Designing stations for passengers

Published in Rail Professional.

Most passengers spend just a few minutes in a station before boarding their train. John Judge explains how stations can make the best use of space to improve the passenger experience.

They say let the train take the strain, but I like to think the process of alleviating pressure on the passenger begins back at the station. Train stations need to set the tone for passengers by offering a safe, hassle free experience. Since privatisation, rail companies have understood the importance of this and the way in which good station design holds additional commercial opportunities for not just themselves but others too, through retail and advertising.

It will take time to redevelop all our stations to really suit passenger needs, and unfortunately for rail companies, they are up against it here because passengers already have a high expectation of standards from one of the most expensive train services in Europe. The internet provides passengers with large and public platform in which to air their grievances – bad news really does travel fast these days. In terms of design, you only have to look at how St Pancras and King’s Cross has been transformed, and at Heathrow, one of the few truly multi-modal transport interfaces in the UK – bus, car, tube, train, plane to see how a thoroughly thought out station design provides passengers an experience they want to continue to use and tell others about.

According to the Department for Transport, the vast majority of passengers spend no longer than seven minutes in a station waiting for a train. Therefore, the design of stations has to reflect the relatively short period of time passengers will be there for.

They don’t want to be stuck queuing, but they might want to grab a drink and a bite to eat, or a newspaper to read on their journey. They want safety and space, ticket machines that are easy to use and functioning, as well as friendly, informative staff who are easy to spot.

They also want to find information about their journey as quickly as possible and not feel guilty asking for information because there is an ever-growing queue of people behind them who just want a ticket – and fast. Some stations recognise this well and have separate travel centres for those queries. All these factors demonstrate why in-station design or redevelopment, passenger needs must be fully considered.

Making this a reality begins by recognising the volume of passengers passing through the station. For example, the experience for passengers at King’s Cross was vastly improved through the investment in adding extra exits and entrances to the underground, which has improved previous queuing issues by helping a greater number of people to pass through smoothly. Configuration management is also a crucial factor.

Colour, lighting, shading and signage need to be addressed, as do the audio and visual aspects of any design.

There are several London Underground stations where the signage vital in providing information to the passenger standing on the platform is obscured from view by equipment and other unnecessary obstacles.

Sometimes subtle changes to minor details can have a huge impact. Ultimately, the needs of the passenger will be balanced out by the station’s need for financial return, and this can come through retail development or advertising. St Pancras is a good example of how foresight in the station’s design has made the experience of passengers travelling through the station a positive one. A station has the potential

to enhance the local area by encouraging businesses, for example restaurants and cafés, to take advantage of the influx of people. This can improve the passengers’ perceptions of the station, and maybe one day passengers will choose to stay there for longer than seven minutes at a time. The council may decide to improve bus links to the station, and all this can help to boost the desirability of inner city areas that may have previously been lacking.

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