Season 4 - Finding trains

Episode 4 - Designing the interior of new trains

Romain Payet — Now that we had figured out how we would source our trains, we had to work out how to design them in keeping with the Midnight Trains vision: personal, intimate cabins for different kinds of passengers, as well as a social space in the shape of a restaurant. That’s where Yellow Window, the industrial design agency we had opted to work with, came in.

Our first work with Yellow Window involved creating diagrams of our trains, 2D maps showing how all the different spaces were linked to each other. Unlike what we had done previously, with second-hand Spanish trains, this essentially meant starting from a blank slate, rather than adapting to carriagest with existing layouts. So we started by putting together a complete inventory, that is the number of each type of cabin. We spent weeks, months even, finding the right balance between accommodation for families, solo travellers, duos (whether couples or friends), business travellers and those after a truly extraordinary travel experience. Then, a specialist business which we were working with stress-tested our calculations to ensure the inventory made sense and that the revenues generated would be sufficient.

After this, we passed on our diagrams to Luigi, who checked the feasibility of packing in all these rooms within the 26-metre-long carriages, and then the manufacturer, who did similar.  And there were problems. For example, bedrooms aren’t the only elements you’ve got to consider in a sleeper. You’ve got to think about cabins for staff, an office for the chief conductor where people could make enquiries, space for cabling and electrics, air conditioning, the handbrake wheel, bags and loads of other things.

In our initial drafts, we had underestimated or even forgotten some of these constraints. When Luigi and the manufacturer gave us their feedback, we had to incorporate a new element, get rid of another, cut back or amplify yet another. All those tweaks had consequences, and we had to change our inventory as we went along. Once this was done, we had to redo our stress test, which might reveal that in this new layout, a certain kind of bedroom would be booked up too fast or another might be empty too often. So we’d have to start again, to find just the right balance. It was a very long undertaking, one that took us around a year, including a particularly intense three-month period.

Adrien Aumont — What we learned at that point was that our principal limitation was part of the appeal of our brand: intimacy, ensuring that every traveller could travel within their own social bubble. We were both the first to propose such a concept and the first to carry out such a particular inventory-making process. It was a very long-winded task, but what came out of it would prove useful for all our future trains.

Finally, there was the issue of the restaurant car, which as you’ll know by now, will have a key role on board. Since we want to offer up a veritable ‘hotel on rails’, this will have to be a truly convivial spot. For this very particular part of the train, the manufacturer suggested we start from an existing model rather than come up with our own. Its teams had real expertise in the area and could produce several different ones without having to transform their production lines. What’s more, our intermediaries helped us understand that if we chose a pre-existing model, and made just the odd modification, this would be cheaper.

Next, we both tested the cuisine that could be prepared in such a space. The restaurant car was a very important part of our vision, and it needed to match our ambition for the brand. And it would in fact help us get around other constraints, because as well as the kitchen, preparation area, storage space and waste storage space, it included cabins for staff. It seems important to note at this point that 30 people will be able to sit down for lunch or dinner in this carriage. And we also plan to have two per train, with a service system and an allocated time slot so every traveller can enjoy a meal on board.

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