A Little More On Train Interiors

A while back I ran an item on the connection between the 1991 Mercedes S-class and the Ulm School of Design. In it I promised I’d show some photos I took of the Deutsche Bahn ICE train which I propose as having been at least inspired by the Ulm School’s design approach.

Deutsche Bahn ICE train
Deutsche Bahn/DSB ICE train about to run for the last time from Aarhus to Hamburg.

This photo series was taken on the last run of the ICE direct line from Aarhus, Denmark to Hamburg, Germany in December, 2015. I took the opportunity to photograph the interior which is both modern and welcoming. It is full of thoughtful touches and is in contrast to the rather horrid Alstom commuter train I experienced recently.

The essence of my argument is that design differs from engineering in that it recognises the humanity of the user through what David Pye calls useless work. David Pye’s work is required reading for anyone interested in the meaning and value of design. This train supports that case.

Getting on board the DB ICE train in Aarhus.
Getting on board the DB/DSB ICE train in Aarhus.

This is the entrance. Notice the lighting on the stepway.

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Flush windows reduce wind noise.

First class in the ICE train interior.
First class in the ICE train interior.

The use of wood gives a warm touch the colourway. The main surfaces are gently curved. IMG_1085[1]

This is a small area with about ten seats at the front of the train.

Standard class carriage interior of the ICE.
Standard class carriage interior of the ICE.
A typical four-seat section inside the ICE train.
A typical four-seat section inside the ICE train.

Velour upholstery is pleasant to sit on. The relation of the seat to the table is good for working or eating. The end of the table has a major and minor radius.

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A view in towards the bistro. They served Dallmayr coffee and rather dry croissants.

Information panel in trains vestibule.
Information panel in trains vestibule.

This one is a bit blurry but notice the curve of the main panel. They didn’t have to do that but it’s a pleasant flourish.

Detail: ICE train interior
Detail: ICE train interior

All these junctions are carefully worked out. The overlapping panels create subtle changes of light and shade. The chromed edge adds richness.

Bistro area inside ICE train.
Bistro area inside ICE train.

It’s another blurry one. The red seat is welcoming as is the wood panelling and uplighting which provides reflected light. Direct light would be harsh.

Bistro area inside ICE train.
Bistro area inside ICE train.

The surface running along the base of the window is curved and wood is used to edge the windows.

The bistro inside the DB ICE train.
The bistro inside the DB ICE train.

Danish trains don’t provide any refreshments, even on intercity trips. It’s probable DB will phase these out too, which is a shame. Carrying a coffee cup and your baggage to a platform is a nuisance and maybe you don’t want a coffee at 8.00 in Hamburg but at 11.30 when nearing Koeln.

Coat hook.
Coat hook.

This could be done with a single plastic part. Instead it’s a design which recesses when not in use.

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Internal lighting in the gangway. Is that an Art Deco-inspired design?

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Luggage storage area. You can lock your luggage in place. The shelf is carpeted. This the kind of thing you expect for a long trip. The ICE is fit for the purpose of conveying passengers and their luggage in comfort and with a high level of convenience. The Danish Rail trains expect you to cram your luggage into a triangular space between the seat backs.

Detailing: the window surrounds.
Detailing: the window surrounds.

This is pretty elaborate. You might not notice this as you sit in your chair but it’s evidence that the designers paid close attention to every corner of the interior.

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The surfaces are refined this complex junction of interior trim parts is handled with finesse. Notice the way the panel to the right ends with a slight flare to “articulate” the join. There is also crown on the main vertically-aligned panel to the left.

The walls meet the ceiling.
The walls meet the ceiling.

It’s another blurry one, sorry. I think you can still see how neat it all is.

Wall meets the floor.
Wall meets the floor.

Here are more properly curved panels with what looks like lead-in curvature matching on the radiused edge.

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This has three main colours: a dark cool grey, a light cool grey and a warm tone provided by the wood. Chrome accents add a decorative element.

Walls meet floor in the vestibule.
Walls meet floor in the vestibule.
Washbasin in ICE train.
Washbasin in ICE train.

And this is where you wash your hands. Designing such tightly packaged areas is vexed.

The seating in daylight.
The seating in daylight.

This is a thoroughly decent place to spend several hours. This train is the rail equivalent of the 1991 Mercedes S-class. It is a top quality interior for people who could very well have driven a private car or perhaps taken a plane. No intercity service reaches this level of opulence and it manifests the philosophy of the Modernist architect Lubetkin that nothing is too good for the common man.

The ICE train was designed to demonstrate the excellence of DB’s service and from the seats to the suspension offers a refined and habitable mode of transport for all on board. Making this possible was the attitude that the passenger matters, the resources to execute is and the design mentality that formed the concept. Today it is all too common for cost-cutting and a mechanistic approach for form to prevail. It’s possible we won’t see this kind of public transport much in the future but I hope I am wrong.

The last chance to see this train.
The last chance to see this train on Danish tracks. It was a diesel locomotive, the last one running due to its Aarhus-Hamburg route. The set will be either scrapped or sold.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

One thought on “A Little More On Train Interiors”

  1. Dearie me, Richard, this is ultimate proof that you’re not German: you’ve got kind things to say about Deutsche Bahn!

    Admittedly, ICE 3 trains are more comfortable places to spend some hours in than many other European trains, including the ICE 1, which hasn’t aged gracefully, despite a lot of chest-beating back in the day about its interior design having received some input from (BMW) Designworks. They did like pastel shades in the early ’90s…

    The only modern train interior I ever found truly appealing is the Ken Okuyama-designed cabin for a recent generation of Shinkansen.

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