Vrin, Vals and Britain: all present in a single train

Vrin, Vals and Britain: all present in a single train - Design

The RhB is adding five new ALLEGRA railcars to the fleet in 2012. Their interior-design reflects the look of typical Graubünden building materials: wood and stone. Christian Harbeke has sought inspiration in the UK when designing the check-patterned seat fabrics, as British visitors were originally responsible for kick-starting Swiss mountain tourism. The fabric is made in the Swiss canton of Bern by the company Lantal Textiles.

Christian Harbeke was somewhat overcome when, after mountain-biking in Graubünden, he happened to climb aboard „his“ ALLEGRA railcar. „We had created the designs for the seats, floors and walls, but it was very special to ride on the actual train“, he says. Christian Harbeke, an industrial designer at Zurich-based Nose AG, created the new RhB interior. He designed the seat covers especially for these new railcars. „I drew inspiration from traditional English check patterns when creating the design“, he explains. In designing these train interiors for the RhB, he has perpetuated part of our history, as the British are regarded as the original founders of Swiss mountain tourism. Clad in tweed trousers, they once climbed the summits of Graubünden. „You can come across this typical design even today, as it is still used for golf trousers and horse blankets“, says the designer. He has used a modern take on this British-style pattern to design the RhB’s first-class seats in elegant black with coloured accents, and second-class seats in a cool shade of blue.

3,744 spools of yarn converted into cloth
The Rhaetian Railway ordered the fabric from Lantal Textiles AG, a manufacturer based in Melchnau, in the Swiss Canton of Bern. „We worked in collaboration with the team at Lantal to convert our design ideas into actual fabrics“, says Christian Harbeke. The factory’s looms rattle away, busily converting metre after metre of yarn into cloth, as they tirelessly combine the design’s various individual colours. The finished cloth is then rolled up.

«The British are regarded as the founders of Swiss mountain tourism. Clad in tweed, they climbed the summits of Graubünden.»
Christian Harbeke, designer

A total of 107 looms are in operation. The jacquard looms manufacturing fabric for the Rhaetian Railway produce about ten metres of material every hour. The fabric is a velour material. The weaving machine cuts the thickly- woven material down the middle. This creates its plush surface, while doubling the number of metres. Employees load a total of 3,744 spools of yarn, with each one placed on the right spindle to ensure that the final pattern matches the original design. Four employees work for six hours to change the machine from one design to the next. „We offer maximum quality“, explains Thomas Hofer, Lantal’s head of sales. „This is why each and every part of our production process takes place here in Switzerland.“ Everything happens onsite. The raw wool is coloured to order in the factory’s own dye-works. Lengths consisting of two threads are then twisted into the actual yarn in the in-house spinning mill, from where it is finally taken to the looms to be woven. Each metre of the finished RhB-patterned fabric is then spread out on giant inspection tables for checking. The floor under the checkers’ seats is strewn with fluff and thread of all colours. Small imperfections are corrected by hand, using a delicately-executed darning technique. Each darner checks 50 square metres of cloth per hour. The cloth is then ready for covering the seats of an ALLEGRA railcar. The seat material should last for some ten years before showing signs of wear and tear.

The breakfast-cereal approach: designers test material with muesli
The passengers occupying the modern seats of the RhB’s ALLEGRA railcars sit back and relax to enjoy the window views and interior ambience. Christian Harbeke’s interior designs for the RhB are inspired by the railway line’s attractive passing views and the rich cultural landscape of Graubünden. Drawing on the work of world-famous contemporary local architects like Gion A. Caminada or Peter Zumthor, the final design of the interior embodies the character of our mountain canton. It is for this reason that the wall covering, which convincingly simulates genuine wooden planking, bears the name „Vrin“ – the home village and professional base of Caminada. Like a bold wooden frontage, this wall covering runs right through the train. „Vals“ is the name given to the design of the covering of the equipment lockers, as a tribute to Zumthor’s impressive spa-town birthplace. The design reflects the layered stones that help give the town its character. The carpeting in first class takes up the „tweed“ theme once more. The floor-covering in second class needs to be particularly robust, in order to withstand melted slush, dust and the small stones that accumulatein the soles of hiking boots. It must also conceal the presence of dirt as much as possible. The designers therefore came up with a novel way of telling whether the covering is suitable for an Alpine railway: the muesli test. „We take a handful of dry muesli and spread it across the floor“, explains Mr Harbeke. „If the oats and raisins are barely visible, the train’s floor-covering is suitable for both winter and summer use.“

Which train are you on?

Which train are you on?

Dario Cologna tours Graubünden every day, not on skis, but on the rails of the RhB.