Students develop new ways to think about passenger rail service

Although passenger train travel tends to be more popular in Europe or Asia than in the United States, there have been recent efforts to provide more passenger rail options in the commonwealth.  

To renew interest in the possibilities of passenger rail travel, Ron Kemnitzer, chair of the industrial design program, and Bill Green, associate professor of industrial design, in Virginia Tech’s School of Architecture + Design, College of Architecture and Urban Studies, assigned four senior industrial design lab teams to develop a high-speed train concept. The designs had to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, use a locomotive design based on an operational engine, accommodate 250 to 350 passengers, and be used as a signature vehicle for the proposed Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor from Richmond, Va., to Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta.

   

The Nomad train features double-level passenger and lounge cars. The Nomad train features double-level passenger and lounge cars.

Kemnitzer and Green’s students were invited to present their high-speed passenger train designs to the American Public Transportation Association’s annual meeting in Chicago in June 2009. Download a PDF their presentation.

The four student teams were led by then-fourth-year industrial design students Jeremy Connell of Richmond, Va.; Chris Padilla of Shelton, Conn.; Phil Padilla of Shelton, Conn.; and Nathaniel Ball of Independence, Va. The resulting train designs are listed below. Browse through a gallery of the four designs.

   

The locomotive and rear car of the Aura train design have a similar look. The locomotive and rear car of the Aura train design have a similar look.

Aura

Aura, the train design by a team led by Ball, focuses on convenience and an environmentally friendly setting. The team extended their design concept to include uniforms for the staff. The Aura has adjustable lifts for wheelchair access. The passenger car includes dividers that give families or small groups traveling together some privacy. The car also features digital screens for check-in, entertainment, and food ordering. Electric outlets for computers, phones, and other devices are built into the seats. In the dining car, the tables feature "smart" surfaces where customers can view menus. An observation car at the rear of the train resembles the locomotive.

   

The Aurora train design features windows that can display messages on its exterior. Inside, passengers can still see through the glass. The Aurora train design features windows that can display messages on its exterior. Inside, passengers can still see through the glass.

Aurora

Aurora was designed by a team led by Chris Padilla and emphasizes the direct and indirect user experience, an effort to regenerate community interest in train travel, and dynamic form and function. The Aurora design features windows that passengers can see through while displaying ads, maps, and a variety of images from the outside. The displays can be viewed only by non-passengers along the train’s route. The design displays the exterior images traveling at the same speed of the train, but in the opposite direction, creating the illusion of a still image to people outside the train. See a concept video of the Aurora’s window designs in action.

   

The Emerald Xpress train puts an emphasis on passenger seat and storage design. The Emerald Xpress train puts an emphasis on passenger seat and storage design.

Emerald Xpress

The Emerald Xpress, designed by a team led by Phil Padilla, stresses service, a holistic brand experience, and puts an emphasis on passenger seat and storage design. The team conceived an access ticket in the style of a credit card that passengers can use for everything they need while on board.  Storage is built into the passenger seats. Outlets are integrated into a center console between seats. Flexible lights extend from the seat backs, and video screens are built into seat backs. The Emerald Xpress features the idea for a contracted outside food service car with prepared food items for sale by a company such as Au Bon Pain.

   

The Nomad was designed to encourage motion throughout all of its cars. The Nomad was designed to encourage motion throughout all of its cars.

Nomad

The Nomad, which was designed by a team led by Connell, is inspired by an eco-friendly locomotive, creating an efficient traveling experience through service, boarding, and logistics. The design keeps open spaces within high-density areas of seating in order to encourage motion throughout all cars. Entry concepts on the Nomad include a platform door that opens to create both an overhang to protect passengers from the weather and a ramp for wheelchair access, identifiable entryways, flexible connections between cars, kiosks, bike accessibility, and storage. The train features double-level passenger and lounge cars.

Commonwealth's plan for passenger rail from western Virginia to Washington, D.C.

The 2008 draft Statewide Rail Plan and the 2008 Statewide Rail Resource Allocation Plan identified the TransDominion Express (TDX) as a key project to help manage highway congestion and improve mobility along the U.S. Route 29, Interstate 81, and U.S. Route 460 corridors. 

The project is intended to improve travel time and provide more frequent service from Lynchburg to Washington, D.C. Potential service expansions to Christiansburg, Roanoke, and Bristol, Va., are proposed to advance in a phased approach to ensure ridership levels warrant further investment.

Virginia projects for high-speed rail service

In 2009, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine submitted a second application for funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) to develop the I-95 Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor. 

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