Better rail stations

Paul Martin, director general of The Railway Forum, shows us a vision of the rail station of 2030

In general rail passengers in the UK express satisfaction with their journey experience. The National Passenger Survey compiled by Passenger Focus shows an overall satisfaction level of 81 per cent. Obviously this has to be segmented and whilst leisure passengers express satisfaction of 88 per cent this falls to 74 per cent in respect of commuters. There is, however, a marked differential when it comes to satisfaction with stations with only 65 per cent in total expressing satisfaction falling as low as 60 per cent when it comes to commuters.
Earlier this year, Transport Secretary Lord Adonis (as Minister of State) travelled for a week around the rail network and gave his impressions on his blog. Apparently frustrated by his experience late at night at Southampton when he was unable to buy a cup of tea he resolved to do something about it.
At the Railway Forum/Rail Magazine National Rail Conference held in May, Adonis therefore announced the appointment of two ‘station champions’, Chris Green and Sir Peter Hall both eminent in their respective fields and charged them with the task of advising the government on ‘ways to improve stations, focusing on getting the basic facilities right as well as considering the broader role of stations in the future’. An inspiration was the Swiss system of banding their 798 stations into four groups – which reflect footfall. Their report, Better Rail Stations was published on 17 November.

Britain’s stations
There are 2,500 stations in Britain, with the top four per cent accounting for 57 per cent of rail trips but with half of the stations being unstaffed and accounting for a mere two per cent of journeys. Currently there are six categories of stations a) national hub; b) national interchange; c) important feeder; d) medium staffed; e) small staffed and d) small unstaffed. Some reclassification including sub-categorising within these definitions is suggested by the authors.

Minimum station standards are proposed in the report, which should be applied progressively to each train company as they are refranchised. The model is the recent refranchisng exercise for Southern. Under this the value of incremental investment over and above the minimum standards counts as a postive to the bidder. In the Southern Franchise all 157 stations are to be fitted with CCTV security by 2011, an additional 1,100 car parking spaces are to be provided as well as 1,500 additional secure bicycle spaces.

Under the Minimum Standards proposed even an unstaffed station in Category F should have real time information and a help point. The recommended standards rise through the categories in an incremental way so that a Category A station would have flagship facilities including retail and customer services.

The need for consistency across the country is emphasised so that for example all stations would have standardised signage whereas at present, stations are presented using the corporate identity of the relevant franchisee.

Passenger needs
Many of the stations served by Britain’s railways date from the 19th century and whilst there are obviously some architectural masterpieces, many do require substantial work particularly in terms of meeting modern standards of accessibility.
The EU Passenger Rights Regulation, which became law in December 2009, will require operators to meet the access needs of any passenger with reduced mobility. Under the Department for Transport (DfT) Access for All programme some 50 per cent of stations now have some form of level access and this should rise to about 65 per cent by 2014.
The report recommends a deadline of 2020 (analogous to the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations) should be applied to all DfT stations (those in England not specified and funded by Merseytravel and Transport for London). The target would be full access at 668 ‘A – D’ stations and some form of level access at the remainder.
Clearly safety is a major concern of passengers and as pointed out in the report, and as pointed out by Passenger Focus in their report Passenger Perceptions of Personal Security (March 2009) 13 per cent more people would travel by train if they felt more secure. Obviously unstaffed stations score worse in the Passenger Focus survey with 39 per cent of passengers at these stations feeling insecure compared to 68 per cent at a major national hub station. Clearly it is not feasible to staff all stations and in addition to the security measures contained in the minimum station standard proposals, measures such as encouraging commercial tenanted occupancy of station buildings to facilitate a physical presence are suggested.

Station funding
Currently station funding amounts to £653m per annum for the next five years but of this a relatively small amount is for enhancements the lions share being for routine maintenance and renewal as well as flagship projects. The National Stations Improvement Programme (NSIP) has been set up by the DfT to upgrade stations through triggering third party investment and averages £31m per annum. The report proposes a rolling programme for the B – D stations with a rolling programme of investment from 2014 to 2024 (Control Period 5 and 6) with more suitable modern buildings replacing ageing Victorian structures. The aim would be to increase station funding by 25 per cent over that period. This programme could be contained within the Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS) Station Study to identify investment in greater detail say the authors.
Evidence from the Passenger Demand Forecasting Handbook shows the effects of improvements to station facilities in the order of two per cent long-term net demand uplift. London Overground has experienced a 10 per cent increase in customer satisfaction for station facilities and environment following refurbishment.
International experience has been drawn upon by the authors of the report to create a vision of the station of 2030. This vision is based on the concept of a new generation of Super Hubs catering for the 60 per cent growth in rail travel predicted in the 2007 White Paper – Delivering a Sustainable Railway. It is proposed that these super hubs will be located at key points of major cities and medium sized towns acting as interchanges for both the traditional railway and new high speed lines.
The super hubs will depend on new means of access, information and facilities and be planned in the most environmentally sustainable way possible. It is proposed that cycling with the necessary facilities will play a much greater role in trips to and from the hubs along with improved bus access including Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) services from interchanges bus stations close to motorway junctions, local neighbourhoods and park and ride facilities.

Future ticketing & facilities

Seamless ticketing is foreseen with the use of smartphone technology to provide constant technology with real time information integrated across modes. A time when assisted travel will not have to be booked in advance is also envisaged. Facilities for customers at stations are seen as uncluttered concourses and redeveloped stations providing a wide range of retailing and related services. Buildings should be of architectural merit and be eco-friendly.
A hierarchy of hub stations is projected with Capital Super Hubs being at the top of this. A London International Station for example would see combined redevelopment at Euston, St. Pancras and King’s Cross in a single London international hub with Terminals A, B and C connected by a 500-metre airport style underground people mover. The new Berlin Hauptbahnhof is seen as the model of this type of station.
Stratford International in East London is seen as a Suburban Super Hub station of the future linked into regeneration possibilities and served by high-speed lines.
Stations such as Manchester Piccadilly and Birmingham New Street could be classified as a Regional Super Hub station and the authors suggest that short term improvements planned should be integrated with long term planning e.g. High Speed Two could bring a two-level interchange to Manchester Piccadilly on the lines of Berlin Hauptbahnhof.
Sub Regional Super Rail Hubs such as Cambridge, Preston and York could in future be linked with Bus Rapid Transit busways themselves linked to their own hub terminals. St Ives in Cambridgeshire is seen as a precursor to this type of interchange of the future.
The report recommends that a study be made of the use of out of town locations particularly in the context of new high-speed lines. These sort of City Parkway Super Hubs are exemplified by Ebbsfleet in Kent.
Finally the report points out that the UK lags behind other European countries in its provision of Rail-Air Super Hubs. The cancellation of the proposed link to Glasgow Airport leaves it as the largest European airport without a rail connection. Good European models are alluded to at Amsterdam Schiphol, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt Flughafen Fernbahnhof.
This is a substantial evidentially based piece of work with extensive stakeholder consultation and if acted upon by policy makers will be seen as a seminal piece of work on the subject. Clearly the funding of such improvements in from 2014 in Control Period 5 will prove pivotal if the eventual vision of the station of 2030 is to be realised.

Better Rail Stations – An Independent Review presented to Lord Adonis, Secretary of State for Transport by Chris Green MA Oxon, FCIT and Professor Sir Peter Hall, FBA Hon MRTPI. Department for Transport, November 2009

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