Work / Heathrow Express

Setting a First-Class vision for the UK’s No.1 rail service

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 in time for the 2012 London Olympics. It was looking to reaffirm itself as the premium train service between central London and one of the World’s busiest airports, Heathrow. However, with the refurbishment of the first-class carriages well underway, the executives at HEX recognised that the new train interior lacked a wow factor, and tangerine were brought in late in the day to inject just that.


  • Trend Forecasting & Vision Setting
  • Transport Design
  • Design Engineering
  • Colour, material & finish
  • User Experience & UI


With many of the key design parameters defined, our objective was to set the first-class passenger experience apart from Express Class and make it be something special. The journey between Heathrow and central London can take as little as 15 minutes, a limited time in which to impress, so we walked in the shoes of the passenger, observing and thinking about every moment of the journey. We concluded that the first-class experience needing to begin at the moment of booking, and that it was about creating a journey that delivered real benefits for the traveler from the get-go, in an environment that offered elegance and exclusivity.


A wide range of ideas for the interior design, the digital experience and the service were generated. Sitting in first class, during our early research, we couldn’t help but notice that there were lots of seats with no one in them, and many of the journeys were being made by first class customers who were on their own.

A design concept based on significantly changing the carriage layout and upgrading the seat design was formulated. We created a truly radical proposition, a first for British rail: having just one passenger sitting on each side of the train carriage with their personal luggage positioned beside them in their own exclusive space.


Our innovative carriage layout challenges the traditional wisdom of high-density seating equals higher ticket revenues, choosing to lose two seats from the capacity to enhance the overall quality of the passenger experience.  The result is a markedly improved customer experience that drives ticket sales and improves first class seat occupancy.

Fine details such as the stitching on the leather seating and the application of screen-printed lines on the windows to echo light shining through venetian blinds and serve to create ambience.  The carriage design now speaks premium sophistication and reinforces the strong brand identity of Heathrow Express, helping it to top the UK’s National Passenger Survey consistently each year.


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