Anna Piccoli

Male urination in trains

Findings from “Hygienic Train Toilet”

Why are train toilets used only in case of emergency? Why are they perceived as unpleasant, unhygienic places? What does this have to do with male urination? And how can design be used to improve the experience? The “Hygienic Train Toilet” project gives us some answers.


Amsterdam Centraal - A side view of the Central Station in Amsterdam. A 'sprinter' (Dutch train) is visible on the foreground.


"Dirty", "Smelly", "Extremely Small"

Most travellers would agree with the statement that one uses train toilets only when really needed and that alternatives such as a café at the station are otherwise preferred because considered more hygienic. If we asked a sample of people to tell us the first adjective that comes to their minds when thinking about toilets on trains, the words “dirty”, “smelly”, “extremely small”, and “uncomfortable” would probably pop up; and they would be right.


By means of multiple surveys and observations, researchers at the Delft University of Technology have scientifically proved it: given age, gender, habits, and physical differences of users, the conventional design of existing toilets proves inadequate. Even more, it actually causes a vicious circle: indeed, men have troubles in urinating from a standing position without spilling urine outside the bowl or on the rim, especially when the train shakes: as the authors of the study put it, “they need to aim their urine into a horizontal plane from a great vertical distance […], which is very difficult to achieve cleanly” and which “also causes a back-splash of the urine” (Marian Loth and Johan Molenbroek in Male urination in the trains, 2011; you can find the publications here).

Due to “[t]hese negative factors, such as bad sight of the task, shaking the last drops, 'spread' of the urine stream, an unpredictable 'spray', nonchalance, back splash etc.”, the seat and the floor get wet and start smelling. Besides, other users, in particular women, also contribute to the soling of the seat, as they also avoid to sit and rather hover over the bowl which makes them soil the toilet even further.

How to make things better

Do you wonder whether there is a solution? A male urinal combined with a washbasin and a (toddler) platform for people with lower crotch heights might be sufficient to create a better pissing space for men and a cleaner seat for women. If users eventually sit down, no urine spillage happens, because the flux goes directly into the bowl and the back-splash is prevented to reach the rim by the body of the person using the toilet. In this way, it is more likely that train toilets are used for other functions too, for instance childcare.

Improved Design

Such a design has been developed in the frame of a project called Hygienic Train Toilet, which started in January 2009 as a collaboration between TU Delft and the Dutch Railways (NS). The partners aim to improve everyone's experience with train toilets and to offer inclusive, comfortable, attractive, and hygienic restrooms. To this purpose, they have also enhanced the interior with toddler platforms, diaper changing tables, hand-bars, and space for wheel-chair manipulation. An electric hand dryer is also present in order to avoid wet paper towels on the floor. Furthermore, its combination with sensors for flushing the toilet and for activating the discharge of tap water contributes to create a touch-free area that is designed to encourage a more hygienic behaviour.

In 2014 the first mock-up tests were carried out and the results were made available on the internet (check again here). However, the group continues researching, because according to the first experiments some additions and changes might come in handy, such as extra support bars, a sanitary waste bin, facilities to clean the seat, extra broad rim at the back and at the side of the toilet seat. What else would you fancy for the perfect train toilet?

People who took part in the observation part made by TU Delft researchers for the Hygienic Train Toilet project talk about their experience

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