Eurostar interiors to get makeover by Italian luxury car designer

• Pininfarina to oversee refit of high-speed rail service
• Revamp replaces current 'forgettable' design

The interiors of Eurostar trains, the high-speed rail passenger service linking Britain with mainland Europe, are to be redesigned by an Italian company best known for its track record in the car industry, it was announced yesterday.

The multimillion-pound refurbishment of the interiors of the fleet of 28 trains will be the first major revamp since the Channel tunnel rail services were launched in November 1994.

Eurostar said that after "a lengthy and rigorous selection process" it had awarded the design contract to Turin-based Pininfarina, known for its work with luxury car manufacturers such as Ferrari and Maserati, and for major projects with Alfa Romeo, Ford and Volvo.

The first of the refurbished trains, which will be refitted by the French state-owned rail company SNCF, will go into service in 2012. A spokesman said they were approximately halfway through their life, and would have to be replaced in 15 years' time.

The Eurostar trains were last updated in 2004-05, when new upholstery was introduced as part of a revamp overseen by the French designer Philippe Starck. It also included the introduction of at-seat power points in all first-class carriages and some standard class. Controversial proposals to create a luxurious VIP carriage, featuring swivelling leather armchairs and privacy curtains, were shelved after claims of elitism.

The design guru Peter York yesterday branded the current interior design "instantly forgettable" and said a revamp was long overdue. He told the Guardian: "I last went on Eurostar at the end of last year but the fact that I can't really remember says it all. I know it's vaguely more purpley and glassy and sort of more modern than the UK railway system, but not significantly, and it's certainly not acres smarter or more luxy, which is what you hope and expect. The same is true of the food - ie the buffet food as opposed to the sit-down stuff is terrible, like its UK counterpart."

A Eurostar spokesman said it was "too early" to elaborate on any changes, but said the company would use the results of its "extensive" research into what customers liked and disliked about the trains.

The handful of British companies that are understood to have made it on to the final shortlist will be disappointed by the decision to award the contract to Pininfarina.

The company has also designed the interiors and exteriors of Italy's high-speed trains; rolling stock for Swiss, Danish and Norwegian Railways; automated light-rail cars in Lille, northern France; and trams for cities in Italy, Greece, Sweden and Turkey.

Nicolas Petrovic, chief operating officer of Eurostar, said: "We want to offer our travellers the highest standards in comfort, style and innovation, and I am confident that together we will deliver Eurostar trains that fully meet the 21st-century expectations of our travellers."

Lowie Vermeersch, design director at Pininfarina, said: "We're delighted to be awarded this important assignment. Together with Eurostar we're determined to create a design that focuses on a great travel experience, thus mixing our style and outstanding functionality with a clear vision of future train travel."

On the rails

• The Siemens Velaro E trains between Madrid and Barcelona have conference and VIP rooms in club class.

• In France the TGV Est Européen trains have "living spaces" for families, with increased floor space for children, tabletop games, and DVDs.

• The Series N700 shinkansen bullet trains in Japan have higher ceilings and wider seats than previous models, with electrical sockets near seats.

• Thalys in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands offers wi-fi access to all passengers on all trains.

• Alstom and TMH in Russia are developing "double-decker hotel cars".


Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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