Replying to my critical letter about trains with “sexy” front- ends, Mike Muldoon cites the failure of the Austin Maxi and the success of the HST 125 train as an argument against “utilitarian” design (DW 2 May).
The clumsy Austin Maxi is not a good example to choose; it is the most utilitarian car designs which have remained longest in production, and some of these have become cult objects. For example, the Beetle, Land Rover, Morris Minor, Mini and Citren 2CV.
To draw a comparison between car design and train design is, however, inappropriate because the car is an item of personal consumption and moreover, apart from the exceptions just mentioned, cars have a product life of not more than about ten years.
Public transport vehicles, on the other hand, are liable to survive in use for up to half a century and it is because their designers opted out of the fashion game that vehicles such as the buses and trains produced for London Transport just before World War II still look the part almost 60 years later.
As for the supposed “nose cone effect” of the HST, research found that additional passengers was due almost entirely to reductions in journey time and improvements in train frequency rather than the introduction of the new trains per se.
The appearance of the HST is, to a large extent, a product of aerodynamic requirements, but the “sexy” front-end applied to recent commuter train designs such as the Thameslink and Networker has given rise to a variety of operational problems.
As far as new trains are concerned, anyone who regularly travels on them will be aware that in many respects there is no improvement on the trains of the Fifties.
Those responsible for railway vehicle design ought to focus more attention on how the customers actually use the product.
Brighton BN1 4AR