The Perfect Train Experience, from Engineering to Imagineering

The Perfect Train Experience, from Engineering to Imagineering


Mark Van Hagen, NS (Dutch Railways), Evelien Ten Elsen, NS (Dutch Railways)


Imagineering is a creative process in which all stakeholders cooperate and pay attention to all the emotional experiences of customers. The method is used in a railway environment and three cases will show the impact on customer satisfaction.


The perfect train experience, from Engineering to Imagineering

Train Operating Companies (TOCs) traditionally focus on the process of operating trains getting them from A to B. And as part of that focus, the emphasis has been on operating trains with good punctuality, providing enough capacity (seats), providing accurate travel information and keeping the trains clean and safe.

At times it does seem like the TOC’s forget to pay enough attention to other aspects of what customers want; like being able to spend travel time on board of the train in a pleasant way. Recent research shows that the way passengers experience the ‘quality’ of their travel time significantly contributes to the overall customer satisfaction score of their journey by train. In an extensive quantitative research executed on board of trains in the Netherlands (Van Hagen & De Bruyn, 2015), results showed that the valuation of the train trip highly depends on the extent to which the travel time can be spent in a pleasant way. It is remarkable to notice that ‘pleasant’ activities have a stronger effect on the trip valuation than ‘useful’ activities. Especially activities that are regarded as ‘special’ result in a higher valuation of the trip (Van Hagen, De Bruyn & Ten Elsen, 2016).

In this paper we follow the path of evidence based design, that will say that the voice of the customer is key in rating the designed services. The paper will first pay attention to the theoretical framework of Imagineering and how this can be put into practice with concrete cases which show the impact on customer satisfaction of the train trip. Imagineering is a strategy first used by Disney and is now well known in all organizations who catch up with the experience economy (Pine & Gilmore, 1999, 2011). Were the engineering part already gets lots of attention of operators, the Imagineering part must be enforced, from Engineering to Imagineering, so to say.

Almost nine out of ten organizations expect primarily to be competing on the basis of customer experience in the future for which Imagineering is needed (KPMG, 2017). Imagineering is a creative process in which all stakeholders cooperate and pay attention to all the emotional experiences of the customers during the use of services of an organization. The core of the framework is that it distinguishes challenges in three levels of complication:
1. Simple problems which can be solved by standardized recipes (baking a cake, running trains on time),
2. Complicated problems which can be solved by a team of experts (sending a rocket to the moon, developing a time table),
3. Complex problems which needs knowledge but also creativity and no standard solutions exist (raising a child, creating a pleasant train journey)

Imagineering is a process to solve complex problems. For that it needs the commitment and input of several stakeholders who together create a solution which fits to the needs of all stakeholders. The magic of this process is that by the start of the process you do not know what kind of solution will be reached, but you do know that every stakeholder will be happy with the outcome at the end of the day, including the customer who will experience a pleasant train journey.

To clarify how the theory of Imagineering works in practice we will show some real cases which focus on the basic processes of a train trip (the case of temporal travel solutions) and cases in which the goal is to create a pleasant train trip attached to a pleasant destination (pink pop festival, film festival). From these experiments we learn that attention for positive experiences have a huge impact on the valuation of the train trip.


Association for European Transport