High-speed trains are symbolic of the countries they serve, according to designer Paul Priestman – one of the minds behind the Virgin Pendolino.
Japan has its Shinkansen, France the TGV and Italy the AGV.
Design is even more important for train operators. Eurostar has built much of its brand identity on its Class 373s and now faces a period of transition as it looks to make its fleet of Siemens-built Velaro rolling stock the new face of European rail services.
British design agency Priestmangoode has produced next generation train concepts for customers around the world. As Britain’s HS2 plans began to develop, the group came up with the Mercury concept for high-speed rail in the UK.
Paul Priestman said: “High-speed trains are the symbol of modernity now. There’s a lot of talk about it in every country and that’s something we do a lot of, ensuring that it is a symbol of that country.
[pullquote align=”right”]High-speed trains are the symbol of modernity now. There’s a lot of talk about it in every country and that’s something we do a lot of, ensuring that it is a symbol of that country[/pullquote]
“I’m passionate about design being more than just styling, so let’s have aircraft styled seats that are really comfortable and really bring out all the attributes of travelling by rail rather than by air.
“But with anything it’s got to look beautiful but it’s got to be better; more aerodynamic, saving energy, all of those aspects.”
So, what radical changes might we see from future rolling stock.
Designs by students at the University of Applied Science Graz – produced as part of a Siemens-led project – include a concept for transparent carriages, where the body of the train is made up of hexagonal panels.
International design house Hassell has come up with its own high-speed train concept for Australia. Moving away from the traditional rounded tapered nose of modern high-speed rail vehicles, Hassell’s design is inspired by the defined lines of the HK Monaro muscle car.
Aerodynamics in particular will determine whether some of the more eccentric ideas get beyond the sketch pad. As speeds increase the importance of design on air displacement and crosswind stability will shape new concepts. DLR, a German aerospace research body, utilised its wind tunnels and knowledge of aerodynamics to design the nose for its ‘train of the future’ project. Using smoke and lasers, researchers were able to determine how its design impacted on the train’s behaviour when passing oncoming vehicles and coping with strong crosswinds.
Launching the Mercury concept in 2011, Priestmangoode said: “We need a new British design icon to follow in the footsteps of Concorde, the Spitfire, Rolls-Royce and the Routemaster bus and to reawaken Britain’s authority as a global leader in design and technology.”
Interior features of the Mercury design include private booths for standard class passengers and a luxury lounge for first class. Drawing on the firm’s experience in the aviation market, Mercury is geared toward regular fliers in an attempt to lure long-distance travellers away from the airport.
Some of the biggest advances will be in communications technology, lighting and better seating, says Paul Priestman.
Passengers will be able to interact with train interiors more in the future. Alstom and Saint-Gobain has developed a concept called ‘smart glazing‘ which could see service information, maps and videos displayed on train windows.
Innovation in train design is clearly essential to meeting passenger needs, but it also keeps people excited about rail travel, making sure it remains an event in itself.
“People in the UK have always loved trains. When we first designed the Virgin trains, I remember standing on a station platform and the Pendolino went through and this little boy went ‘cor look at that’ and pointed at it,” added Paul.
“That was great, but I think it’s more than just looks, it’s actually making things better.”