Full Speed Ahead: Travel innovations

A host of new solutions that make travelling quicker and smoother are on their way, writes Jason Sayer

Words by: Jason Sayer

On Monday 5 December 1831, a 25-year-old Isambard Kingdom Brunel made his first journey by rail, taking the new Liverpool to Manchester line that had opened a year before. There had been much fanfare surrounding the first-ever passenger-carrying commercial railway; however, Brunel was none too impressed.

Known for his ability to draw a perfect circle, he recorded his imperfect, scrawled attempts in his diary, where he wrote: ‘I record this specimen of the shaking on Manchester railway. The time is not far off when we shall be able to take our coffee and write while going noiselessly and smoothly at 45 miles per hour – let me try.’

And try he did. For Brunel, transport wasn’t just about getting from A to B; it was about getting there as quickly and as comfortably as possible.

The pressurized 32m-long, 2.7m-wide Quintero One capsules will carry passengers along a frictionless magnetic levitation track

For his Great Western Railway, he introduced the radical broad gauge of 7ft ¼in, ignoring the standard 4ft 8½in. His tests had proved that this track width provided a comfier journey when running at high speeds and facilitated greater capacity through larger carriages.

Brunel’s innovation, however, was in vain. His 7ft-wide wrought iron superhighway was dismissed by the Railway Regulation Act of 1846 in favour of the already dominant standard gauge. But despite this, he had set in motion a trend in transport that continues to this day.

Fast forward to October 2018 when US research firm Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) unveiled the PriestmanGoode-designed Quintero One capsule in Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain, that is currently in France being tested on a running track (of sorts).

Seating and tables on ÖBB’s new trains have been arranged to be optimised for passengers bringing their own digital devices, such as laptops, tablets and smartphones

There has been much PR surrounding Hyperloop technology – a proposed mode of transport involving a system of tubes through which a pod travels free of air resistance or friction at high speed – chiefly because there are eight companies striving to be the first to deliver it. They include the leading company HTT – for which the delivery of a Hyperloop system is a matter of when, not if – as well as Virgin Hyperloop One, TransPod, DGWHyperloop, Arrivo, Hardt Global Mobility, Hyper Chariot and Zeleros.

The pressurised 32m-long, 2.7m-wide Quintero One capsule will carry passengers along a frictionless magnetic levitation (‘maglev’) track – a method of transportation that has been tried and tested and commercially run in Japan since 1997. There, services reach 375mph. The Quintero One will run at 760mph, powered by a linear induction motor, electromagnetic propulsion and embedded rechargeable batteries. The capsule’s skin is composed of Vibranium, a strong, smart, lightweight material developed especially for it, while the cabins, revealed later this year, will be 15m long and carry between 28 and 40 passengers.


Glass-walled areas can be booked out for meetings

Paul Priestman, designer and chairman at PriestmanGoode, describes the design as a ‘very pure aerodynamic form’. ‘The curved livery lines, which you see on the nose of the vehicle, give the capsule character, and soften an otherwise sharp industrial form,’ he says. ‘We wanted to design something that looked friendly, something that people could relate to.’

Most would liken the Hyperloop to a train, but Priestman cites a different precedent: ‘The great thing about designing the Hyperloop is that it’s an autonomous vehicle, so the front of the capsule doesn’t need windows. It opened up the opportunity of a new design language for us, different to the high-speed trains and aircraft we’ve previously designed.’

Brunel’s Great Western Railway slashed journey times for London to Bristol from 13 hours to four; the Hyperloop will cut the six-hour driving time between San Francisco and Los Angeles to just 30 minutes. (Flights take one hour and 20 minutes, but this doesn’t factor in getting to and from the airport.)

Priestman stresses the importance of designing for what passengers do during journeys, beyond sipping coffee, and such considerations can be seen in PriestmanGoode’s design for new day and night long-distance trains for Austrian Federal Railways (typically known as ÖBB, which stands for Österreichische Bundesbahnen).

Couchette carriages offer four-bed compartments with night tables, plugs and lighting

Intercity day trains will feature nine carriages: two first class, five economy class, one control and one multifunctional. First class will offer 102 seats per carriage, with 49 seats on a lower floor and 53 above. Inside, seating and tables have been arranged to be optimised for passengers bringing their own digital devices, such as laptops, tablets and smartphones. Wireless charging has been integrated and plug sockets can be easily updated if new standards are introduced. Seat backs provide two unfolding shelves, with the smaller, raised one designed to carry tablets at eye level.

‘We went on research trips, travelling on multiple routes on both day and night trains, looking at how people use the onboard environment,’ says Priestman. ‘We observed passenger behaviour, and one of the most interesting things was to see that people on the Continent use trains as a form of longrange transport service, for both business and leisure. In practical terms, this means that people travel with bigger luggage, over longer distances, and use the services provided such as restaurant cars. So you need to make sure that the seats you design are suitable for sleeping, for working, for socialising etc.’

‘Pods’ with lockers either side take inspiration from Japanese pod hotels and come stacked as pairs

As a result, the seats have been raised to allow luggage, particularly heavy cases that can be a struggle to lift up to overhead storage areas, to be stored underneath instead. Likewise, aisles have been widened to make carrying luggage through less of a hassle.

The observations also fed into the design of a new sofa-style seat. Here, an armrest can be lowered to turn two seats into a ‘sofa’, enabling passengers to get comfy by stretching out or cosying up to the person next to them (supposing they know each other).

Economy-class carriages, meanwhile, will offer 70 seats on the lower floor and 76 above. Both classes feature group compartments: glass-walled areas that can be booked out for meetings or friends, allowing six people to sit around a table.

HOK is collaborating with Walsh Group on a $24 million concourse at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

PriestmanGoode’s night trains for ÖBB offer similar services, catering for more luggage and groups. There are three sleeping classes. First class provides an en-suite bathroom and two beds, with the lower bed doubling-up as a spacious seating area. First-class carriages will cater for 20 passengers, with one deluxe compartment and nine first-class compartments able to hold two people each.

Couchette carriages fall in line with the current service and offer four-bed compartments, complete with night tables, plugs and lighting. Folding beds have been replaced by permanent ones due to the former being a source of noise and disruption to sleeping passengers.

Finally, a new class has been introduced with the aim of providing more privacy. ‘Pods’, with lockers either side, draw on Japanese pod hotels and come stacked as pairs. With 28 able to fit inside a carriage, the cost of privacy will only be marginally higher than that of a couchette-class carriage.

A new, dramatic skylight and expansive windows at the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City will draw in natural light

PriestmanGoode was also tasked with producing a distinctly Austrian design for both sets of day and night trains. Materials and colours reference Austrian craftsmanship and traditional materials, such as wood and Loden wool. ‘Textures and patterns on wall coverings, bedding and dress covers either directly reference traditional, historic Austrian patterns or a modern interpretation thereof,’ adds Priestman.

The new service from ÖBB will be rolled out in 2021 as the company tries to attract customers for long-haul journeys from rival services and the aviation industry. The main advantage over flying is that going by rail drops you in the city centre. However, while stations eschew lengthy security checks, they are still prone to producing snaking queues of passengers scrambling to get to platforms, particularly during rush hour or when struck by delays and cancellations. Last summer was the worst in 20 years for train performance in the UK. Thankfully, Maynard, a British studio with wayfinding expertise, is on the case.

Terrazzo flooring will counteract the noise that can be caused when passengers roll their cases over the concourse tiles in an airport

Working with a team of technical experts, manufacturers and train operators, the firm was tasked by the Rail Safety and Standards Board of getting 50% more passengers through busy station gates – no mean feat given that most of the UK’s rail infrastructure dates back to the Victorian era.

‘Improving wayfinding is not just about signs; it’s about the real end-to-end journey,’ Maynard managing director Julian Maynard tells FX. ‘People don’t just start their journey at a station; they check the train times on their phone and go from there.’

With this in mind, Maynard’s Gateless Gatelines solution uses a combination of smartphone and facial recognition technology. The latter tracks passengers in the station, while Bluetooth sensors read smartphone data to check the correct fare has been paid. If so, a chirpy audible beep and a green light allows passengers through a lane; if not, a more alarming sound is emitted, accompanied by a red light.

The goal is for a seamless experience. ‘There’s no fumbling for tickets in wallets or handbags,’ says Maynard’s MD. There isn’t a physical gate to stop people either, meaning fare evaders could still potentially get through without having to jump a barrier, as they do today. However, there is a solution, as Julian Maynard explains: ‘Fare evaders are usually habitual and regular. [With Gateless Gatelines] you can build up a profile and then stop that person in the future.’

Changi Airport has adopted fast and seamless travel (FAST) systems to facilitate passengers getting to their gate quickly and stress-free. The system includes automated check-in. Credit: Changi Airport Group

For many, however, the queues experienced while entering or exiting a railway station do not compare to those seen at airports, which have become processing plants for passengers, who are treated with suspicion the moment they step in.

The USA boasts more flyers than any other country. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, for instance, processed more than 100 million passengers in 2017 and has been world’s busiest airport for eight years.

One location in the country seeing a steady rise in flights is the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. To meet the increase in demand and improve the passenger experience in the process, international architecture firm HOK has been tasked with expanding the airport.

The first port of call is security. A new eight-lane checkpoint system will replace the two current checkpoints, which offer three lanes each and are located on the east and west sides of the airport.

‘The east checkpoint has more available space for queuing; however, this checkpoint is tucked away behind the check-in counters and its location is not immediately apparent to passengers in the check-in lobby,’ says William Jenkinson, regional leader of aviation and transportation at HOK. According to Jenkinson, the two checkpoints are also very limited for space, which has proved difficult for accommodating new technological equipment, such as the advanced imaging technology (AIT) machines required by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

‘The substandard dimensions are also limiting the throughput of the existing checkpoint lanes, which limits capacity,’ says Jenkinson.

To meet the airport’s anticipated 10-year demand, eight lanes with 10,000 sq ft of checkpoint space and 4,000 sq ft of queue space are needed, with room to grow further to 10 lanes. Checkpoints will be consolidated into one easy to spot, easy to get to checkpoint, in an open, flexible space.

Creating an open space dovetails with HOK’s plans to let daylight in – a desirable element that airports typically lack. A new, dramatic skylight and expansive windows will draw in natural light to create a relaxed indoor environment, which ties in with HOK’s attempts to reduce noise with the use of terrazzo flooring. ‘Fifteen years ago, for example, people didn’t walk through airports with roller bags,’ Jenkinson explains. ‘But tiles in concourses clatter when people roll bags over the floors.’

A new observation deck, meanwhile, will afford visitors with views down onto the gate concourse where passengers have cleared security, creating the opportunity to say goodbye one more time. The deck, which features an aviation exhibit, also enables visitors to look out onto the runway.

HOK is working on another airport in the USA as well, collaborating with the Walsh Group’s design-build team on a new $24 million concourse at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. As in Oklahoma, the firm is focused on efficiency and getting passengers to their planes as quickly as possible, and the expansion will reduce gate waiting times.

The 32,400 sq ft building adds six new passenger holdroom gates, with passengers being ferried to planes on buses.

‘By integrating conveniently within the terminal complex, with minimal walking distance from security, passengers can more efficiently reach their parked aircraft,’ says Matt Needham, regional leader of aviation and transportation at HOK.

The new extension features a skybridge, which descends from the main concourse to ground level, where passengers are collected by buses. The sloped walkway provides views of the six new gates, improving wayfinding throughout the concourse in the process.

Furthermore, the new building is due to become North America’s first airport terminal building to gain LEED Silver certification, something achieved by using locally sourced materials, highly reflective roofing materials, a

rainwater management system, air curtains, and a radiant floor heating system.

In Singapore, Changi Airport – the island country’s foremost civic airport – has adopted fast and seamless travel (FAST) systems to facilitate passengers getting to their gate swiftly and stress-free, amid a rise in passenger numbers. The system combines automated check-in desks, bag drops, immigration lanes and boarding gates. While that list includes concepts that are hardly revolutionary when each one is considered individually, when combined together the Changi Airport system is a much more refined experience.

‘JPA Design, in collaboration with Changi Airport, worked towards a goal of refining a system with fewer user rejections,’ explains Tim Manson, design director, transport at JPA. Essentially, this meant making the process easier to get right – for example, reducing the chances of inserting a passport incorrectly or not orienting oneself correctly for facial recognition to work.

‘The bigger emphasis was more on accuracy and successful interactions,’ explains Manson. ‘This accuracy emphasis fostered confidence in the system, which reduced “failed” or “rework” instances, thus avoiding lag or reduced uptake by passengers.’

To do this, JPA Design helped refine the hardware and ergonomic arrangement of the check-in desks at T4 by ‘considering all demographics’, says Manson. ‘Those less abled, families, schools, teenagers, the elderly, were all catered for to ensure higher flow rates and smoother journeys.’

Beyond refining our journey to the aircraft, JPA is just as keen to improve experiences on it as well, and has enhanced the airline experience for business class passengers on Singapore Airlines, creating an optimum experience for those travelling to or from Changi.

The company has developed a carbon fibre monocoque seating module that eschews the need for a metallic sub-frame, the typical method of constructing such seats, while reducing weight and facilitating greater flexibility. JPA’s arrangement adds two rows of business class seats to an Airbus A380 aircraft where it is being rolled out – or over 10% more seats than before.

More seats doesn’t mean less space, however. In fact, one of the first things passengers will notice when boarding the new, refitted aircraft is the feeling of more space, particularly overhead. Secondary to that may be the feeling of alarm as they wonder where to put their onboard luggage upon realising that the overhead storage has been removed. The answer is under the seat. There’s more space here too.

The decision to move cabin luggage storage is a response to changes in passenger behaviour: more and more travellers are preferring to take their bags with them rather than leave them in the hold where they’re treated with a heavy hand and frequently lost. ‘All this allows more visual space and creates a premium atmosphere,’ adds John Tighe, design director at JPA.

The new seats are designed to last. Tighe continues: ‘In our research [we] also found that 50% of damage was being done by cleaners. [So] we looked for a one-wipe solution with no grooves for dirt.’

Like ÖBB’s new trains, the seats come with up-to-date charging capabilities for portable devices, but focus on allowing passengers to recharge their own batteries as well.

The new monocoque module provides passengers with greater privacy, and the wraparound form can be twinned with another module to form a double bed.

‘A lot of what we do sells sleep,’ says Tighe. ‘People buy the ability to sleep, except that sleep on an airplane means sleeping in the air in a tube with 60 people.’

It’s an environment that isn’t ideal for everyone, but research carried out by JPA into how people get comfortable enough to sleep means the seating is flexible enough for passengers to tailor it to suit their individual needs.

As well as being fitted to new A380 aircraft, the seating modules have been retrofitted to existing A380s, making 22 aircraft in total. Singapore Airline’s joint top destination for A380 routes is London Heathrow. The typical flight time is 14 hours, but for business class flyers that won’t be such a daunting prospect any more.

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