Our curiosity knows no bounds and so we bring you another edition of TMI-Spy Trains – with examples
from Moscow, Chicago and Norway as well as closer to home. This edition contains 8 trends that piqued our
interests over the past few months. We trust they will ignite a little of your own inquisitiveness!
As always, if you would like to know more or would like us to come and present these to you in person, do
drop us a note or give us a call (our details are at the end) and we would be delighted to help.
1. TRAIN NOT PLANE
In the autumn 2012 edition of TMI-Spy Trains, we reported that rail is increasing its share of traffic over
airlines for intercity travel. One year on, this trend is definitely gathering momentum.
Before we dive into the lovely stuff with the pretty pictures (!), let’s start with some numbers. UK’s Association
of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) reported rail's market share increased from 29% to 46% between 2006
and 2012. And rail use on domestic air routes has risen by almost 60% in just seven years due to faster and
better services as well as train companies’ use of airline-style pricing and railcard discounts.
If we look across Europe, long-distance passenger traffic will increase in Europe by 21% to reach over 1.36
billion by 2020, up 238 million from 2011 figures. More than 70% of this growth will come from France,
Switzerland, Germany and the UK.
However rather than trains competing with planes, we will actually see more and more co-operation between
rail and air. Both sides recognise that this is needed to deliver the seamless passenger experience that in turn
will drive up passenger volumes. One related issue is that in Europe only 14 airports are connected to long
distance or high-speed rail services – so demand is definitely exceeding capacity. The EU (as part of the Trans-
European Transport Network) is supporting the introduction of multimodal hubs at 37 key airports by 2030 in
order to address this demand.
Looking across the pond, we see a similar trend but from a much lower starting point – the US still has one of
the lowest inter-city train travel usage rates in the developed world. Having said that, there are signs that rail
travel is on the rise. There’s been a 16.2% increase in Amtrak ridership since 1997. This is particularly evident
on the busy Northeast corridor. There is growing recognition that Amtrak can reinvent itself as a viable
alternative to cars and air travel and individual States are beginning to recognise that rail is a good investment.
Connecticut is spending $121 million; Massachusetts and Vermont are spending $73 million and $34 million
respectively, all on track work. Stations in the Northeast are also poised for a bit of a makeover – in particular
Springfield’s Union Station which is expected to become a major Northeast Corridor hub.
This all bodes well for train travel but what is clear is that with increased cost bases for many operators and a
limited opportunity to enhance profitability through higher fares, there is a growing need for train operators
around the world to innovate and develop new services that will appeal to their increasingly-discerning
2. THE GRAVY TRAIN
An obvious part of enhancing the rail experience is to review the food offer that customers receive. Alas,
too many examples of stale sandwiches and bad coffee prevail. There are though some noticeable
exceptions of operators trying to up their culinary game.
First up, just after our TMI-Spy autumn 2012 edition was published, our lovely friends at Eurostar announced
the exciting news that they had appointed Michelin-starred chef, Raymond Blanc as their Culinary Director to
“help transform travellers’ perceptions of on-board catering and offer sustainable and seasonal food for
Business Premier passengers”.
Monsieur Blanc is all too clear about the competition between rail and air saying: "I cannot compete with
restaurants, of course I can't, but I will compete with business class and first class airlines.“
Earlier this year, Eurostar also became the first transport provider to receive Sustainable Restaurant
Association (SRA) accreditation as a One-Star Sustainability Champion for its commitment to “sourcing local
and sustainably produced ingredients for its on-board catering, and for pursuing a socially and
environmentally responsible approach”.
UK train provider, First Great Western (FGW), has entered a partnership with award-winning restaurateur and
seafood chef Mitch Tonks for the UK's only on-train fine dining restaurant. The rail provider aims to inject a bit
of glamour into journeys and offer customers a 5-star dining experience. Mitch has created breakfast, lunch
and dinner menus using local produce including the seafood of the South West with selected wines that match
the food. All meals on a Pullman service are freshly cooked by a highly skilled on-board chef.
Together with Mitch Tonks, the train company has also produced a rather wonderful guide to seafood called
‘My Little Black Book of Seafood’. The book is available for purchase on-board and all proceeds will go to the
Fishermen’s Mission. (Little shout out for our sister company ‘The Leith Agency’ who produced this little gem
for FGW – Ed.)
Back across the pond, Amtrak is going to great lengths to get passengers to take a fresh look at their on-board
menu. They have partnered up with Washington chef Michel Richard in addition to a group of award-winning
advisors to craft some new dishes for the train provider.
But obviously we all know it’s not always practical (or cost-effective!) to wine and dine on a train. Norwegian
State Railway (NSB) is one of a few providers offering great vending machines to provide light refreshments
such as coffee, tea, fresh food, healthy snacks, chocolate and mineral water on shorter inter-city lines. On
longer journeys cold meals can be pre-ordered by travellers which include tapas, salads and other cold dishes.
The train company also offers tailored menus for large or small groups upon request.
3. CONNECTING PEOPLE
Trains don’t just connect places – they increasingly connect people – and here we introduce the practical,
the inspiring and the (to be honest) slightly creepy!
The French rail operator, SNCF has set up a car-sharing service for stations outside Paris. Train travellers can
either offer a seat in their car or find one by simply logging onto the specially-designed site. Some stations
have parking spaces reserved for car-sharers. In a few stations those who car share are even entitled to
reduced train tariffs. A great way to connect people whilst at the same time helping them save some money.
And for those looking for a slightly (ahem) ‘deeper’ connection, Prague’s public transportation company
Ropid, is planning to introduce singles-only ‘Dating Carriages’ to help busy people “living in an increasingly
frantic world dominated by work” to meet and connect with someone special. The introduction of these ‘love
carriages’ is also intended to help increase public transport use. The company will set aside the last carriage on
trains for passengers who are looking for love. (Love Boat – eat your heart out! – Ed.)
Why stop at connecting individuals when you can connect whole groups of people from different cities? Last
year, SNCF tapped into the growing trend in pan-European rail travel by opening a new direct rail link between
Lyon, France and Brussels, Belgium.
To promote the new link the SNCF invited people of Lyon to take a look at Brussels by setting up a special
installation on a square in both cities. A large cube with the message ‘Passez une tête à Bruxelles’ (‘Take a
Look at Brussels’), invited pedestrians to place their head in a small hole in the cube. To their surprise, their
face appeared on a giant screen in Brussels, where the mayor, a band and curious members of the public
welcomed them to their city.
This was one of our favourite rail initiatives of the year – a really great example of a brand showing a tangibly
emotional example of ‘connecting people’. See for yourself by looking at the clip by simply clicking here or if
you’ve a print copy type ‘Take a look at Brussels with TGV’ into YouTube.
We love the next few examples – where train travel is not merely defined by the A to B but in transporting
us to whole other worlds.
Last year, the French RER train compartments were transformed into a moving replica of the Palace of
Versailles. The carriages echoed the royal apartments, the library and the iconic Hall of Mirrors, as well as the
famed formal gardens. The regal decor was commissioned by the Palace of Versailles to immerse passengers
into a decadent world during their commute whilst of course, enticing them to visit.
4. LET ME TRANSPORT YOU… INTO ANOTHER WORLD
Meanwhile, over in Russia, our colleague Svetlana Koroleva spotted these ‘retro trains’ on the Moscow
subway. These new trains are replicas of 1930s trains. The trains have been operating for about 6 years now
and the pictures inside are changed on a yearly basis. The photo above shows pictures depicting Napoleon’s
intervention in Russia in 1812 and the famous Battle of Borodino. Obviously not every train on the network is
a retro train and so Moscow commuters always get a little thrill when one stops at their station.
In the US, the 'Art on Track' initiative is a mobile art gallery that allows local artists to transform an entire train
coach on Chicago’s underground system. The cars are given out to curated artists for free with the aim of
giving them the opportunity to showcase their works. Once aboard the train, passengers in the gallery are
encouraged to explore and engage with the artists and artwork.
Here’s a little ‘flight’ (oops, did we really say that? – Ed.) of fancy. Why be confined by what’s in the train
carriage when you can also see what’s going on outside? The ‘Canopy’ has been created by British design
students and is a digital display system which can be attached to the ceiling of trains to give passengers a view
of the outside world as well as information on passing landmarks, weather information and anything that is
going on above ground. This device is meant to help commuters travelling underground to put them in contact
with real life on the surface and help the mind to navigate through space and time.
A train journey is really only as good as the station it starts and finishes at. So – are stations reinventing
themselves to meet their expanding role? Many train stations have embraced the idea of becoming micro-
centres catering to the many whims and needs of travellers. Most of these tend to be for the ‘time-poor’
commuter and are convenience-based options. So far – we haven’t seen too many examples breaking out of
this mould – just the odd little hint of innovation here and there.
5. STATION APPROACH
Of course, the idea of stations as full-service centres is no new thing. For example, Swiss rail provider SBB
started re-branding 9 of their main stations a decade ago calling them ‘Rail City’. These Rail Cities offer a full
range of services including hairdressers and gyms. SBB have recently offered an initiative in collaboration with
online super market LeShop.ch. You can shop for groceries online and then collect your shopping at the
station on your way home.
SNCF has a similar but slightly more ‘authentic’ offer with their ‘fresh basket’ service. The ‘baskets’ are ready
to go containing seasonal and regional fruits and vegetables often with recipe suggestions from the producers.
And finally, we have all had occasion to leave our luggage – now we can even leave our children. At the end of
last year, SNCF partnered with crèche provider Babilou at Paris Gare du Nord. Parents can drop their little ones
off on their way to work. The new crèche is christened ‘Wagonnet’ which translates into ‘little wagon’. This
service is available for regular, occasional and even the odd, urgent drop-off. (And if they are anything like my
children, that is an all-too tempting offer! – Ed.)
Many stations around the world are architectural landmarks in themselves. Culture in stations is not a new
thing. Many of us have whiled away some time listening to a busker or tapped our feet to a jazz band on
station stages. Art is also a strong part of defining a station’s personality.
We have long been used to one-off commissions in residence at stations. Niki de Saint Phalle’s L’Ange
Protecteur in Zurich’s main station is one particularly famous example. Art has started to take a slightly more
community spin of late.
St. Pancras’ ‘Terrace Wires’ series is the fourth leg of London’s rotational public art spaces, alongside the
Fourth Plinth, Serpentine Gallery and the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. The first commission is Lucy and Jorge
Orta’s “Cloud: Meteoros” and aims to “unite people inside the station with the world outside”. St Pancras
International said the idea came after the Olympic Rings were suspended from the roof last summer.
Berlin’s train network environment has seen various art activities recently where advertising along the
platform has been replaced by art created in collaboration with residents, artists and business owners to
showcase and raise various issues that are pre-occupying the community’s minds.
In another station, Nordbahnhof, huge graffiti artworks created in collaboration with artists and students can
be admired as well as pictures reminding passengers of the rich history of Berlin.
6. PLATFORM ART
This year, UK’s Network Rail has introduced a series of station exhibitions turning railway stations into art
galleries. Leeds station is just one such example, hosting a special exhibition showcasing stunning images from
the Take-a-View Landscape Photographer of the Year competition. Each exhibit also showcased a series of
previous entries of places which can be reached from Leeds train station and gave details of how to reach
them in order to inspire passengers to visit and discover new places by rail and capture their experience on
7. READING ROOM
There’s just something about rail travel. No matter whether we are squashed into a commuter train or
kicking back our heels watching the countryside go by, many of us still love to have our nose in a good book
(or Kindle!). And it appears that this is one trend that definitely cuts across borders.
Svetlana, our intrepid reporter from Moscow, came up with another train spot. Moscow has long been known
as a city where everyone used to have their heads buried in a book. The city was even called ‘Reading
Moscow’ by the locals. The local government is concerned that this love of all things literary may disappear
with the younger generation and so have been keen to remind passengers of Moscow’s strong reading
heritage. One recent initiative is the introduction of ‘book trains’ displaying quotes of famous books on their
walls to raise passengers’ interest and maybe even entice them to read a book.
On a similar vein, the ‘Underground Library’ is a way of encouraging the public to visit various branches of
the New York Public Library. It is a similar idea to the Catalan Government Railway’s QR code ‘reading train’
example we featured in our autumn edition last year, but with a slightly different twist. The virtual library shelf
allows subway riders to download and read the first ten pages of a book on their smartphone. Once the
passenger leaves the subway, a map pops up on their phone directing them to the nearest library where they
can pick up a hard copy and read to their heart’s content. In the absence of WiFi, the idea uses Near-Field
Communication (NFC) technology to transfer data between two devices held centimetres apart. The campaign
aims to remind New Yorkers that the New York Library is still a valuable, free resource.
Alas all too often, we most need a book when things aren’t going quite as smoothly as they could. Something
to while away the wait and make it seem just that little bit shorter. VertragingsApp in the Netherlands offers a
whole range of short stories organised by the time it takes to read them. Depending on the length of your
journey or if bad luck befalls, the length of your delay, you can pick between works of fiction or non-fiction
from well-known authors that take 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 45 and 60 minutes to read. That way, passengers will
be able to pick the ideal length in order to be able to finish before they step off the train. And yes, Vertraging
does mean ‘delay’ in Dutch!
And finally, proof that ideas don’t have to be extravagant nor even particularly new – sometimes they seem to
fit the bill perfectly. As part of an increase in community and authenticity trends, we have seen ‘bring and
share’ book shelves cropping up in train station waiting rooms across the country. Travellers are encouraged
to swap books, take one out or leave an already read one behind. Not only can you read a book for free but
somehow reading a book that you know has recently been in the hands of someone else enhances this idea of
‘togetherness’. (Aw, getting soft in your old age! – Ed.)
Technology is of increasing importance in all our lives and rail travel is no exception. Although we are not
seeing as many customer-focussed uses of technology as in other industries e.g. airline, retail, even
healthcare, there are nonetheless a few that caught our eye.
There are a whole series of train-related apps cropping up. One example is the ‘NextTrain’ app which exists
across the world providing travellers with real-time travel information on when the next underground train is
going to turn up. The app uses crowdsourced phone data from fellow passengers’ phones to trace the
progress of a train and to predict its arrival in the next station. Location data is collected and then reported
anonymously to a central server which then updates the arrival times within the app. The accuracy is of course
dependent on the number of commuters using it.
Another app, Reisplanner Xtra, developed by Dutch national train operator NS gives passengers not only real-
time details about train arrivals but also provides information on passenger congestion, with details on the
average amount of seating available on specific trains in real-time. A great way to help travellers to plan the
best possible journey experience.
8. TRAIN TECHNOLOGY
The New York Metropolitan Transport Association has rolled out interactive touch-screen displays allowing
users to check routes, train schedules and receive real-time transport warnings. The 47-inch monitors are
integrated with video cameras, microphones and their own WiFi network. Users can download maps and
tourist information directly onto a smart phone, as well as applications and games to encourage interaction
with other commuters between journeys. Enhancing trips to New York for tourists, the displays will feature
seasonal directions to famous New York landmarks.
And we end this edition of TMI-Spy Trains with an imaginative technological innovation – the ‘talking window’.
Sky Deutschland, the German wing of TV provider Sky, is testing a marketing concept that would pipe
messages directly into the heads of people who try to rest or sleep against train windows. The ‘talking
window’ uses bone conduction similar to that found in headphones, hearing aids, and Google Glass to send
vibrations through a window. When a commuter leans against the window, he or she will hear a message that
nobody else can, asking if they're bored and want to download Sky's mobile app. It can also be used to give
travellers transit updates, weather forecasts or music. For more information on how this technology works
click here or type ‘The Talking Window’ into YouTube.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this trends sheet and would like to receive previous or future editions please drop
Anne-Cécile our Customer Experience Curator an email: firstname.lastname@example.org or give her a call on
We also curate trends sheets in the following categories: Retail, Airports, Airlines, Hotels & Leisure and Health.
If you would like to find out more about any of these industries, just let us know and we’ll make sure we keep
you up to date.