with recycled plastic.

From paper to practice

The design phase was followed by 'spatial awareness'. To do this Gispen set up a mock-up facility in Culemborg, in which several prototypes and models were constructed and tested. The focus was on engineering as well as spatial perception and comfort. At the same time, the vision was thoroughly tested by a user panel and the use of the ZMET technique, an advanced form of user research in which the test subjects' conscious as well as unconscious responses to the new design are examined. Experience and insights from several iterations were used to refine the draft design.

© Mecanoo

The next step

In the design thinking process, Discovery is followed by Design, then Development and Deployment. The exploration has been carried out and the vision has been drawn up, as has the draft design. What's the next step? Purchasing and modernising trains involves considerable costs in a process that lasts several years. We have to think about this carefully, and it makes sense to involve passengers as well as industry in the developments. The NS Virtual eXperience Lab on the Ketelhuisplein gives visitors to Dutch Design Week 2018 an opportunity to experience the new train interior and to let their voice be heard in various ways. This is a first step in a phase of thorough testing and dialogue, and the results will determine which of the new ideas will be carried through, when and in which trains. We're making the train of tomorrow together!