Designing a More Comfortable Ride on Amtrak’s Amfleet Cars

Designing a More Comfortable Ride on Amtrak’s Amfleet Cars

In the months before Amtrak announced it would refresh its entire fleet of Amfleet I cars, employees from across the organization were working behind-the-scenes to develop the new and improved design.

Comfort, visual aesthetics, and durability were factors that were considered when designing prototypes of new seat cushions, carpeting, LED lighting, restroom flooring, curtains, and wainscoting (wall paneling). Amtrak’s Duncan Copland, senior manager of industrial design, and Seth Geist, senior industrial designer, led the design effort. Their teams produced at least 50 black and white concept sketches by hand, and another 8-10 versions of the prototypes themselves.

“The biggest impact [on a customer’s experience] is the seat,” Copland says. We felt we should focus on them. We also looked to offer customers more lumbar, shoulder, and head support in the new cushions.”

To accomplish this, the team changed the cushion construction, adding a curved top, which Copland says was intended to give the seat a more sculptured look. Synthetic leather replaced the fabric, allowing for more breathability. Inside the seat cover, customers will find an additional quarter inch of foam padding. With more of a focus on the seams, ribbing and stitching, the team felt the new seat design and material would offer a cleaner, more modern presentation.

In addition to aesthetics, the team considered the anticipated longevity of each material when selecting cushions, carpet, wainscoting and bulkhead. The synthetic leather of the cushions, for example, is easier to clean and has nearly an eight-year life cycle.

Antron, a type 6.6 nylon used for the new carpeting, was also selected based on its lifespan and durability.

“We developed roughly 20 types of carpet prototypes, working with an array of yarn colors to hone in on a pattern that would work well with the existing material palette,” Geist says. “We went with Antron because of its stain resistance.”

After the designs were approved, crews worked quickly to start installing the new materials. The success of this accelerated project has relied on the commitment and collaboration from departments across Amtrak.

In addition to design and procurement of materials, the work also required negotiation of existing contract extensions, special warehousing and training, and coordination with Amtrak Operations to monitor the more than 450 cars rotating in and out of the backshops and maintenance shops along the East Coast.

“The leaders from those individual groups have gone above and beyond in adding to an already full work schedule to see this through,” says Derek Maier, senior manager in the Mechanical department and the project lead.

Geist agrees. “This is the ultimate team effort and we are very proud that we’re able to push our fleet to another level,” he says. “Our team has been working hard to complete this project. We hope it will offer an even better experience for our customers.”

The remainder of the work will continue through the fall and winter, with final installations of materials into the Amfleet I cars expected to be completed next summer.