Design Council and Network Rail team up to design train station of the future

“Cross-modal” transport, more inclusive design and identities that celebrate local heritage: what will the train station of the future look like?

Design Council and Network Rail have revealed research on the design of future train stations.

ThinkStation was compiled following 11 workshops across four cities (London, Manchester, Bristol and Glasgow) between November 2019 and the start of 2020; the sessions comprised a mix of passengers and Network Rail stakeholders. The design organisation has provided design advice to Network Rail since 2017.

The impact of such a report, Design Council, says is vast: there were over 1.8bn passenger journeys in the UK in 2019. The report says: “Passengers’ daily lives and experiences are shaped by these journeys: from the stations where people depart and arrive, to the trains they travel on, to the spaces they pass through and the mobile apps navigating these connections.”

The report was completed as Network Rail is set to launch an international design competition – in collaboration with RIBA – for small to medium sized stations across the UK. The brief will call for designs that can “be integrated in smaller urban and rural contexts”. The overarching aim of the competition is “to raise design quality across its network”.

It will hopefully even out the disparity in quality for stations across the country; bigger, city-based stations tend to have better design, according to Design Council. And of Network Rail’s 2,500 stations, around 80% of them are categorised as small to medium.

Identities which “embody local character”

Workshops were divided between different themes, which take into consideration different design aspects, from stations’ identity to the inclusive nature of the locations. Most of the targeted stations are situated in suburban areas away from cities, where people are likely to be commuting from. A key consideration for the stations is that they should “understand and embody local character and heritage”.

The identities need to be “contextually responsive”, Design Council says. Workshop participants were opposed to the idea that branding should be replicated and uniform. Identities should “vary from location to location and project to project”, participants said.

This ambition will have to strike a balance with funding and a desired “modular” aspect of branding will need to be taken into account as well, so that identities can develop and adapt in the future. There is also an opportunity available that moves beyond the confines of the station; the report suggests that the stations could “enable” the local areas to “enhance their identities”.

“Cross-modal transport”

Though the report was completed before COVID-19 crisis caused a worldwide lockdown, many of the design issues are pertinent to how passengers might approach a new commute. Design Week has featured a modular train seat concept, for example, that would allow for commuters to secure their bikes as they travel.

ThinkStation focuses on this element in its drive to “support and better integrate cross modal transport” in the stations themselves. Though there are no details as to how this might be achieved, there is a focus on prioritising links with other “sustainable modes of transport at stations”.

While transport like walking and bikes were considered, the report also acknowledges that cars are a necessity and looks for an increase in car parks.

“Inclusive travel”

How stations could be designed to be more “welcoming to all passengers and users” and facilitate “inclusive travel” is another point that emerged from workshops. This could affect users not just of physical disability but “invisible” ones too, such as anxiety. Design will play an important part on this, from the way that platforms are accessed to information design. The clarity of wayfinding graphics, for example, and the role of graphic design in letting users know if their needs are catered to at each station.

A speaker at the inclusive travel workshop Hannah Barham-Brown says that inclusivity is often used interchangeably with accessibility. “Accessible should be a given,” she says, “being inclusive is the next level up.”

The design of the spaces

Moving beyond specific points of design, the report encourages a more holistic re-think about stations, or as it calls them, ‘hubs’. “There should be a clear set of standards that clarifies what passengers can expect from each type of station and route,” it says.

Involved in this category overhaul is another possiblity for the new design of stations. “The current design of stations is typically inward facing,” the report says, but these hubs could be a “continuation of the public realm, town centre and/or high street, promoting permeability”.

This will inevitably lead to wider issues around urban design, and the way in which transport systems can be integrated into them. ThinkStation’s aim is to “encourage design teams to think creatively about site layouts, building design and uses”.

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