Railway Station Design
There was a time (in the UK at least) when the word "station" would only ever be taken to refer to a railway station. For some reason, nowadays people insist on referring to a station as a "train station", as if there was any other sort of station. Whatever it is called, the station can often be a neglected part of the railway scene but they are the usually first point of contact the passenger has with the system and they ought to be well designed and pleasing to look at. This page offers some insights into the design of stations and show some examples of how they have evolved.
Background - Station and Crossing Safety - Platforms - Platform Screens and Doors - Entrances and Exits - Passenger Information - Toilets - Concessions - Station Design - Side Platform Station - Island Platform Station - Elevated Station with Side Platforms - Elevated Station with Ticket Hall Below Platforms - Lifts and Escalators.
Stations are the places where trains stop to collect and deposit passengers. Since the station is the first point of contact most passengers have with the railway, it should be regarded as the "shop window" for the services provided. It should therefore be well designed, pleasing to the eye (photo left), comfortable and convenient for the passenger as well as efficient in layout and operation. Stations must be properly managed and maintained and must be operated safely.
Station and Crossing Safety
There are two differing views about passenger safety at stations which have dictated station design for the last 150 years or more. For most of the world, it has been assumed that passengers (and other members of the public) will take care of their own safety when walking on or near a railway. Because of this, it is not considered necessary to segregate passengers from trains. Passengers will look out for passing trains when crossing tracks and will take care not to leave luggage, children, cars or anything else which could damage or be damaged by a train. Station design has reflected this so that platforms were often not raised very much above rail level. Passengers were forced to climb up to trains, usually with the help of a plentiful staff and portable steps carried on vehicles. Passengers were free to wander across tracks, usually at walkways specially provided for them and any road vehicles which needed to cross the line. Railways were not fenced. Only at terminals and very busy stations was any attempt at segregation made.
In the UK, railways were always fenced and passengers and the public were invariably kept away from the tracks as far as possible. Platforms were built to a level which allowed a reasonable step up into a train without help and bridges or underground passages (called "subways" in the UK) were provided to allow people to cross the line unhindered by the movement of trains. The high platform also permitted quicker loading and inloading of trains.
In the US, the rise in the popularity and numbers of automobiles was matched by a decline in the use of railroads. The decline in the use of railroads meant there was also a decline in the awareness of the public of the nature of railroads or of the power and speed of trains and the distances they required to stop. The result has been an increase in the number of crossing accidents, where cars or trucks have been hit by trains. There have also been incidents where passengers have been struck by passing trains while crossing the tracks to reach a station exit.
The term platform is worth explaining. In the US, the position of a train in a station is referred to as the "track", as in "The train for San Diego is on Track 9". This is very logical as the raised portion of the ground next to the track is actually the platform and may well be used by passengers boarding a train on a track along the opposite edge of the platform. For this reason, the British way of referring to the "Train at Platform 4", referring to the platform "face", sometimes confuses foreign visitors, who see two trains, one on each side of the platform.
It is a feature of station design in the UK and railways designed to UK standards, that platforms are built to the height of the train floor, or close to it. This is now also adopted as standard on metro railways throughout the world. The rest of the world has generally had a train/station interface designed on the basis that the passengers step up into the train from a low level platform or even straight off the ground. To this end, passenger vehicles were usually designed with end entrances, having the floor narrower then the rest of the car body so that a set of steps could be fitted to either side of the entrance gangway. However, high platforms are now seen in many countries around the world.
Platform width is also an important feature of station design. The width must be sufficient to accommodate the largest numbers of passengers expected but must not be wasteful of space - always at a premium for station areas in expensive land districts of a city. The platform should be designed to give free visual areas along its length so that passengers can read signs and staff can ensure safety when dispatching trains. Columns supporting structures (photo) can often seriously affect the operation of a station by reducing circulating areas and passenger flows at busy times. Platform edges should be straight to assist operations by allowing clear sight lines.
Platform Screens and Doors
There has been a trend recently in modern
metro systems towards incorporating glazed screens along platform edges (photo left). This is
only possible where sliding powered doors are available on trains and where the location
of these doors is always consistent, which is why screen doors do not appear on main line
railways. There are a number of interesting points to remember when considering
platform screen doors.
Platform screen doors (sometimes called "platform edge doors") were first introduced in St Petersburg (then Leningrad) on the metro to reduce heat losses on station platforms of underground stations. They were also fitted to the Lille VAL driverless system but, in this case, as a way of preventing passengers from getting onto the line where there were no drivers to stop the train. It too allowed a better degree of climate control within stations. Climate control was also the reason why doors were introduced for underground stations in Singapore when its metro system was started in 1989.
On most lines equipped with platform screen doors, the space between the sliding doors has emergency doors that can be pushed open onto the platform, so if the train stops out of position, there is still emergency access to the platform. There are also local station door controls provided at the platform ends , in case the automatic system fails.
London Underground has introduced doors on the underground platforms of its new Jubilee Line extension. These are more for safety reasons, since the suicide rate in London has gone as high as 150 attempts in some years. At somewhere around USD 1.5 million a platform, these doors are not cheap but the savings in passenger time due to prevention of delays quickly justifies the expense on a socio-economic level, even if you choose to ignore the savings in human life. Here is a photo of the doors at the new Canary Wharf station (Jubilee Line) in London. Click on the image for the full size view.
Against the provision of platform doors must be the cost of maintenance. Train doors account for more than half the rolling stock failures of most metro and suburban railways and the same sort of designs are used for platform doors. Any system which uses such doors must ensure that adequate provision for maintenance is made and that any savings in heating or ventilation costs is not outweighed by failures.
In Lyons, France, the MAGGALY driverless automatic metro Line D has no platform screen doors. Instead the platfrom track areas are equipped with a network of electronic detector beams which trigger the train stop commands if a beam is broken. When it was first installed, there were so many false alarms that now, an alarm to the control centre allows the operating staff to observe the area through CCTV before confirming the stop command.
Entrances and Exits
Station entrances and exits must be designed
to allow for the numbers of passengers passing through them, both under normal and
emergency conditions. Specific emergency exit requirements are outlined in many
countries as part of safety legislation or to standards set down by the railways or other
organisations. The codes in NFPA 130 (the US standard for their transit industry)
are one such instance. These codes usually define the exit flows and the types of
exits allowed for, e.g. the different rates for passages, stairways and escalators.
Whatever the codes define, the entrances to a station must be welcoming to the prospective passenger. Stations must also have sufficient entrances to cater for the different sides of the railway route but the number must also take into account the cost effectiveness of each entrance. The cost of staffing ticket offices can be very considerable and the numbers of ticket offices must be managed to suit the patronage offering.
Consideration must be paid to issues like which way doors open. On the Paris Metro in 1918, a crown panicked near Bolivar station during an air raid on the city and 66 people were killed in a crush trying to get into the station for shelter. The obstacle that triggered the crush was a set of doors that only opened outwards -- normally the right direction for safety, but not when the crowd is trying to rush in! Subsequently it became Metro policy that all doors had to open both ways.
Information systems (photo left) on stations are variously
referred to as a Passenger Information System (sometimes referred to as PIS) or Passenger
Information Display (PID). Professional railway staff often refer to them as Train
Describers. Whatever it is called, there must be a reliable way of informing the
passengers where the trains are going. Passenger information systems are essential
for any railway. One of the most common complaints by passengers on railways is the
lack of up to date and accurate information. When asking the staff for information,
passengers expect an accurate and courteous response with the latest data. There is
nothing worse than the "your guess is as good as mine" response when a member of
staff is asked what is happening when a train is delayed or has not appeared on
time. This means that staff must have access to the latest information and they
must be trained to use it properly and to pass it on to passengers.
Information displays mounted in public areas must be visible in all weather conditions (noting that some electronic displays are very difficult to see in sunlight conditions) and be updated regularly with accurate information. There are two types of information - constant and instant. Constant information can be described as that which describes the services and fares available and which changes only a few times a year or less. This information can be displayed on posters and fixed notices. There also might be special offers which can be posted from time to time. Instant information is that which changes daily or minute by minute. This is better displayed electronically or mechanically - both systems can be seen around the world.
For instant systems, it can be assumed that passengers require to know:
The time now
The destination and expected time of arrival of the next train
The stations served by this train
Major connections requiring boarding of this train
The position of their car - if travelling with a reserved place
Where the train will stop - for variable length trains
Other destinations served from this station and from which platform
A good example of passenger information displays can be seen on some Paris (France) RER stations. A large illuminated board is hung over the platform and all the stations served by the train approaching are shown by lamps lit next to the station name. The time now and the train length is also shown. Although the system is not now modern, it is very effective.
There are some information systems appearing with advertising in some form or other. This is a useful source of revenue or sponsorship but it must not be allowed to detract from the main aim of providing the passenger with train service information.
Some modernised lines are nowadays provided with bi-directional signalling. This allows trains to travel along either line at normal speeds and be fully under the control of fixed signals. This is a useful facility to have when engineering works have made one track unusable. Trains operating in either direction will then use the other track(s). For passenger information purposes, bi-directional signalling makes it necessary to have good and easily variable passenger information displays.
For a long time the provision of toilets on railway premises has been the subject of criticism and debate, both in the industry and amongst passengers. Passengers expect to be provided with facilities and complain loudly when they are not. On the other hand, public toilets are regularly abused and vandalised in many countries and railway administrations end up paying large amounts to maintain and repair them. They can also often be used for illegal activities, such as drug related offences, sexual activities and for robberies. Some railways, especially those in big cities, have, for many years, tried to close most of station toilets because of the cost of keeping them in a reasonable condition and because of the difficulties in policing them. The result has been an increase in the number of passengers relieving themselves in the public and sometimes in the prohibited areas of the railway, including cases where they have wandered onto the track and got themselves killed by passing trains. At the very least, these activities cause an odour and health risk nuisance.
Any railway operators responsible for stations will have to decide whether they are prepared to pay for the installation of toilets and, if they do so decide, they must be prepared for the management and maintenance of such facilities. Nowadays, it is considered good marketing to provide good restroom, baby changing and toilet facilities. They will not be cheap to provide and they will require regular inspections to ensure the safety and cleanliness of the premises. In spite of all the difficulties, toilets must be considered a requirement, if for no other reason than the public expect them. If they are installed, they must be designed to a high standard and then kept spotlessly clean throughout the day.
Concessions on railway premises can be a lucrative source of income for a railway and the opportunity to provide for them should be taken wherever possible. The normal types of concessions are coffee shops, refreshment counters and small lunch rooms, plus pharmacies, dry cleaners, newspaper shops and flower shops. Some larger stations are able to provide space for so many shops that they are almost shopping malls in their own right. This is good for the railway, since it attracts customers and it provides a sense of community which would otherwise be lacking. There should, however, be limits as to what can be done and proper design in the first place and subsequent good estate management are both required to permit railway operations to continue unhindered and with safety.
Shops should not be allowed to sell dangerous goods and may be restricted in the sale of tobacco products if the railway has a no smoking policy. Some operators have excluded the sale of food within their property because they have a no eating/drinking policy. Other railways regard food/beverage sales as an important part of the marketing strategy and positively encourage restaurants to take leases on stations. Food outlets must not be allowed to generate a rubbish or vermin problem.
At least, operators must prevent shops from allowing passages to become obstructed with sales equipment and they must ensure that they conform to the railway's safety requirements in cooking and similar activities. Leases for shops should detail all the exclusions required and lay out clearly the safety, evacuation and training requirements for shop staff.
The design of stations has developed over the years as the use of railways has first expanded and latterly declined. A new form of station design has also evolved with the introduction of metros and high capacity urban railways. A number of different types of station design are shown below and the advantages and disadvantages of each are discussed.
On a railway which requires passengers to be in possession of a valid ticket or "authority to travel" whilst on the property, the station area is divided into an "unpaid area" and a "paid area", to denote the parts where passengers should be in possession of a valid ticket. Of course, there are now many railway operators who have "open stations", which allow passenger to wander at will without a ticket. In these circumstances, in addition to a ticket office or ticket selling machines, tickets can be purchased on the train.
Side Platform Station
The basic station design used for a double track railway line has two platforms, one for each direction of travel. The series of examples in the following diagrams shows stations with right hand running as common in Europe and the Americas. Each platform has a ticket office and other passenger facilities such as toilets and perhaps a refreshment or other concession. Where there is a high frequency service or for designs with high platforms, the two platforms are usually connected by a footbridge. In the case of a station where tickets are required to allow passengers to reach the platform, a "barrier" or, in the case of a metro with automatic fare collection, a "gate line", is provided to divide the "paid area" and "unpaid area".
This design allows equal access for passengers approaching from either side of the station but it does require the provision of two ticket offices and therefore staffing for both of them. Sometimes, stations with two ticket offices will man only one full time. The other will be manned as required at peak times.
Island Platform Station
A cheaper form of station construction, at least for a railway at grade level, is the island platform. As its name suggests, this is a single platform serving two tracks passing on either side, effectively creating an island which can only be accessed by crossing a track. A bridge or underpass is usually provided. Island platforms are usually wider than single platforms used for side platform stations but they still require less area. In the example shown above, there are two ticket offices, but one can be provided if preferred. Island platforms on elevated railways do require additional construction of the viaduct structure (usually adding considerably to the costs) to accommodate the curves in the tracks needed to separate them on the approach to the platform.
Elevated Station with Side Platforms
Elevated railways are still popular in cities, despite their history of noise creation and generally unfriendly environmental image. The poor image has been considerably reduced with modern techniques of sound reduction and the use of reinforced and pre-stressed concrete structures. They are considerably cheaper than underground railways (at least half the price, sometimes considerably less than that) and can be operated with reduced risk of safety and evacuation problems. Modern elevated railways have been built in such cities as Miami, Bangkok, Manila and Singapore.
Elevated Station with Ticket Hall Below Platforms
In the example illustrated immediately above, the ticket office and gate lines are below the platform level. This can be done to allow one ticket office to serve both platforms but it requires the space to be available below track level and this, in turn, requires enough height in the structure. Since many stations are built at road intersections, the location of the station structure might have to permit road traffic to pass beneath it and this requires an adequate height structure to be built. It is sometimes better to position the structure to one side of the road intersection to allow room below for the ticket office.
Lifts and Escalators
Vertical transportation at stations in city environments and on urban railways is almost as important as the horizontal transportation provided by the trains. Any station not easily accessible on the surface and which requires stairs, will nowadays, require lifts for the disabled. Stations with a height difference between levels of more than 4 to 5 metres (13-18 feet) will probably need escalators as well - certainly in the up direction. Escalators are expensive, so the number of passengers using the facility must be at a sufficient level to make them worthwhile. Both lifts and escalators are high cost maintenance items and need to be kept in good condition. They require mandatory regular safety inspections.
The siting of lifts and escalators is important. Passengers have to queue to board them so there must be space at the boarding point to accommodate a large number of people at busy times. Such areas must be kept free of obstructions and not be too close to platform edges. The number of stairways and escalators must be sufficient to allow a trainload of alighting passengers to clear a platform before the next trainload arrives. This may seem obvious, but it isn't always done. Most countries require an evacuation standard to be applied to the number and location of stairs and escalators. This enables the station to be cleared safely in the minimum time.
One other point to note. Escalators in the railway environment usually get a lot more use than those you see in department stores. A railway which buys a standard department store design escalator may find it will quickly wear out and will need constant repairs. A more robust design may be a better life cycle cost solution.
Examples of Good Station Design Features
Click on a photo to see the full size picture and its description.