The railway stations is a focal point in any community which it serves, ranging from a simple platform with basic facilities to a major terminal with complex functions and systems.
They all bring their own challenges to the designer, to which a range of modern tools and engineering expertise can be addressed.
To the people using the railway’s service, the experience of travelling on board the train is of course of great importance, however the station is the first point of contact and is where the crucial first impressions and feelings of security, comfort and amenity are created. High quality station architecture can create a positive impression of the railway system among the wider community and encourage new passengers to make use of their services.
The SEM-Logica group and its sister companies Arcadia Engineering Thailand and JSA Architecture have enormous global experience of the full life cycle of rail and station projects from inception to completion. Our experience ranges from the development of new railway systems to the modernisation of historic station structures and includes strategic planning, concept design, procurement, construction, testing and commissioning.
From that experience, I would like to focus on the value of stations in the overall planning of a railway. Station location, planning and design deserve the attention of senior government and planning officials from the very beginning of a project. This is because, as well as being the “shop window” of any rail project, stations can play a significant role in promoting economic and urban development, as well as supporting broader urban or regional policies.
Station planning and design is therefore of crucial importance to all those responsible for the development of a new railway. From a government or major sponsor perspective, the architectural presentation of a major station is an opportunity to use these large investments to convey both overt and subtle messages to the country and the world, whilst other stations on the route can be a focus for urban development.
In terms of economic development and infrastructure investment, stations can be conceived as significant public buildings and a visible representation of government ambition. This is similar to the prestige conferred by an international airport, although stations frequently enjoy the advantage of being in the heart of a city.
Indeed, flagship systems can actually make statements about national pride and the intentions of a people in the global economy. There are many historic examples of this, such as Russia with the Moscow Metro, Italy in the re-development of Turin station, or in the USA Grand Central station: all bold statements of national pride.
New stations can be seen as a key element of city planning and an opportunity to facilitate planning policies. A station can be the centrepiece of an urban masterplan and bring customers and staff to commercial and industrial developments. Local planning policies can also benefit from higher development densities around stations.
The economics of rail projects can of course be dramatically improved by the intelligent incorporation of stations into much larger commercial developments. This must be properly managed to create a balance between its primary transportation role and the planning issues associated with the surrounding development.
Careful design and planning can deliver high quality public spaces and landscapes in the areas around stations, giving benefits to the community and promoting civic values. They can also be used as a point of focus for other public amenities, as well as boosting regeneration and growth.
Railways and metros are components of a broad system of urban mobility and the station has a key role in providing comfortable, convenient interchange between different transport modes. A strategic approach to transport interchange should be taken early in any project to ensure a co-ordinated relationship with other existing and planned transport services.
Given the high initial costs of station infrastructure, particularly when situated underground, it is vital that the full range of architectural and engineering design experience is brought to bear on the project in its early design phases. This should, of course, achieve a safe, efficient passenger experience, however the opportunity exists to maximise the wider benefits that can be delivered for the same cost.
Landscape design and smart lighting can complement the impact of architecture, branding and signage, whilst pedestrian flow modelling ensures the passenger journey is quicker, safer and less stressful.
A holistic approach to data handling and data transmission facilities benefits the safe, efficient operation and monitoring of the asset as well as supporting passengers’ growing demand for data on the move.
Rapid developments in ticketing technology have produced contactless and telephone payment, stored value systems, internet-enabled booking and ticketing on mobile devices. Such new technology affects station planning and passenger flows and will continue to change the balance of functional areas. This is most noticeable on main line stations where long distance services have traditionally required a large ticket hall for buying and collecting tickets. Modern, main line stations are quickly following metro principles for ticketing, access control and revenue protection.
Paying attention to the environmental footprint of a modern station will also deliver financial benefits in daily operation. Technologies such as piezo-electric floor tiles to provide auxiliary power supplies, environmentally friendly design including the use of recycled grey water, ground source heat pumps, natural lighting and ventilation and recyclable materials, can all bring benefits. However negative impacts such as ground and ground water warming in urban environments and the impact of new train-borne equipment creating large quantities of heat in the station must be evaluated and mitigated.
I hope that this brief exposition has demonstrated that the contemporary railway station, while representing a highly complex design challenge, also has the potential to become an iconic civic building, generating benefits far beyond the initial purpose of a simple transport hub.
Stuart Whitter, Operations Director, SEM-Logica Limited