/ CALL US + 44 (0) 20 3873 0260
  • SmartTransit Congres, Boston - 2020

9 innovations that are shaping the future of your railway station.

Posted by Luke Upton on Jan 7, 2015

Kings_Cross_2Rail stations are changing. For a long time they appeared to be an after-thought for many train operators, designed simply to get as many passengers in and out as quickly and safely as possible, But no more. Stations are evolving and offering more to its passengers, making them a place to stay in and enjoy, an amenity all to itself, rather than a building to quickly head away from or arrive with little time to spare before catching a train. The central position of stations, also puts them at the heart of urban regeneration schemes and a crucial link between commercial, leisure and residential spaces. The global growth of rail travel this past decade has given both the impetus and funding to make these changes and today SmartRail World Editor Luke Upton runs down nine key station developments we are likely to see more of as we move in to 2015 and beyond.

1. A renewed focus on design.

When one thinks of a ‘classic’ station they may well conjure up images of New York’s Grand Central Terminal (built 1913), Madrid’s Estacion de Madrid Atocha (1851), the only UNESCO recognised rail station in the world Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai (1888) or Gare du Nord in Paris (1846) but few would consider many built in the latter half of the 20th Century as classics. However, the new millennium has seen a renewed focus on the aesthetic of railway stations.

Perhaps the finest example is the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, opened in 2006. Designed by Gerkan, Marg and Partners, it handles 1,100 overground and underground trains a day, serving routes that extend as far east as Russian and Kazakhstan, it is a large "cathedral" of glass and polished steel. On opening, national train operator Deutsche Bahn's chief executive Hartmut Mehdorm described it as ”the most beautiful station in the world”. Perhaps, but as the aesthetic grows, its starting to get some serious competition. The image at the top of this article, of Kings Cross in London, illustrates another example of the blending of a new design and cutting edge facilities with an historic Grade I-listed structure dating from the mid-19th century.


2. Growth of retail.

Once upon a time at a major station, you could buy a newspaper, a coffee and perhaps if you were lucky a copy of the latest bestseller or tourist trinket. Now however, many stations at aiming to take advantage of the huge footfall they experience (and help pay for their investments) by developing a dazzling area of retail and catering outlets to serve every taste (and pocket).

To give just one example, St Pancras International, in London which is both a national station and international serving Continental Europe through Eurostar has turned excavated Victorian storage sheds into a high-end shopping mall with units from Fortnum & Mason, Whistles and L’Occitane en Provence amongst others. And interestingly, this shopping area is promoted as a destination all of its own, and not just to train passengers. Going to a train station but not catching a train? That would have been hard to believe a few years ago!

3. Zero-net energy consumption.

In the USA, the renovated Yawkey Station near Fenway Park in Boston will become a “zero net energy” commuter rail station when construction is finished in 2017. Solar panels and a shared-use garage on which a solar photovoltaic power plant will be installed is designed to provide all the energy required to power the station.

Whilst also in Massachusetts, this time in Greenfield, the John W. Olver Transit Center which houses offices for the Franklin Regional Transit Authority and an Amtrak station is the first zero net energy building of its kind in the United States. Some of the key green features include air-conditioning provided by an active chilled beam system, a solar wall that preheats fresh air by as much as 15 degrees during peak winter sun, second-stage preheating via a ground source heat pump, and daylight modelling used to determine optimal placement of windows, clerestory and skylights. For more on this click here.


4. Virtual Ticketing Agents.

Ticketing has been amongst the most innovative areas within rail and metro, perhaps most visible in smart-card systems overtaking paper tickets in a growing number of the world’s transport networks. The next development could well be Virtual Agents, essentially an at station computer offering a combination of ticket office, vending machine and call centre. A passenger using the Virtual Agent is able to talk a ‘real person’ in ‘real time’ offering a similar experience to being a the ticket window except over a video link. The ticket agent you speak to would be likely at a central ticket office hub.

For rail companies this would enable a central pool of staff to be deployed across the network and be able to be focussed at certain peak times. It would also potentially offer the opportunity to offer ticket advice in different languages and even link staff from quiet stations into helping at busier stations at peak times. For passengers it offers a human contact but also the immediacy and speed of a ticket machine. Challenges for this service exist, not least ensuring a communications infrastructure exists that can support non-stop video calls but with virtual ticketing agents already being trialled by Deutsche Bahn this is a technology that could be seen at major stations soon.

See this video below for an example, NextAgent from Cubic.



5. Energy efficient escalators and moving walkways.

The Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTR) in Hong Kong is one of the busiest in the world, serving a population of over seven million people in a high density area. At the main passenger terminal, ThyssenKrupp has installed 73 escalators and eight moving walkways which when not in use will smoothly and automatically slow itself down to reduce electricity consumption and, when the built-in radar sensors detect a passenger, it will accelerate back up to normal running speed. Depending on passenger volumes, escalators and moving walks with this feature can save up to 60 percent of the energy consumed by conventional systems.

But that’s not all! 33 escalators will be fitted with a unique regenerative system that not only reduces power consumption but which can actually generate electricity, feeding it back into the power grid of the terminus for use in other systems such as lighting and ventilation. It works by exploiting the effect of gravity on a heavily loaded, downward-operating escalator. The weight of the passengers drives the steps down, allowing the escalator to work as a generator and converting the movement into electricity. For more cick here

6. Ergonomic station design.

Ensuring that large numbers of travellers can move freely and efficiently to, through and from a station is an essential to maintaining the operational effectiveness of the transport system as a whole. Station developments now consider ergonomic and human factors, in particular looking in a scientific way at people and their needs, and then providing analytical evidence based on psychological, behavioural and physical factors to improve experiences.

For example, in the development of stations experts can be used to analyse passenger movement and behaviour and then plan the station layout to encourage them to do the things you need them to do, for example travelling one the correct side of the escalator or arriving at gate lines with their tickets ready. Other areas of growth in this sector linked to this include the development of new technologies and smart ticketing and also the place for retail and catering opportunities within the station.

SmartTransit Congress, Boston, 2020

7. Digital Signage.

Signage at rail and metro stations has sometimes been a neglected area amidst the developments happening around it. But now a series of changes has created a new opportunity for the growth of this unglamorous but essential aspect of the industry and even in an era when mobile devices are omnipresent the usage of digital signage continues to grow. The Transportation Research Board recently published a report analysing its use and found that not only does it boost the perception that the transit service is being improved but also reduces the perception of wait time and highlighted how informed riders feel more safe and secure.

The slow but steady increase of colour signage and video is outlined by Michael Welsh of Data Display: “A colour display offers a number of additional offerings to a traditional display – operators can customize the colour to fit their colour scheme or to colour coordinate with a particular line. It offers the capability to display a full colour video which opens up the opportunity to potentially run advertisements whether for local tourist attractions, for visitors or of a purely commercial nature. This in turn potentially opens up a new revenue stream for the agency.”

The evolution of colourful digital signage which can run videos and adverts is a development which can not only improve the passenger experience but also create additional revenue streams and branding opportunities for operators. One to watch!

Click and Collect at Highgate Station, London8. Additional revenue opportunities.

Shops and catering facilities are one growing area for revenue growth as are digital advertising opportunities. But other, lifestyle driven ways of stations growing capital are emerging. Speaking to the Financial Times, Graeme Craig, Transport for London’s director of commercial development, believes the transport system has the potential to be a “supermarket aisle” down which millions file every day. “They are time-poor people who’ve got very busy lives. All we need to do is work out what it is they need and give it to them in the most convenient format,” he said.

An example of this is the development of “click and collect” services at London Underground stations in North London, enabling commuters to purchase their shopping online in the morning and then collect it on their way home via the station after 4pm. And also, the placing of Amazon or e-Bay lockers at stations, again for the collection of online purchases on the way home is surely an area of further growth potential for stations all over the world. See also: 'Next stop: [Your Company’s Name] Station.' The gradual rise of metro and rail naming rights sales.

9. Vertical Stations

And to finish perhaps we stray into a more futuristic area with this but, a vision of vertical railway stations, stretching hundreds of metres into the clouds has been designed and according to its architects;  “aims to resolve the inevitable challenges that cities will face by 2075, and offers a deliverable and sustainable solution for the future of the transport generation.”

The Hyper Speed Vertical Train Hub (pictured below) is a concept that has been entered into eVolo magazine’s annual skyscraper competition by Christopher Christophi and Lucas Mazarrasa as an alternative to the traditional rail terminal. By flipping the station onto a vertical axis, the design reduces the impact on land use to meet the predicted rapid growth in city populations over the coming decades. Trains stick to the outside of the building using a maglev system and exit the terminal through a series of tunnels at the foot of the structure. The designers say the towers, which would be capped off by a rooftop green plaza, are envisioned as individual pieces of infrastructure that could be replicated in cities around the world. Maybe? Maybe not? Time will tell...


For more on the Vertical Hub click here.

What have we missed? Email and let us know.

Download free Meeting Passenger Demands Report

Topics: Passenger Information Systems, Editor's Choice

Luke Upton

Written by Luke Upton

Get The Latest Updates From SmartRail World

Please use the form below to leave a comment about this story.