Creating successful stations and maximising surrounding development opportunities

Source: RTM Jun/Jul 17

Norrie Courts, stations director at Network Rail, discusses the future vision for stations and the need to include sustainable design.

Rail travel in Britain is more popular than ever. In 2016 there were approximately 1.6 billion rail passenger journeys and that number is expected to double in the next 25 years. 

As a consequence, stations – large and small – and their surrounding areas are increasingly becoming the hubs of modern communities. They are gradually being recognised as places where people can travel, live, work and play and at the same time provide the catalyst for further regeneration and economic growth in our towns and cities. 

As the rates of urbanisation continue and Britain’s population increases, this trend is only going to grow, and the rail industry needs to work with other stakeholders to address this societal shift and focus on the opportunities stations present to ensure Britain’s future prosperity.  

Network Rail and stations 

In Britain, there are over 2,500 railway stations owned by Network Rail and managed by TOCs. Network Rail itself manages 18 of the biggest and busiest stations which welcome around 50% of total passenger numbers each year. This increase in numbers presents a series of opportunities and challenges when we look at station capacity and development in the short, medium and long term. 

We want to create managed stations that are safe, fit for operational requirements, and also allow for a great customer experience. At Network Rail safety is at the heart of everything we do, and as we approach these projects we always give primary concern to the safety of the public, our passengers and staff. 

Network Rail, its stakeholders and partners use a variety of funding sources to ensure that managed stations across the country are upgraded to meet operational needs, customer expectations and support regeneration in surrounding communities. St Pancras, King’s Cross, Reading and Birmingham New Street are just a few recent examples of what can be achieved by working together to deliver great stations and provide the catalyst for housing development, economic growth and new places for businesses and communities to thrive.  

The TOCs have also been doing great work at their stations in places like Newcastle, Dundee and Newport in Wales. The joint focus and efforts have led to improved customer satisfaction for rail stations, big and small. 

Inside King's Cross, The Railway edit

A master planning approach 

Despite these excellent results, we are not complacent and know we need to keep investing in stations to ensure they are fit for the future. 

The 18 Network Rail-managed stations are unique in terms of their development constraints, including heritage, busy urban locations and restricted footprints. Each one can also be operating circa 18 hours a day – so there isn’t a large window to deliver substantial change.  

We want to think about stations and their surroundings in their entirety, with stations acting as an unlocker, not a blocker, for the surrounding area. That’s why a master planning approach is so critical. 

Master plans are developed based on the required success factors for each location. Every issue is considered, from safety, planning constraints and stakeholder views, to access, connectivity, and socio-economic benefits. Stations need to remain operational with minimal disruption, so careful planning is required for works to happen in ‘quiet times’. The redevelopment project at London Bridge is an amazing feat of engineering considering the station has remained open throughout. The transformation of the old station into a gleaming, expansive, well-connected railway interchange will transform the customer experience and has already promoted a wave of regeneration in the surrounding area. 

Focusing on the customer 

The rail industry is focused on putting customers at the heart of everything we do. We all understand that first and foremost, stations need to be safe places that can accommodate longer trains and more passenger numbers, but we cannot ignore that customers want and expect so much more. Unsurprisingly, future funding is the big challenge with many different demands across the rail network. The routes have the massive challenge of maintaining and upgrading an extensive network that is only getting busier. The agreed industry vision for stations is the backbone for future thinking and it must include sustainable design. 

In addition, big-picture development thinking is required to ensure we maximise the station commercial and regeneration potential at the same time as delivering operational improvements. 

Catalyst for housing and regeneration 

Housing will continue to be a very big challenge for the new government. By the end of 2017, every council will have to produce a Brown Land Register which may bring forward sites previously deemed borderline for residential development. Network Rail Property has always sought to deliver new housing across the country whether alone or working in joint ventures with Kier, Capco, Ballymore or Bloc. Network Rail has a plan in place to deliver land for around 12,000 homes by 2020.

Successful housing schemes have been delivered at many locations including Hounslow, Epsom and West Hampstead, but we want to do more. A team has been set up alongside the existing development team to focus purely on new housing. They are working with developers, landowners, councils, LEPs, BID groups, the HCA and others to bring forward market viable residential sites.

Network Rail is always open to new station investment ideas and development opportunities around the stations. We are keen to work in partnership with TOCs and a wide range of third parties to bring forward joined-up funding strategies to deliver investment that improves stations, but which also helps deliver other third-party objectives. We are always open for new business and want to work together so do get in touch for future joint investment opportunities.




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