Next stop: the station of the future

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Next stop: the station of the future

Next stop: the station of the future

Jul 16, 2020
Written byDavid Burroughs

New technology coupled with better design and the use of innovative materials are helping to make stations easier to navigate, safer and more environmentally friendly. David Burroughs reports on the latest developments in station design.

Rail Baltic Ulemiste Terminal

Ülemiste station in Tallinn, designed by London-based Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), will serve the Rail Baltica corridor. Image: ZHA

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To improve access to rail for urban, regional and inter-city passengers, the industry is taking bold steps to transform stations into user-friendly locations that are easier to navigate, safer, more inviting and better integrated with their surrounding communities.

As with any prediction of how things will develop in the future, it is difficult to say with certainty what exactly the station will look like in a decade or two. But a number of projects and innovations which are currently considered niche and futuristic are beginning to bear fruit, offering a glimpse of what could soon become commonplace.

Research is underway into how exactly passengers use, interact with and move through stations, and how this can optimise passenger flows to create a seamless and trouble-free experience.

Shift2Rail (S2R), the first European-wide rail research initiative, is exploring ways to improve stations through the In2Stempo project (funded under grant agreement 777515), which consists of 11 work packages (WP) co-funded through the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. This includes four focusing on station design, optimisation, security and safety with the remaining packages looking at improving energy management and power supply resilience across the railway network.

WP6, led by Thales SIX GTS France in association with Polish State Railways (PKP), has been developing tools that build on software such as Legion offered by Bentley, which models passenger movements in various settings at a macro level. Passengers ranging from commuters and tourists, to families, and passengers with reduced mobility, are assigned micro behavioural features, which can be used to model how they will interact with and move through the station in real time.

“The data that goes into the model isn’t theoretical anymore, it’s actual data, and what it is showing is how people use a station in reality.”

Mr Garry Bosworth, the overall technical lead for In2Stempo and a principal engineer in British infrastructure manager Network Rail’s (NR) Buildings and Architecture team.

Thales and PKP have taken this a step further, by using digital cameras within stations to analyse and map passengers to give a more accurate representation of passenger movements, explains Mr Garry Bosworth, the overall technical lead for In2Stempo and a principal engineer in British infrastructure manager Network Rail’s (NR) Buildings and Architecture team.

“The data that goes into the model isn’t theoretical anymore, it’s actual data,” Bosworth says. “And what it is showing is how people use a station in reality.”

The project spent months ensuring its privacy safeguards were robust, and is now in a position to provide benefits which Bosworth says are threefold: advising and improving new station designs, optimisation of asset renewals and improving operational decision making.

Data from the tool will help engineers designing stations to accurately model and maximise the efficiency of the placement of platforms, lifts, escalators, information boards, ATMs and cafes.

The tool could also identify the different passenger types that use a station more frequently and incorporate changes based on this data into station design. For example, a seaside station attracting tourists with luggage requires a different design compared with a city centre station used primarily by commuters.

Station operators could also benefit from the tool when planning for scenarios such as emergency evacuations. While stations regularly run fire drills and other emergency procedures, these are not always possible at peak times, where the need for the drill is outweighed by the significant disruption this would cause. Instead, the accurate data provided by the tool enables digital modelling of these scenarios, providing essential information to station managers without disrupting commuters.

Through integration with the train system and applying machine learning on top of historic data it is possible… to predict how this situation will look in the future.”

Mr Peter Knudsen, Veovo general manager, passenger predictability

CCTV is not the only tool for monitoring crowds and passenger numbers, says Veovo general manager, passenger predictability, Mr Peter Knudsen. Other technologies such as radar, motion sensors and mobile trackers, which pick up signals such as bluetooth to track passengers, can also measure passenger numbers and dwell times in real-time, predicting overcrowding before it becomes a problem.

“The data is used to ensure a station has the necessary capacity to process these people in a safe way and also to see if there are any possibilities to enhance this passenger experience,” Knudsen says. “Through integration with the train system and applying machine learning on top of historic data it is possible… to predict how this situation will look in the future, so we can create a bit of warning for the station operator to say ‘you’re going to run into overcrowding on these platforms’.”

This approach could be combined with new announcement systems such as Holoplot, which was trialled by German Rail (DB) in Frankfurt Main Station last year. Using multiple speakers, Holoplot is able to control sound in the same manner as directing a beam of light, allowing certain announcements to target different areas on a platform without spilling onto other platforms or becoming mixed with other announcements. This can provide more accurate information for specific passengers, improving navigation to the correct platform or entrance.

Environmentally friendly

Rail journeys account for 0.5% of transport emissions in the European Union (EU), according to the European Environmental Association (EEA), but there is always room for improvement and new stations are being designed to meet higher standards.

On May 1, Britain’s High Speed 2 Ltd (HS2 Ltd), the body responsible for delivering the high-speed project from London to Birmingham and further north, announced that the planned Birmingham Interchange station, near Solihull and the National Exhibition Centre in the West Midlands, had become the first railway station globally to be certified as “outstanding” under the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) certification method, putting it in the top 1% of buildings in Britain for eco-friendly credentials.

Britain’s HS2 Birmingham Interchange station is the first railway station globally to be certified as “outstanding” under the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) certification.

Features incorporated into the station design minimise carbon emissions through the use of natural ventilation and daylighting. Energy efficient systems will be used, such as air source heat pumps and LED lighting. The station and adjacent automated peoplemover maintenance facility will feature more than 2000m² of solar panels to generate carbon-free electricity.

A network of pipes will redirect rainwater from the main station building into a 150mᶾ water tank which will supply part of the building’s water requirements, reducing the station’s mains water demand. In addition, landscaping around the station will feature sustainable drainage systems which reduce the burden on surface water drainage. Naturally irrigating planted areas and new natural habitats will also be created around the station.

Our aim is to design, construct and operate HS2 to reduce carbon and to minimise the effect of the project on the environment.”

Mr Peter Miller, HS2 Ltd’s environment and town planning director

The car park will have 222 electric vehicle charging points, along with storage for 176 bicycles with further room for expansion. There will also be dedicated pedestrian access into the station from the east, along with cycle access from the north, west and southeast through a mixture of dedicated routes.

“Our aim is to design, construct and operate HS2 to reduce carbon and to minimise the effect of the project on the environment,” says Mr Peter Miller, HS2 Ltd’s environment and town planning director. “In building the station, we are also committed to sourcing and making efficient use of sustainable materials, reducing waste and maximising the proportion of material diverted from landfill.”

Community integration

Passenger rail should ultimately have the passenger at the heart of everything that it does, and the design of stations is no different. But as well as designing stations that are passenger friendly, infrastructure managers and station managers are looking to improve integration with the wider community.

The new Waterloo station and Metro Quarter being designed as part of the Sydney Metro City & Southwest project will create an integrated station development in which the buildings above are constructed at the same time as the station 25m below ground. This approach will enable delivery of the full project at the same time as the line in 2024.

Waterloo Precinct consists of the Waterloo Metro Quarter, which is being reimagined by Sydney Metro in conjunction with the Urban Growth NSW Development Corporation, and the Waterloo Estate, which NSW Land and Housing Corporation is redeveloping as part of the NSW Government’s Communities Plus programme.

The design for the new Waterloo station and Metro Quarter in Sydney emphasises integration with the surrounding community. Photo: Sydney Metro

A series of design principles outlined by Sydney Metro to guide the development of the station and quarter emphasise how a station can address multiple needs and invigorate a community.

This includes creating welcoming and inclusive places for social and cultural interaction, vibrant and accessible streets and open spaces, as well as maximising opportunities for land use and transport integration, with appropriate land use outcomes contributing to economic growth.

The developers state that the station should also support opportunities to expand, improve and make better use of public open spaces, while the buildings and surrounding spaces should be of the highest quality, exceeding community expectations now and into the future. Sustainability will be embedded into all initiatives, and day and night time features will make the precinct vibrant while still giving people a sense of security.

The Metro Quarter will integrate with the new Waterloo station and will deliver shops and community services across 4000m² of ground-level retail space. There will be a new public plaza with an adjoining 600m² community building, along with approximately 9000m² for a range of commercial, shared office, health services and other facilities.

The project will include up to 700 new homes above the station, 20% of which will be affordable housing; new job opportunities during construction and operation of the station; a new community plaza including shops and services; improved open space including new walking and cycling paths; and new spaces for creative and cultural use.

“Redevelopment of the area will support a diverse and vibrant community into the future and ensure modern, fit-for-purpose homes for people who need them alongside new community facilities, services and public open spaces,” Sydney Metro says. “The masterplan will allow for the staged growth of Waterloo over the next 15 to 20 years, and the metro station is the catalyst for renewal.”

Function and form

While it is important for stations to function as smoothly as possible, this doesn’t mean they must look plain or dull.

City-centre stations have often been designed as focal points, grandiose gateways to welcome travellers while simultaneously highlighting the proud characteristics of the surrounding area. Even underground metro stations can become attractions in their own right, as many of Moscow metro’s ornate stations show.

This is continuing with new station builds, as seen in the flowing design selected for Ülemiste station in Tallinn, designed by London-based Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA).

“The Tallinn terminal is not only the starting point for the Rail Baltica line, it also aims to create a new core for the city that connects the wider Baltic region and Europe, creating a new benchmark for future infrastructure projects,” explains ZHA project director, Mr Ludovico Lombardi. “The proposal redefines the relationship between Ülemiste district, the shopping complex, the airport and the historical city centre by creating a new focal point for the city of Tallinn.”

“The design approach responds to the functional needs of a transport hub with complex new and existing networks of public transport,”

Mr Ludovico Lombardi, ZHA project director

The terminal is designed to provide a footbridge over the railway for the local community, while also serving as a multi-modal transport hub for commuters, national and international rail passengers, and air travellers using the adjacent Tallinn airport. The building will make use of natural light, and is designed for easy orientation and navigation while also giving passengers glimpses of the surrounding area.

“The design approach responds to the functional needs of a transport hub with complex new and existing networks of public transport,” Lombardi says. “Designed to the highest standards of efficiency, this smart transport hub responds to requirements for seamless connectivity and inviting public spaces.”

Materials

When creating these futuristic designs, architects are increasingly provided with access to a greater range of materials with which to work. In recent decades, the materials and process technologies needed to create Fibre Polymer Composites (FPCs) have advanced rapidly due to widespread adoption and significant investment from the aerospace industry in an effort to reduce aircraft weight and fuel consumption.

These developments provide opportunities for other industries such as construction, where the potential uses are widespread, says head of construction and infrastructure at Britain’s National Composite Centre, Mr Graeme Jeremy.

Lightweight materials improve the handling and ease of installation of structural elements while reducing the load on foundations or supporting structures. They also reduce conductivity and thermal bridging, which for rail removes the need for earth bonding to avert potential induced currents, thereby improving safety and reducing maintenance costs.

Bridges and gantries could be the first to benefit from the introduction of FPCs, Jeremy says, while other possible applications include lineside support posts for signalling, lighting and signs, station platform decks, canopies and plant enclosures.

“Although many niche applications exist, it is true that the vast majority of structures are still constructed from traditional materials,” Jeremy says. “Designers and constructors have tended to favour traditional materials such as steel and reinforced concrete primarily due to the clear route from design through to completion, which is not as straight forward for FPCs.”

A number of other hurdles such as design codes, construction standards, insurance, the supply chain, and cost have also prevented widespread introduction in the past. However, these factors are beginning to subside when weighed against aspects such as total cost of ownership, the ability to manufacture offsite, and sustainability.

“We’re already looking at how composite footbridges could be used in stations,” Jeremy says. “Additional focus on the overarching blockers such as codes and standards is already being tackled by organisations like the European Composites Industry Association (EuCIA), which is in the process of producing an FPC structures Eurocode.”

Small stations

It’s not just the biggest and busiest stations that are likely to undergo change in the coming years. Smaller stations could possibly undergo more radical changes as technology, methods and materials become cheaper and more readily available.

In2Stempo’s WP7 is looking to significantly improve the design of low-capacity stations and optimise the design process from concept to construction.

The package is led by Polish infrastructure manager PKP, working with Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency (FTIA), Infrastructure Portugal (IP), NR, Slovenian Railway and CAF.

“We’re looking for a consistent modular design of stations with a minimum set of facilities and the amenities to go alongside that station,” Bosworth says. “Part of the process is to work down to a modular standard design with some standard components.”

This will give the supply chain and passengers assurances of what will be provided when a small station is built or upgraded, including platforms, shelters, efficient lighting, Wi-Fi and passenger information facilities. Bosworth compares the process with the construction of an Ikea store, which is associated with providing the same basic level of amenities wherever you are in the world.

At the same time, Bosworth says the developers are wary of creating a cookie-cutter station, which lacks character and does not reflect the values and history of the community it serves. “That for me is going against the principles of excellent design and particularly social sustainability where we want local ownership and local buy-in for stations,” he says.

In2Stempo is looking at how this process might be improved – whether by installing murals and art work that connects the station with the town and community it serves or creating spaces for local shops and businesses that a local community requests.

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown up new questions around the design and operation of stations, and the answers to these will depend on whether the virus is cured within months or becomes a part of everyday life. Screens, enforced spaces between waiting passengers, improved air filtration and new cleaning measures could all become commonplace in future stations if operators and public health officials deem them necessary.

As with all developments across the passenger rail industry, the focus must always come back to improving the passenger experience. Keeping their needs at the forefront of design and application must remain central as the industry looks to develop the station of the future.

Modelling bomb blasts to improve passenger safety

LARGE crowds gathered within or transiting through stations can present more than just operational risks. Station operators are acutely aware of serious threats such as terrorist attacks or bomb blasts, with incidents such as the bombings on the Moscow metro in 2010, the Minsk metro in 2011, the Istanbul metro in 2015 and in Brussels in 2016 highlighting how stations can become targets.

Bosworth is the work package leader for In2Stempo’s WP9, which is developing solutions to improve the safety and resilience of stations through models, risk assessments and a security manual that can be used to mitigate the impact of a bomb blast.

This information is often available for the biggest station projects, but the cost of these studies can make it difficult to create them for every station across the network. The WP9 studies and manual will provide engineers with a blueprint of what to consider when designing stations and station improvements to ensure they are more resilient to bomb blasts.

“It allows evidence-based decision making that can be implemented by non-security specialists, reducing the likelihood of asset failure and passenger injury,” Bosworth says.

The system is being developed in conjunction with the University of Sheffield and is exploring how the blast from a bomb spreads in different conditions. Early modelling has already shown that an improvised explosive device (IED) detonating in the centre of a room is stronger and more lethal in the corners than along the middle of a wall. This insight can inform the positioning of assets such as ticket machines, where passengers are likely to gather, in order to keep them as safe as possible. It can also dictate the positioning of venting to disperse the force of a blast and minimise injury.

Safety is also being improved through “smart” CCTV, which uses machine learning to identify suspicious behaviours and alert security staff to potential threats and incidents as they happen. This could prove life-saving, as researchers look to identify the behaviours of at-risk passengers who may be contemplating suicide, allowing an intervention to take place before an incident occurs.