Marylebone – Take a Seat exhibition

Marylebone – Take a Seat exhibition

PriestmanGoode has been in the news a lot for its iconic rail designs, including the unveiling of the first mock ups of the new tube trains for the Piccadilly Line at the Siemens factory in Goole. As observers will know, its designs are quite radical and those for the new Piccadilly Line are no exception. Its not just tube trains but also main line railways that are getting a futuristic look from PriestmanGoode. Its not just how trains look by the way, one aspect of the company’s work is to try and move the design of railway seating forward. The results of this work can currently be seen at Chiltern Railways’ Marylebone station in London.

The Piccadilly Line mock – up at the Siemens factory in Goole. The new tube trains and interiors were designed by PriestmanGoode. Source: Twitter

As history has shown seating on trains has basically remained the same for many decades. and it hasn’t mattered whether its 2 + 2 seating, or lengthwise seating or whatever, basically seats have always been exactly lined up with each other – and that shows even on the new Piccadilly Line designs! TBH tube train design has always been somewhat restricted due to the trains considerably smaller profile compared to standard rail stock. The Central Line’s 1992 stock had non standard seating however that was somewhat an unusual departure in terms of how train seating was to be arranged – and its one that hasn’t been attained to any extent since.

Airlines are well ahead of the railways in evolving new seat designs, and PriestmanGoode have been involved in the design of a number of seating types for airlines – and so its perhaps time the railways caught up! Currently PriestmanGoode have an exhibition at Marylebone station featuring some of the latest train seating designs. The main interest in this exhibition shows there is a desire to break up the monotony of seat design, and currently this is envisaged to be attained by way of split levelling the seats.

Chiltern Railways’ tweet re the exhibition at Marylebone. As clearly specified the display is at the station until 2nd April 2022.

The design, known as the Proteus Flexible Rail Interior System, aims to enhance the railway travellers’ environment post-COVID. As has been reiterated many times, it is thought passenger levels won’t ever attain the levels seen prior to 2020, thus there’s a sense that trains need to be redesigned in order to offer greater comfort, space and give travellers the confidence to enjoy rail travel again – especially on longer journeys.

The exhibition at Marylebone on the 22nd April – the first day it was unveiled. I took this picture quickly as I was about to catch a train!

The seats aren’t a definitive of what the future on the railway holds. The seats are just an example of how rail seating can be reconfigured, given that, for example, a train’s profile isn’t as wide as that of a plane, so there will always be limitations to how far any innovative designs can be taken. The mock up on show at Marylebone however shows there are possibilities which could offer a better passenger (customer) experience. Ultimately I think its all down to each rail operator in question and what they envisage their main customer base to be.

A rail user sampling the new style of seating. The person with the thumbs up is one of PriestmanGoode’s staff!

Main features of the new seating includes things like fold out tables and a mobile phone holder in order that one can watch videos in comfort. Evidently other enhancements too can be added such as USB and power sockets. Its early days yet however and the main focus of this particular exhibition is to ascertain what rail users think of the arrangement, and the quality/texture of the seats themselves. It can be said in at least one aspect these are not the reviled ironing board seats that have become so much a feature of most new rolling stock in the past few years, but one must also remember these seats are for long distance travel and not for metro rail use!

Side view of the new style seating. Its certainly innovative. What is nice about it is if there’s only one person occupying the seating, the outer one can be lifted up and extra space made for luggage. It also makes the inner seat easier to access. If both are occupied the person in the outer one can lift their seat up to allow the other person more room to pass.

In other respects a buggy can also be sited in the outside seat space once the seat itself has been lifted up too. I’m also thinking that perhaps despite the current plans which configure disability spaces around the train entrance door areas, some redesign could also bring disability spaces further into the train carriages themselves – which means there would be a greater sense of being a general part of the train environment – rather than being made to use space that defines disabled people as separate from the rest of the train.

In my view, the way companies allocate these special areas for wheelchair/mobility chair use clearly signifies to me rail operators still exhibit a ‘guard’s compartment’ mentality. I think greater inclusivity would go a long way towards better use of train space and it would be hugely beneficial if the other sections of a train were also suitable for PRM too. And yes, this should be part and parcel of any new train seating design.

Picture I took from above showing how the seats are angled together. Its not a ninety degrees of separation (pardon the pun) but rather sixty degrees or something of the sort. A true ninety degree angled join would have likely made the arrangement a bit harsh, certainly the angled interface allows for a somewhat wider separation between the two seats.

One thing I wonder about this arrangement is whether arm rests would work or not. I imagine these could be fine however it probably depends on the costs.

The seats come in two styles – one a ‘vinyl’ covering (actually its some sort of unknown polymer that looks similar) which is easy to keep clean, but in my opinion feels a little on the uncomfortable side. Perhaps it needs a sort of sculpted shape to give an extra bit of comfort? The other seating is of a tough fabric covering, and is most definitely more comfortable. However its not something that would be easy to clean. I imagine the final choice of covering will be up to the rail operator, but its possible the ‘vinyl style’ of seating will be for standard class areas and the fabric style for first class areas.

Chiltern Railways’ commercial and customer strategy director samples the new seating on the second day of the exhibition.

Historically this isn’t the first exhibition at Marylebone station that has featured some sort of radical departure in railway design, others have included gas turbine locomotives, high powered diesel locomotives (Kestrel in February 1968), innovative types of railcars (the ACV/BUT railcars during 1952) and so on. Not forgetting the highly popular railway progress exhibition in May 1961, which featured everything from the latest steam locomotives to the latest diesel and electric offerings including the Metropolitan’s A Stock and the early AC locomotives (the Class 85s) for the West Coast Main Line’s electrification!

The most recent was the hybrid DMU unveiled earlier this year for Chiltern railway services. Perhaps the most notable in terms of radical design was the mock up for the Bullied double decker trains, which too featured a very unusual seating arrangement! The Bullied mock-up was exhibited in a part of the station that no longer exists – this being the former Platform Four which was meant to constitute in part a future expansion of the station – and which was eventually removed in the early sixties to make way for what was known as Melbury House. The Melbury office block was demolished in the mid 1990s to make way for the current BNP Paribas building.

Bullied double decker mock-up Marylebone 1949. Source: Twitter

PriestmanGoode feature on the Proteus Interior Rail System.

PriestmanGoode on rail design – including the new Piccadilly Line stock.