The Transport Design International (TDI) story is an interesting and successful one, with brand definition proving to have been a clever strategy for its originators at Design Resource. Curve spoke to TDI director, John Brown, and design director, Tim Rugendyke, about the creation of the TDI brand and the specialised area of rolling stock design.

After meeting a British designer from the UK-based DCA Design, John Brown – the director of Design Resource – realised there was a need for a rolling stock train design group in Australia.

“There were a few UK-based firms working in this area in the late 80s and DCA were working on the Tangara project here in New South Wales. At this time we had also completed a small project for State Rail (as they were called back then) for a refurbishment design for the old Commonwealth Engineering rolling stock,” explains Brown.

“We were then operating as Design Resource, as our portfolio at that time featured only consumer product design. We were finding it challenging to convince rail clients that we could turn our skills to the design of rolling stock. We had designed some great flashlights that featured in our presentation, but this wasn’t really convincing people that we could be great train designers!

“We decided to differentiate – to create a specialised service division for this niche area and give it its own brand. In this way we sheltered ourselves from confusion. So we created a new brand to support our push into the rolling stock business and called it, rather grandly, Transport Design International (TDI),” says Brown, explaining that they then formed a strategic alliance with Martin Pemberton in the UK, who works under the TDI banner as well, as TDI Europe.

“It’s very simple, really, when you are providing services to a specialist industry, it pays to have a brand that people recognise. So we created one!

“Some of the clients we had then on the product design side were quite small, so when they first walked into our office and saw we were designing trains as well, they were getting a bit overwhelmed, thinking we were too big to design their small products for their small businesses.

"So the creation of the TDI brand and a separate division made – and still makes it – easier for us to say it’s another division.

“I would actually say that the TDI brand now has equal recognition in its field as the Design Resource brand. This is because TDI operates in a global niche industry. People in the industry recognise us, know what we can do and use us as a benchmark (and so on) more than Design Resource in the product design arena. So the TDI strategy has been very successful,” says Brown.

Contributing to their success has been their attention to styling trends. “When you get a brief today, from an international client in particular, there is usually a request that the design of the rolling stock should have an affinity with a city or culture,” Brown explains.

“This is happening more and more. It’s an expression of a need for cultural engagement from the design. For the Istanbul Marmaray line our team researched the city’s architecture, the mosques, the colours used in mosques, the lines on the buttresses and the way the domes come together and also the traditional graphics used for decoration, and we brought these aesthetics into the interior of the vehicle,” he says.

“So the Marmaray line doesn’t have simple handrails – they have a flowing form in symmetry with the domes on mosques. The colour schemes also relate to the city – for Istanbul it was the distinctive turquoise of the surrounding sea.”

“On the new Kiwi Rail MATANGI trains in New Zealand,” Brown continues, “the fabric we designed reflects the facial markings of early Maori warriors. On the Athens train project, one of our designers, who is originally from Greece, suggested we reference to the Athena, the patron Goddess of Athens.

"Athena was always portrayed in sculpture wearing a war helmet so we analysed the side cheek and eye slot features of her helmet and developed a series of concepts linking to this aesthetic. CityRail shows great concern for consumer feedback and user group comments.”

Tim Rugendyke, design director, spoke to Curve about TDI’s recent projects in rolling stock design in New Zealand, Australia, Greece and Turkey, and the strategies employed to keep them rolling forward in the industry.

In the niche area of rolling stock design, who are your clients?

Rolling stock design is highly specialised and we generally work in conjunction with a manufacturer or operator for these projects. In New Zealand, for example, we have worked with Kiwi Rail, The Greater Wellington Regional Council and in New South Wales, RailCorp, in Queensland, QR and China’s KCRC.

When rolling stock projects are put up for tender we are often contracted to work with consumer research and marketing information about their service. We then create concepts that meet the needs of those users (passengers) for the operator so they can communicate to prospective manufacturers – who then tender for the project.

It’s then up to these manufacturers to respond to the requirements depending on their specialities, the costs and tech-nologies involved. We then work with one of these manufacturers and the operator.

Is there an increase in the amount of rolling stock being developed globally?

There is no doubt about that. When we first set out on this venture we thought we would be designing one train every two years. We knew that they would be big projects, and it was pretty exciting. In actual fact, we are now doing two or three a year. This is mainly because a lot of rolling stock is being upgraded – this represents what we call a refurbishment opportunity.

To explain, rolling stock has a lifespan of thirty to thirty-five years, and halfway through that lifetime it tends to get very tired. The braking systems and communication systems might be a little out of sync with the latest technology, but, most of all, because of the volume of people they carry and the environment they operate in, the interiors get very worn and damaged.

The interiors get polished and cleaned every day or couple of days, but over time this really is difficult and costly to maintain – so that is when a refurbishment is required. So we have worked on a number of these projects.

Then there is also the problem that any growing metropolis has, which is that the rolling stock network may not be meeting the demands of population growth, so there are new contracts due to these requirements.

Where is the most growth in rolling stock development?

I can’t be sure, but to give you an idea, mainland Europe has the most sophisticated rail systems based in France, followed by Germany and then Italy and the UK. There is refurbishment required for all of these systems, including lightrail and tramway systems.

Barak Obama has just announced an eight-billion-dollar study into high-speed rail connections within the US. There will be a lot of growth work there.

Then you have the powerhouse of China talking about building ten high-speed trains together – not one train at a time. They have rail projects happening everywhere, and they are trying to meet their own needs internally with their own manufacturing.

What are the main priorities when designing rolling stock?

Passenger comfort ranks highly. If the passenger won’t use the system then the system falls over. So the voice of the consumer and consumer research is paramount. Accessibility for disabled passengers is top of the list at the moment, as most governments have Disability Acts and if the trains don’t comply to these acts then, by law, they won’t be acceptable or approved.

How do you address the growing issues of security and vandalism?

Security and safety issues are huge. For example, fire loading in vehicles, since recent problems with train fires and bombings in Europe, has become much more important.

Security cameras are installed in all carriages and the sight lines required for these directly impact on the interior layout and design of the carriages. So you don’t find any corners or nooks and crannies any more. You can stand almost anywhere in a carriage and you can see as far as the eye can take you. There are no walls or bulkheads where people can leave undesirable objects behind.

In addition, the acceleration of vandalism definitely contributes to the design. What we do now is design around vandalism, for quick removal and replacement of panels – for ease of cleaning and maintenance.

In NSW on the new Waratah RailCorp system we designed clear glass panels to provide security around the stairwells but we want people and cameras to see through these areas.

We didn’t want an opaque bulkhead and we realised these panels were going to be attacked, so we put graphics on them using the elements of graffiti in a frosted pattern – so graffiti would be difficult to read, making it less satisfying to the graffitist. Also, seat fabrics are also designed now to make it difficult to read graffiti tags on them.

Where do you build your full-scale models?

The design process we work with is, first, in virtual digital design, then we move to the physical mock-up stage.

Mock-ups are a very important part of the design and consumer testing stage of the process. The mock-up is a facsimile with only some working elements. For example, the seating design will be finalised, the destination indicators and lighting systems will be exact replicas and any safety equipment or features for wheelchair users and storage for testing will be complete.

There is a lot of consultation involved between operators, the public and rail unions at this stage. It is a process whereby refinements are made to the design process for issues relating to OH&S, disability requirements, workspaces and passenger circulation.

User groups are taken through these mock-ups to identify any problems and research responses are recorded. Sometimes specific aspects are tested – access for the disabled in particular.

Another type of mock-up that we build is a flat-pack mock-up. This is a temporary simple mock-up with finishes not as per the final design and a lifespan of two to three meetings. We often use this style of mock-up for the drivers’ cab, where we may be working with the driver union representatives.

This is the drivers’ office – we take this very seriously, including elements such as the layout, the ergonomics of the user interface, driver sight lines, etc. All of this is discussed in great detail. We might make this mock-up to ship up to union headquarters and have a number of drivers go through it and comment on it. It’s a really important part of the design process.   

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