Rail Industry Focus


What do passengers want?

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2019


David Powell, rolling stock programme director at Merseytravel, sets out how the transport body is trying to make the most of rail devolution by going directly to the passengers.

What do the passengers want? Not a question often asked, and when it has been asked, there has probably been little opportunity to deliver. Devolution of rail in the Liverpool City Region has resulted in the unique opportunity to deliver, so ask the question we did.

The project’s aim was to deliver a bespoke fleet of trains for the Merseyrail network that reflects what the end user has told us they want. To deliver similarly bespoke fleets across the whole of the UK rail network would require a substantial shift in the rolling stock market, not to mention significant funding and a lot of time. Carrying out research to identify what customers want, and delivering against those aspirations, should not however be put in the ‘too difficult’ basket. The key is ensuring that whatever options you present, and the questions you ask must provide a genuine choice and be actionable.

In June 2013, Merseytravel commissioned Transport Focus to help develop a customer-focused vision for a new fleet of trains: the first new trains to operate on the Merseyrail network in over 40 years. Merseytravel’s intention was for this piece of research to directly influence and inform the design of the train, from start to finish, significantly improving the customer experience as a result. Unique? Innovative? Yes, we think so.

The first stage of the research project commenced in June 2013 and involved focus groups and face to face interviews with existing passengers to understand their views, their likes and dislikes and see what design features they prioritised. Before anything else, passengers said they expected any new train design to make adequate provision for basic ‘hygiene factors’, with safety, personal security and accessibility being fundamental. Having satisfied these core needs, passengers pointed towards a number of additional factors that would help determine their satisfaction with the new trains: seating configuration, temperature, cleanliness and WiFi. These themes then formed the core of the work throughout the passenger research.

Responses to the first stage of research were incorporated in the train technical specification and used to create an Industrial Design Guide. Improvements were identified in the platform train interface, additional capacity (without reducing comfort or safety), a mix of seating layouts, carrying cycles, luggage storage and passenger information.

Addressing the platform train interface, the problem, as in the case for much of the rail network, was the variability of the platform heights and offsets across the network, illustrated by platform heights of over 1 metre and less than 700 mm. The solution was the creation of a separate programme of work to reconstruct platforms and move track to bring the network in line with Network Rail Standards.

Having selected a strong range of candidates, Merseytravel launched the bidding phase of the procurement process for the new fleet in early 2016.  Within the system of bid evaluation, the most heavily weighted criterion was “the provision of excellent facilities for Merseyrail’s passengers.”

The proposal from Stadler stood out throughout this process, as it demonstrated a clear and innovative interpretation of the research.  Merseytravel’s desire for a “light, bright, open and airy” saloon ambience was clearly demonstrated and it used an innovative approach to the challenge of boarding and alighting by reducing the floor height and providing an intelligent sliding step at every passenger doorway. It became clear that Stadler’s proposal was for a bespoke train design, and easily allowed for continued passenger research to inform the design process.

The second stage of research was formally commissioned in spring 2017. To gauge customer reaction to the design, the project secured feedback from two distinct sources, the online customer ‘community’, and the general public who were given an opportunity to view a mock-up of the train. They were able to give feedback at key milestones in the delivery of the design, and over 11,000 visitors viewed the mock-up, with an overwhelming positive response to the new trains.

The outputs from this second stage of research were fed into the Design Review Process for the new trains, helping shape the final train design and they will ultimately help change the experience of future passengers. The passenger community directly influenced so much of the final design; the livery, seats, inclusion of tables, charging points, ambience, interior colours, comfort, cycle space, ease of access, wheelchair spaces, luggage storage and WiFi.

At the time of writing, the platform construction works have been virtually completed and the first of the new trains is being tested and commissioned with a plan for delivery to the UK at the tail end of this year. So, if we asked ourselves the original question again, do we know what the passengers want? Up go our hands, yes, yes we do, and we will soon be able to see the fantastic results of this unique piece of work when the new fleet of trains enter service in 2020.


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