Filthy seats. Malfunctioning sinks. Smells worthy of 'The Bog of Eternal Stench' from Labyrinth. These are all things that you might find in a bathroom on a train in the Netherlands.
Fortunately, Marian Loth, a PhD researcher from the Faculty of Industrial Design, has come to the rescue. She has spent the past several years working on ‘Hygienic Train Toilet,' a project devoted to improving conditions in these bathrooms. It's a collaboration between TU Delft and the NS, the country's main passenger railway operator. Loth outlined the project’s design plans and goals during a presentation at Mediamatic in Amsterdam on 28 January.
According to one study, an estimated 83% of railway passengers in the Netherlands avoid going into train toilets because of unsanitary conditions. While conducting observational research for the project, Loth and her colleagues studied how over 50 volunteers behaved while using these bathrooms. They relied on video footage that utilised various methods to protect the identities of those involved.
What they discovered is that it‘s very difficult for many people to 'take care of business' without making a mess. Cramped quarters, unreliable sinks, limited hand towels and sanitary tissue along with unsteady footing caused by rocking train carriages are all factors that contribute to the ongoing problems. "The main thing that could make conditions better is adding a urinal," Loth said. "The sit toilets on trains aren't meant for men to use. It's designed for sitting, but men don’t always do that."
One of the biggest problems that Loth and her colleagues faced was creating a train bathroom that would appeal to everyone from families with young children to elderly people with limited mobility. In addition to installing a urinal, they also designed an improved sink and relocated handrails to more practical spots. They also added some clever nature wallpaper that includes photos of a forest. "We decided to place a picture of a tree behind the urinal," Loth said during the presentation. "Because men like to pee on trees while outdoors."
One proposal that didn't make the cut was a transparent door that might have encouraged passengers to do a better job of cleaning up after themselves. It proved too impractical.
A ‘mockup’ of the redesigned bathroom has been successful in early trials. The NS hopes to start installing this version on trains across the country by the end of 2016.