Hitachi's new AT200 commuter train offers some rather fancy features

Safety and interactivity highlights of Hitachi's new train

Hitachi Rail Europe has unveiled design of its new commuter train for the UK introducing smartphone-connected seats and advanced safety features.

As Hitachi only plans to start manufacturing the new AT200 train in 2015, media and industry representatives had a chance to see a life-sized replica during an event in London on Monday.

The AT200 train builds on technology developed for Hitachi’s intercity Express Train but comes with a completely new design which, as Hitachi said, was created using insights from passengers and train operators alike.

“The interior has been fully designed from scratch using UK designers and we have taken a completely blank sheet of paper and started again with our design and used views from passengers and train operating companies to make sure that what we’ve got will also be suitable for the future,” said Hitachi Rail Europe's CEO Andy Barr.

“We have a brand new design for the doors and we have a new type of gangway, which has no finger traps and gives a completely clear walk through and a bigger gangway area as well.”

Among the highlights of the future-oriented design are the train’s first class seats, capable of communicating with passengers’ smartphones using a specially tailored app to manage reservations.

“Everybody has a smartphone these days and ticketing is becoming ever more electronic,” said Hitachi Rail Europe's engineering manager Simon Richards. “So what we wanted to do was to create a system that would help passengers find their seats by creating a link between the train and their smartphones.”

Each seat is fitted with a small display showing a QR code and the status of the seat. To make orientation easier, each seat is also equipped with a light which turns green if a seat is free or red if it’s reserved or currently occupied. Orange light indicates that the seat is currently empty but is reserved from a certain point further down the route.

An app, designed to work on Android, iOS and Windows phones alike, helps the passengers to either find their pre-booked seats or book themselves into seats which are currently not reserved.

“You scan the QR code on your seat and that docks your phone and confirms your reservation into that seat,” explained Richards. “The information is then displayed and also the colour light will change from green to red.”

Hitachi has ambitious plans with its smartphone-connected seats and would like to upgrade the app to allow luggage monitoring against theft or enable passengers in distress to swiftly contact a train conductor.

However, the streamlined elegant seats offer more than that. Designed by Coventry-based Automotive Trim Developments (ATD), the 32-kilo dual seats offer unprecedented levels of safety. As ATD’s Managing Director Brett Townsend explained, the UK is one of the few countries with strict requirements for safety features for train seats. The seats thus must have been thoroughly tested to provide protection to passengers in case of dangerous accidents.

“We had to engineer the seats using a lot of computer added engineering, lots of crash analysis. We ran about 200 injury events through computer engineering which enabled us to get the performance correct so when we got to physically test the seats in June, they passed the UK legislation test first time, which is a fantastic achievement,” Townsend said, adding that if such seats were used in the train that tragically derailed in Spain in July 2013, the death toll would have been much lower.

“During an impact, a passenger sitting in our seat, when facing backwards, has to be able to be retained in place,” Townsend explained.  “When facing forward, when he impacts the rear of the seat in front, he has to be able to self-evacuate, he has to be able to get out of the seat and walk out of the train after undergoing 6G deceleration.”

Though extremely lightweight, the seats are fitted with strong aluminium extrusions, ensuring they won’t break off or flex during a crash. To protect the passenger sitting behind the seat, the seats feature carefully designed crumble zones, preventing injuries to knees, legs and head.

Hitachi hopes the AT200 could enter service in 2016 with Scotland being most likely the first place to see it in action.


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