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Rail In the press
Sleeping beauties
While every railcar design project involves catering for a range of needs, the considerations multiply when passengers will not only sit in the car but spend the night there too. Many sleeper cars are also sold as a luxury experience, rather than simply as a mode of transport.
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While every railcar design project involves catering for a range of needs, the considerations multiply when passengers will not only sit in the car but spend the night there too. Many sleeper cars are also sold as a luxury experience, rather than simply as a mode of transport.

The guest experience in luxury trains is based on the romance and nostalgia of rail travel from a bygone era, which requires opulent, beautiful and highly atmospheric interiors,” says Alex Duncan, design director for interiors at JPA Design London. “As well as working out how to fit everything into cabins with a floor area of under 10m2 (108ft2), the challenge is to ensure that the experience compares favourably with a five-star hotel while complying with safety standards and weight constraints.” 

Operator considerations

On luxury projects, JPA Design has found sourcing suitable compliant materials a challenge. “Because these exclusive projects are by their nature rare, and the volumes of materials involved are comparatively minimal, sourcing compliant and visually appropriate materials, fittings and fixtures requires a lot of effort,” says Duncan. “Thankfully there are still a few artisans and specialist manufacturers who can create what is required, and a few fabric, carpet and leather manufacturers who will make bespoke and compliant products.” 

He adds that the substrates and panelling used for interior linings must be finished with specially formulated treatments that have to be tested and certified, while the result must look immaculate and withstand heavy use. “Here we rely on close collaboration with highly skilled fit-out contractors,” says Duncan. “Additionally, the mechanics of elements such as fold-down bunks that convert into armchairs have to be designed and engineered to withstand the applicable crashworthiness criteria while offering the highest comfort, elegance and safety.”

The outlook

Duncan of JPA Design remains very optimistic about the future of sleeper trains. “There will be a move toward elevating the overnight experience both for those in cabins and those only paying for a seat,” he says. “No longer will it be acceptable to share a bunk bed with a stranger or sit bolt upright all night in a standard seat. Cabins will be for individuals or couples, while seats will recline or even be fully lie-flat as in business and first class aircraft cabins. In Asia and other regions where huge numbers of passengers face long, exhausting train journeys, the push will be to elevate the experience by creating high-capacity, convertible and comfortable seating and sleeping facilities that offer some privacy.”

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