The Anonymous Widower

Thoughts On Double Deck Trains

On my Home Run from Krakow, I travelled on quite a few double-deck trains.

But you don’t travel on a train to look at the outside! When I travel on a double-deck train, I usually try and travel on the top deck, as it’s all about the view.

The quality of the view is very much the same as you get out of a Chiltern Railways Mark 3 coach, set up as the designer intended with four seats around a table by each window

Most uninformed comments about double-deck trains seem to come from politicians and journalists, whose only knowledge of engineering, is that it starts with an E. The comments are probably based on a trip on holiday on the top deck of a French, Dutch or German train and the view has told them, that this is the way to travel.

We also have masses of increasingly well-designed buses in this country, so people ask why if we can do it for buses we can’t do it for trains?

Double Deck Train Issues

But having travelled extensively on double-deck trains, I’m convinced they’re not a solution for everyone.

1. Getting On And Off

Speedy boarding is important with any train, but especially with commuter services and this is why increasingly our modern trains have wide doors and are walk-through like the Class 378 trains of the Overground.

But double-deck trains are slow to board for various reasons. Just sit near the stairs on say a German double-deck commuter train at a busy time and see the chaos, which ultimately delays the train.

2. Luggage

This is more of a problem on a long distance double-deck like a TGV Duplex. There may be plenty of space, but passengers want it near them, so it gets in the way of getting on and off in a reasonable time.

3. Cramped Seats Downstairs

One of the reasons, that I go upstairs is that often on a double-deck train, the lower deck seats are cramped and claustrophobic.

4. Disabled Issues

Perhaps on the Continent, they don’t have so many disabled as we do or perhaps they’re not as organised, but their trains are not as disabled-friendly as are our trains.

As a dimple example, many of our new trains are just step across and this helps everybody with a mobility difficulty. Few and none of the double-deck trains, I’ve seen feature this important design detail. Often it’s a couple of steps down or up to get on or off the train.

5. Tram-Trains

Tram-trains running under the Karlsruhe model and train-trams under the Chemnitz model are showing a lot of promise in Germany and France. I believe that more cities will embrace these methods of integrating urban transport, but I can’t see double deck trains running as trams through the main square at Kassel.

6. Design Issues

On one German train recently, I was on the upper deck and needed to go to the toilet. I had to go down the stairs and then fiight my way between the wheelchair passengers, babies in buggies and passengers with bicycles crammed into the lobby downstairs. Then after I’d done my business, I had to fight my way upstairs.

This illustrated to me, how difficult it is to design a usable double-deck train for all types of passenger.

UK Issues

In the UK, there are other issues, that affect double-deck trains.

1. Loading Gauge

The big problem is the UK loading gauge, which is smaller than that on the Continent. Double-deck trains in the UK, that will run on our classic lines, are really trying to fit a quart into a pint pot.

It is interesting to note, that the only attempt to introduce double deck trains in the UK was on the Southern Railway, where the loading guage doesn’t have to accommodate an overhead power supply.

2. Step Across Access

Increasingly, step across access will become the norm all over the UK, just as it is rapidly advancing in London. Any new trains coming into service, which do not have step across access will not be liked by passengers, who will have to lift their beloved wheeled cases in to and out of the train.

3. Go Anywhere Trains

We are innovative in this country and new services are always being examined with existing trains. I think it is true to say, that double-deck trains are often built for specific routes and the infrastructure is modified to suit them.

A Double Deck Train For A Double Deck Line

All of these facts and issues lead me to a conclusion – Any double-deck trains introduced on a network, must be designed for a specific route and the track and stations, must be designed to get the most out of the trains. They would have to have these features.

1. A Connected Train

Internet should go lot further than free wi-fi, which should be available to all passengers.

Some really wacky ideas will be successfully applied, providing the right connections are built into the tain.

2. Seating And Windows

This should be at least as good as Standard Class on the top deck of a German regional train or in a Chiltern Railways Mark 3 coach. Both feature four seats around a window. Some sets would have tables.

In Standard 2+2 seating would be a minimum with 2+1 in First.

3. Wide Aisle

The aisle between the seats must be wide and run the full length of the train.

4. Wide Entrance Doors And Step Across Access

Access into the trains must be through wide doors and there should be no steps up or down, whether passengers are going to the top or bottom deck.

5. Wheelchair Access To The Top Deck

Why not? It must be dreadful to be stuck in a wheelchair all the time, so why deny the disabled the pleasure of travelling on the top deck.

A Double Deck Train Design

It does all sound rather fanciful and expensive.

But if we can have double deck trains, why can’t we have double deck stations?

To build double deck stations for a commuter line would be difficult, but imagine how HS2 with its small number of stations could be designed so that passengers entered and left the train directly into the deck, where their seat was reserved.

Perhaps the only drawback is that all stations would need platform edge doors. But by the time HS2 is operational, train and platform design, coupled with sophisticated control systems could align the platform and train for a simple step across. I’ve never flown in an A380, but I think at some airports, you board directly into the deck, where you  will be seated. Surely, what’s good enough for Heathrow and Dubai, is good enough for Euston, New Street and Piccadilly?

June 27, 2015 - Posted by | Transport |

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