As our roads become more congested and the green agenda encourages us out of cars and onto public transport, rail is becoming more important as a means of travel. Writes Dave Darnell, UK rail sector director, WSP Group
With the average Brit making over 140 trips per year on a train, and all of them passing through two or more railway stations, it’s not hard to see why these often iconic structures are playing an increasingly significant role, over and beyond their practical function.
Across the UK a programme of station refurbishment is underway with potential to deliver some real regeneration across many of our communities. While the required investment can be significant, there is evidence that it is a worthwhile commitment which can deliver value.
Community focal points
This is because stations no longer only provide the point of access to the rail network but are increasingly becoming community focal points by utilising space effectively with the introduction of retail outlets, leisure facilities and, by taking advantage of the inbuilt sustainable transport provision, making them ideal locations for office and residential developments, especially in city centres.
The opportunity for residential developments close to these suburban stations reduces dependence upon secondary transport provision and is becoming attractive in reducing door to door travel times.
In fact, a report released in the autumn showed that homeowners in London living along the Crossrail route are expected to enjoy a 25 per cent increase in property values as part of a £5.5 billion programme of station refurbishment and the accompanying wider commercial and residential developments which are expected to follow.
Meanwhile the £800m refurbishment of St Pancras, which re-opened in 2007 complete with upmarket shopping, regular music and drama events and the longest champagne bar in Europe, has attracted a whole new audience to the station with around 25 per cent of its visitors never going near a train.
A hive of activity
Similarly, on completion of the new London Bridge station re- development a whole new centre will evolve in the London Bridge Quarter with the transport links provided by the increased Thameslink services complementing the Shard and London Bridge House developments.
Almost 8000 square metres of retail space will be provided within the station which in itself will become a destination similar to the success of the Waterloo Station
Balcony scheme. Although several of the units are still to be occupied the balcony is a hive of activity with various coffee bars and restaurants being used for business meetings, accessing the internet whilst waiting for trains or even just for a social catch up on the way home.
Rail travel passenger journeys are increasing year on year which makes the investment in stations justifiable. The additional potential to create spin-off retail opportunities while providing an exciting and vibrant hub for the wider community makes the principle of station refurbishment an enticing and attractive proposition.