When Paddington station in London is completed in November it will represent the latest innovation in train travel. The Grade I listed building has been completely refurbished by Railtrack, and architect Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners has upgraded Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s masterpiece.
The solution has been to insert modern installations while keeping the spirit of the early Victorian railway architecture.
The old retail area and the main indicator board have been removed, allowing passengers to flow through hustle- and bustle-free zones. “Railway design has begun to adopt the information systems and retail design ideas used in airport terminals,” says Mark Middleton, architect at Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners. As a result, smaller flat screens stand on both the sides reducing congestion and allowing passengers to visit the retail areas while keeping an eye on the timetables.
The most prominent development in Paddington is the Lawn area, so called because it was once the station’s master garden. Divided from the main concourse by a glass screen, it has a feel of modern grandeur about it. The area is a passenger’s waiting facility divided by a mezzanine level which will soon be filled with cafÃ©s and franchises such as Dixons, The Body Shop, and Sainsbury’s Local, the retailer’s first outlet at a transport terminal. At the back of it, stands Heathrow Express’ new checking in facility. Opened in June, it claims to be the world’s biggest international remote air terminal.
The architecture and interior design are by BAA architect Gebler Tooth and have been conceived to fit in with Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners’ masterplan strategy for the station. The look is crisp, cool and with an abundance of glass and aluminium. “By relieving passengers of their luggage we wanted to offer them a less frenetic experience of travel,” says Gebler Tooth project architect Peter Fennel. “The architecture reflects this light, airy, calm feel.”
The Heathrow Express service effectively gives Paddington an international atmosphere. “Once you check in, you forget it’s a rail journey,” says Aidan Kirby, consultant at Wolff Olins, the consultancy behind the overall design concept for Heathrow Express.
“The seating, the lighting, the information on board, are all part of a modern travel experience.” He also cites the Stansted Skytrain Express rail link “as finally a train where you feel looked after, which you know won’t break down”. “Reliability” and “customer service” are his recipes for the future of train travel.
So are railways the new airlines? Luckily, the future seems to offer a more interesting third way. “I think railways have learnt good things from airlines, but they are taking it further and developing their own style,” says Rodber.
“The Eurostar is a good example of service and design which airlines themselves admire, and the TGV in France is as competitive as any airline.”
With the opening of the new Channel Tunnel rail link in 2007, a journey from central London to Paris will take two hours and 20 minutes, and with plans to transform St Pancras Station into the new principal terminus, competition with airlines will get even tougher. The golden age of rail travel seems set to make a come back.