New design, 1st Class seats are to be fitted in the fleet of TGVs scheduled to run on the Paris-Bordeaux HS line (LGV Sud Europe Atlantique), currently under construction.
In 2013, SNCF inked a contract with constructor Alstom, worth €1.2 billion, for 40 double deck (EuroDuplex) TGVs, of which some will be progressively introduced into service on this new fast route between 2017 and 2019. Each train has 556 seats, of which 123 are in 1st Class.
Every component of the seat has been studied to cater for the four activities ‘most preferred’ by passengers when settled – namely ‘working’, ‘sleeping’, ‘eating,’ and ‘entertainment.’
Much to do
The stylish and compact, fold-down table (or secrétaire/writing desk) is declined into two sizes – small and large – and incorporates compartments dedicated respectively to storing mobile phones, papers, and cups, and for using laptops.
Both USB and power plugs are provided, plus there’s a retractible coat hook and even a compact mirror similar to those integrated in car sun visors.
The seat itself features an individual reading light, position adjustment buttons, and generous, movable armrests.
‘Around 90% of the seats in the same coach can be fully pivoted to enable the occupant to travel in the direction of the train,’ says SNCF. ‘This manœuvre will be performed prior to departure by a member of staff.’
Judging from the sketches, a wealth of research went into selecting the right textiles and materials – for both passenger well-being and to facilitate maintenance.
The base of the seat is in pure wool knit, the head- and armrests in leather, the table in an oak-effect surface finish.
A further detail, two types of foam are used in the upholstery:
- one, for structural purposes, is dense and supports the body by efficiently redistributing mass
- the other, supple ‘surface’ foam serves to improve the feel of the seat and adapts to movements of the body
The combination of both is studied to deliver a soft first impression and support the body properly over the long term, to reduce feelings of numbness at pressure points, and to absorb vibrations generated by the train.
With regards to future maintenance, as well as offering extra luggage space, the cantilever design makes for barrier-free floor cleaning. The seats are clad in a new range of easier-to-keep-clean grey fabric punctuated with sharp red strips – adieu to the velvet finish of yesteryear!
Method behind this seating
“A number of experts contributed to the creative process, taking into account every aspect imaginable,” spokeswoman Hélène Hebben, Voyages SNCF, told Passion4Transport.
Such aspects included carrying out surveys, studying the weights and heights of passengers, and establishing their activites when travelling – “because a passenger reading a book adopts a different position from one working on their computer.”
Much more than just a seat, this new design seeks to go beyond the basic function to offer a richer ‘experience.’
And there is, of course, method behind this thinking. ‘SNCF is seeking to win over the hearts of its clients by reigniting its relationship with them, by paying them regular and personalised attention through the presence of staff at key moments and welcoming gestures,’ says a press release.
‘Our objective for 1st Class passengers is to listen to their expectations, to pamper them, and give them the best.’
Around 275,000 passengers travel by TGV every day, and 30 million a year choose 1st Class.
By offering optimal travel comfort in 1st Class, SNCF is obviously striving to gain and maintain the loyalty of these particularly lucrative travellers – a strength that will become increasing important to the national operator in the coming years.
With Brussels continuing to prise open Europe’s railways to competition, coupled with the rise in alternative modes of transport in France, namely ‘no frills’ coach services and car sharing, not to mention the popularity of budget airlines, SNCF has little choice but to up its game.
While Wi-Fi might well be lacking, 1st Class passengers travelling the Paris-Bordeaux route come 2017 will, at least, have a very special seat to look forward to…
Cover photo ©Voyages SNCF – J.F. Stilling