Railways – the regeneration vehicle

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Apr/May 2014

Julie Carrier, head of rail at engineering consultancy WSP UK, explores the shape of London’s rail infrastructure, and the changes to come. 

London is a city in boom. People are flocking to our capital city at a rate never previously seen to be part of the action. Clusters of like-minded professionals are forming around the city centre and extended suburbs, where ideas and creativity are being allowed to flourish, deals are done and the future is shaped.

Economists term this agglomeration. There are going to be one million more residents in London by 2020, according to the mayor. WSP research has found we will need the equivalent of 30 new Shards per year to meet this housing demand. London must find a creative and sustainable way to respond to this increased demand.

The solution many people choose instead is commuting, and this trend will only increase. On a typical weekday in autumn 2012, 536,000 passengers arrived into central London by rail during the morning peak and 981,000 across the whole day. Over the next 30 years commuter demand is expected to double on longer distance services into London.

The challenge is to create a world-class transport network to facilitate safe, reliable and affordable commuting. Thankfully this is well under way with the construction of the ‘mega’ schemes Crossrail and Thameslink.

Looking forward, the Northern Line will be extended to the huge Battersea/Nine Elms development, and there is increasing public support for Crossrail 2, connecting Wimbledon to gentrified Hackney. Rail is the regeneration vehicle behind the mayor’s vision.


Europe’s largest infrastructure project, Crossrail stretches from Reading and Heathrow in the west, across to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, covering over 100km of track including 21km of new twin-bore rail tunnels and nine new stations. The scheme, crucially, links Heathrow with Paddington, the West End, the City and Canary Wharf, reducing journey times, easing congestion and improving connections.

It will increase the capacity of the capital’s rail network by 10%; up to 24 trains per hour will operate in the central section
between Paddington and Whitechapel during peak periods, with each train able to carry 1,500 passengers. An estimated 200 million people will travel on Crossrail each year, with many of these passengers coming from roads to the more environmentally sustainable form of rail transport. The scheme has brought employment opportunities and been a catalyst for regeneration. The wider economic benefits are estimated at £42bn for UK GDP.

Improved connectivity will be achieved at 40 existing stations and new stations are being constructed.

In particular, WSP has been closely involved in the scheme, working on state of the art stations at Bond Street (below) and Tottenham Court Road.

Crossrail has revolutionised the way we perceive the functionality of a station and provided a glimpse of the possibilities for the future of rail travel for discerning commuters. Consideration of optimising retail and commercial space has become as significant an influence on design as the movement of passengers with floor plate values significantly increasing around major transport hubs. In the Bond Street area, forecasters predict an increase in the value of office space from £500/sq m in 2011 to £800/sq m by 2020. Interestingly, expertise gained on these pioneering stations has become sought after internationally, with WSP’s colleagues in Canada and the Middle East keen to deploy London-trained engineers on their own mega schemes.


The £6.5bn Thameslink Programme is a series of improvements to north-south travel through London that, on completion in 2018, will provide improved journey times on spacious, new, purpose built trains that run every two to three minutes through central London at peak times.

Similarly to Crossrail, the scheme is all about providing improved connectivity to existing stations, better reliability through more efficient track layouts, and increased travel options for commuters. The scheme is a response to the predicted rise in passenger demand, to ease current congestion in places like the central sections of the Northern Line, and to attract more customers to rail travel.

Farringdon Interchange

The area that will benefit the most in economic terms from investment in these mega rail schemes is historic Farringdon. The hub (pictured overleaf) will become the only station from which passengers will be able to access Crossrail, Thameslink and the Underground, and will ultimately have 140 trains per hour passing through it, becoming one of Britain’s busiest train stations. It will be a key link in bringing passengers from outer London to the business hubs in the City and Canary Wharf, providing direct access to three of London’s five airports.

This will be a catalyst for regeneration, with Farringdon expected to transform from a hub to a destination in its own right. Infrastructure investment will both re-energise the traditional industries, including the Hatton Garden Jewellers and Smithfield Market, and attract new business to the area. Figures published in 2011 suggested that property prices in the Farringdon area could rise from £850 sq ft to a forecast value of £1,300 sq ft by 2016.

The changing face of a railway station

The London Bridge quarter, like Farringdon, is benefitting from significantly improved infrastructure. WSP is part of a hugely successful team delivering perhaps the most iconic station transformation in the capital, providing innovative and cost-effective engineering whilst keeping trains running. The first stage of nine was opened on programme in April. The station has achieved the highest CEEQUAL rating for a UK station to date. More space is crucial, and the concourse will be bigger than the pitch at Wembley.

The redevelopment of the station, construction of the Shard and nearby Place, and creation of retail space is evidence that a station is no longer just somewhere one would go to buy a train ticket. Retail and convenience is an increasingly important part of a passenger’s commute. London Bridge is also an example of how infrastructure investment drives regeneration; what was once a rather grotty corner of London is now a vibrant, glossy place to shop, dine and enjoy city living.

A new rail centre

With the proposed construction of a new high speed station at Old Oak Common, which would also serve the Crossrail route, Old Oak Common becomes a very interesting rail interchange. Add in that the location also interfaces with two Overground lines (the North London Line and West London Line), and this humble location will become the centre of the British rail universe!

Proposals are being considered to create the facility for Overground services to stop at Old Oak Common, which would make it an extremely desirable location. Farrells architects have been working on a vision for what they describe as an integrated Crossrail/High Speed Rail ‘super hub’ interchange. It is believed that this could be on the scale of Stratford or Canary Wharf, accommodating over 500 hectares of west London, given the unprecedented level of connectivity that proposed infrastructure links would provide. Farrells’ study concludes that the ‘super hub’ interchange will become a powerful driver for growth and regeneration – the vision could generate an estimated 12,000 homes, 115,000 jobs, a new waterside park along the Grand Union Canal and a rapid transit system.

An exciting future

It is an exciting time for London, Londoners and anyone lucky enough to be involved in shaping the future of our capital city and its transport networks. Will these and future rail schemes such as Crossrail 2 and HS2 be enough to keep pace with the demands
of the discerning commuter? I believe so, and feel passionately that the best cities in the world rely on modern, reliable, sustainable modes of transport as we move in to the future – the pioneering engineers who invented railways are ready to take us on a journey into a new age of technology, possibility and regeneration.

However, engineering – and particularly railway engineering – has an image problem. We are not attracting enough new skilled engineers to the profession. One of the huge benefits that many people consider HS2 to bring is the creation of the high speed college – a dedicated elite academy that will train 2000 people per year in the highly sought after skills of railway engineering and related professions. These skills are highly regarded worldwide and will place Britain at the forefront of railway technology and engineering.

WSP and others are working with industry bodies and charities to raise the profile of our profession across a spectrum of activities, from encouraging junior school children to take an interest in engineering to offering apprenticeships and collaborating to develop pan-industry training modules in critical skills areas. Einstein said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

I firmly believe this is something we must do now to inspire the great problem solvers of the future; otherwise the next generation of infrastructure plans are at risk of remaining just a vision, and the great progress being made in London will suffer.

(Image: Crossrail Ltd & Absolute Photography)

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