From compartment to hotel room

You’ll really want to take the train

A hotel on rails. That’s what we set out to create here at Midnight Trains, and we’re still on track to do just that. Having told all about how we’re going about making our trains in our beginners’ guide to designing trains series, now we want to explain how we’ll be turning the compartment you’re used to on most trains into a hotel room you’ll never want to leave.

To help us out, we’ve called on the duo Patricia Bastard (architect) and Julien d’Hoker (designer). Together, they make up Yellow Window, the firm that’s helping us design and lay out our trains. This week, Patricia and Julien are lifting the veil on how they aim to ensure you have a fun, comfortable experience on board Midnight Trains.

‘Designing a ‘hotel on rails’ isn’t as simple as taking a hotel and putting it on rails: it’s a nice image but far removed from the reality of things. And it’s the rail infrastructure which we really have to focus on: it imposes a number of constraints on space, weight, safety, maintenance, costs. We have to deal with all that, all while trying to make sure our passengers have an enjoyable time on our trains.

Their experience must be memorable: we want them to remember what it was like to eat, work, rest, sit back, sleep and dream on board. That’s all part of the designer’s job. So, how do they make it happen?

To start with, you’ve got to think both about what you want to be seen, and what you don’t. Design is as much a question about what you don’t want to appear – ugly, technical parts of the carriages like ventilation shafts, hinges and screws, for example – and thinking about how the way things look makes people feel on board. We must finesse the soundproofing, the physical feel, smell and resonance of the spaces… all things that passengers would still experience even if their eyes were closed.

Design then pits timelessness against trends. The goal is to create an atmosphere, a feel that will last the decades-long life cycle of a train. We look for materials and colours that will help us create a new classic, an ambience that won’t go out of fashion fast, and which can be updated with small touches to feel more up to date.

You must also decide whether you want your trains to be inspired more by architecture or the visual language of transport, and find the right balance. It’s a big no to complexity and the elaborate, instead you’ll want to opt for a simple design language where equilibrium appears to reign. Design creates places, rooms where life unfolds. We want to let people gain new perspectives, places where people can experience life in a way that feels novel and exciting. We’re turning traditional train bays into proper windows, the platforms into a lobby and narrow corridors into galleries.

Comfort must also take precedence over modularity. It must be obvious what services are available on board, and it must be obvious how everything is used. Tradition holds that sleeper-train couchettes are designed around modules. Not ours. Instead, we’re offering real beds, real mattresses, real tables, real coat racks. Crucially, the function is always clear.

Finally, private space trumps shared space. Design must offer each passenger their own space to sleep, their own place to retreat to from the public areas outside. We can use different kinds of barrier, curtain or wall to delimit different public and private spaces. Design must also allow passengers to personalise the bedroom during the journey, so this compartment becomes their own space.

The design of Midnight Trains will be the fruit of a shared adventure, a vision that blends the initial ambition with the interpretations of designers like us at Yellow Window, and the industrial and regulatory constraints of the railway industry.’

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