Surely all that matters about the new trains is how they function, how user friendly the interiors are and above all how well the system is designed and run, right? And how efficiently. Isn’t that why we spend hours drawing little maps, trying to work out running patterns and arguing over the various merits of various systems. The trains themselves are just a means to an end. All effort should go into important things for the user like improving frequency and reliability, surely?
Well not only. All of those things are vital and no amount of effort should be distracted from these important tasks but to fail to see the importance of the shape and finish of the trains themselves as the embodiment of these efforts is to make a fundamental mistake about how the world works.
The trains will be the highly public front window of the new PT network and need to both deliver it and look like they are delivering it. They offer the opportunity of hugely valuable moving billboards for the whole idea of PT in AK and the rail system in particular. There are two ways in particular that this can be achieved:
1. The shape of the trains should, as much as is practical, express the ideals of the new system, of speed and modernity, and above all of a new beginning for Auckland, so it is indeed a disappointment that this new iteration is much boxier than the earlier renderings.
2. The frankly odd and discordant colour scheme is frumpy [makes me think of a strangely stitched together school uniform the result of a merger of two earlier ones] but also it fails to offer a useful ground for communicating core messages about the system in effective and dynamic ways: The trains’ sides are a fantastic place for PT to market itself artfully. Huge dynamic billboards.
Here is an image from Copenhagen that is a good example of the second idea:
Note I don’t in any way advocate selling the advertising here. Well except for itself. Super graphics like the above example are both eye catching and dramatic. And extremely useful branding and selling tools. Imagine sitting stuck in traffic in your car and seeing a train speeding by just for long enough to read the giant WiFi symbol and the lightening flashes symbolising its clean electric propulsion. Like in the above example where the graphics are both showing that this is the door that cyclists need to use but also that the trains accommodate cycling and, even more importantly, have something of the virtue of the bicycle about them.
If the trains are silver, blue, and yellow [why?] any such opportunity will be lost. Oh sure they can alway be repainted, but will they be? And at what cost? Please let’s start strong and clever with this new opportunity. Blue is good, it’s Auckland’s colour isn’t it? It’s cool, can be sophisticated, electric, but I don’t mind so as it isn’t a hodge-potch, like it seems to be now.
One more thing, they really should be branded with an AT symbol, what a great pair of letters, and a useful little word too. What luck: Where it’s AT. But they must be used in a visually strong, typographically simple one colour logo that has a chance to survive being used on all transit modes and locations and still stand out: Buses, Ferries, Trains, Stations, Wharves, it’s got to be tough.
There is a fantastic tradition of bold sans serif faces and simple letters in transport systems worldwide from Paris to New York to Stockholm to LA. Why would you try to depart from this tradition? It would be great to have a visual identity that is instantly comprehensible to all international visitors and says: TRANSIT. The worst thing we could do is get all fiddly with fancy shapes and lots of colours. Something that looks like a second rate courier company’s logo.
Some good examples:
The A-Train in New York- just add a T. Sorted. Oh here’s one: