Next year, 373 million people will find themselves on the trains of the Dutch National Railways (known as NS), for all reasons. Some people will be solo, moving to work with laptops, while others will be in groups, with huge amounts of luggage, and tourist toys. Some will want to make friends. Others want personal privacy.
There is not one type of passenger on trains, so why is there often one type of seat?
In response to this reality, NS used the Mecanoo architecture and the Gispen furniture company to create a flexible concept train for 2025. It is a combination of several types of seats that can be mixed or matched in a typical way so trains can adapt to the needs of customers. The classic 2×2 style design removes seats – two seats on each side of the train – and replaces them with all sorts of options in the form of 12 new furniture units.
The basic seating unit is almost like the corner booth of a restaurant that intersects your standard office cabin, featuring U-shaped chairs and folding table tops. Do not you want to sit with anyone else? There are individual seats, too, running one file along one wall like a small passenger plane. Or you can capture that feeling full on your own together by sitting in the bar in front of the window. Or, assuming you have the flexibility of high school, you can lie down on long, planetlike seats instead.
The best part is that all these arrangements are not fully committed. NS suggests that it can even change layouts throughout the day, while designing the area for human density during common travel times, but giving everyone more breathing space during the most casual hours. Exactly how units can be changed easily, however, is somewhat unclear.
In fact, exploration is described as a concept only. It does not exist in physical form at this time (although participants in the Dutch Design Week can experience it recently in VR), and the company has made no promises to follow the designs commercially. However, the NS bills are seen as "very inspirational" to the direction of the company, insisting that the train of the future "will shift the flight time to work time, or time to read, chat or relax … it is the passengers who decide."
I'm not quite sure that I'd like to sit on legs on some common seats in a public train, no matter what the circumstances. However, every other option to sit seems like a welcome exit from the train seating places most of us know: hard, sticky, and uncomfortable near strangers.