09-May-2016

London tube inflatable seat design could save space during peak times

London tube inflatable seat design could save space during peak times

A design company has invented a novel space-saving solution for overcrowding on the underground, claiming its inflatable seats on the London tube could create up to 40 per cent more capacity on board during peak times.

This is just one idea being touted to Transport for London (TfL) and Network Rail as the transport groups consider ways to cut down on space wastage and provide more room for commuters during rush hour. Looking into carriage design feeds into what TFL are doing today to make the underground future fit , a major vision that will see the tube adapt to accommodate the capital’s growing population and create several metro jobs in the process.

Metro recruitment

London tube’s inflatable seat Solution

The inflatable seat design was first seen as an entrant in the Tomorrow’s Train Design Today competition in 2014.

Arup , the engineering design consultants behind the inflatable seat idea part of the project referred to as ‘ air train’ , believes it could save 40 per cent more space than in current trains on the underground and could  be implemented on the network by 2020.

The design works by inflating rubber pads in the carriage interior to provide seating, which could then be deflated during busier times on the network – collapsing down to allow maximum standing room for passengers.

The collapsible London tube inflatable seats have been compared to a bouncy castle and Arup’s product designer Stephen Philips revealed: “The novelty of the seats makes people smile.

“When using prototypes, two volunteers struggled to resist the temptation to try to bounce their friends up and down.

“It is extremely important to prevent a 'bouncy castle' effect where people disturb others by sitting down suddenly.”

The material applied to the seats is also stab-proof and flame retardant to deter damage and minimise devastation in the event of an emergency on the line. The designers suggest that the rubber seats could act as airbags, absorbing impact if a crash occurs.

Inflatable seats aren’t the only journey-enhancing features to be included in the design. Arup, who is developing the air train concept in partnership with the Japanese architectural group Nikken Sekkei, has also put forward ideas for improving the atmosphere on trains across the network.

‘Mood lighting’ would mimic natural light in the sky, with a cool white light helping to wake passengers commuting to work in the morning and a warmer light reflecting the evening sunset later in the day.

How long until we get inflatable seats on the underground?

While the Department of Transport is reviewing Arup’s design, a number of proposals have been submitted for consideration. Double-decker trains, similar to those in operation in Europe, for the High Speed 2 rail linking London to Birmingham and Manchester is one example, but no decision has been made as of yet.

Phillips continues: “Elements of the air train concept, including the innovative ventilation system and retractable seats, could be implemented by 2020-2022.

“This is the start of our work in the highly challenging world of rolling-stock design and engineering. There is a real need for innovation in this industry.”


The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) has also raised the need to improve standards on the tube for passengers and considers innovation in technology as an important part of delivering a better railway for the future.

Extracting space where possible will be part of this but far greater is the need to grow the network so that it can continue to make a valuable contribution to the economy and job creation in the sector.

Find out about the employment opportunities in the sector by visiting our   metro recruitment page .

Follow us