Fourteen years after the first Heathrow Express slipped out of its platform at Paddington station in 1998, the company commissioned a complete refit of its carriages, looking to reaffirm its name as a premium train service between central London and one of the World’s busiest airports, Heathrow. However, with the refurbishment of the first class carriages underway, in the words of HEX Engineering Manager Mark Chestney, the interior was looking “a bit clinical – no wow factor”. tangerine was brought in, late in the day, to inject that ‘wow factor’ – a brief made more challenging because many of the key design decisions had already been taken.
The main objective for us was to set the first-class passenger experience apart from the standard offering. Customers must feel special. The journey between Heathrow and central London can take as little as 15 minutes, a very limited time to impress the customer. “We thought about every moment,” our Creative Director Matt Round says. “The first-class experience had to begin from the second the passenger stepped onto the station platform.” It was about creating a journey that immersed the traveller in a sense of elegance and exclusivity. There was one observation, however, which was to prove the most profound insight of all. “Sitting in first class, I couldn’t help but notice there were lots of seats with no one in them,” Matt recalls.
It was a truly radical idea – having just one passenger sitting on each side of the train carriage with their personal luggage positioned beside them. No British commercial railway carriage had ever been configured this way. “I thought, better to abandon traditional wisdom, if we can enhance the quality of the passenger experience, drive ticket sales and improve seat occupancy. By changing the carriage format, we were able to provide customers with greater privacy and sense of exclusivity, whilst losing just 2 seats overall,” Round explains. If you waste a minute on a short journey, it makes a difference, so our design introduced LED displays showing you which carriage to get on for which terminal and made the entrance easier to navigate. The ambience of the carriages speaks of sophistication and luxury, the entire space reinforcing a strong brand identity.
The design story
The client says:
"Occupancy levels have gone up significantly. Now people walk past First Class and think ‘I want to be in there’, whereas before they’d walk past and think ‘why do I want to spend the extra money for that?"
Mark Chestney, Engineering Manager, Heathrow Express