Rail has long been at the heart of UK transport infrastructure and by the time the first HS2 service comes into operation it will have been over 200 years since the first public railway opened in Britain. High Speed Rail however offers the opportunity to completely rethink station design in the UK, both in terms of customer experience and urban context.
With trains up to 400m long the conventional approach of walking the length of the train from one end no longer seems appropriate. Furthermore trains of this length will only exacerbate the challenges many large stations have faced in integrating themselves with the fabric of the city.
It is these fundamental design challenges that mean HS2 stations could present a paradigm shift in station design in the UK. However the station should not be thought of in isolation from the system itself and the best in British design should be applied to true end-to-end thinking. This means designing the experience from the moment the decision to make a journey is made. Buying tickets, allocating seating, getting to the station, your carriage and your seat and onward travel arrangements to your final destination should be intuitive, convenient and pleasurable.
Innovative technology will play an important part in the intermodal connectivity of HS2 stations and a flexible and adaptable approach will be fundamental to accommodating future developments in autonomous and self-driving vehicles.
Much like the ubiquitous technology enabled digital networks which now surround us, the key to approaching HS2 station design may reside in decentralisation. Through approaching the high speed trains from above (as in our Old Oak Common HS2 proposals) or from below, a number of vertical circulation cores could be distributed along the length of the train getting passengers as close to their allocated seat as possible without having to walk the length of the platform. The customer is then freed to spend their time in an environment which no longer has to address the functional and safety requirements imposed by sharing a space with trains and the station can become an extension of the city and a destination in itself. Innovative lift-centric solutions could improve efficiency and remove the safety issues associated with escalator use and cater for changing demographics and passengers with large amounts of luggage. Biometric technologies could rethink the traditional gate line and further enhance the passenger experience.
In order to deliver the sort of innovative design thinking described above there will need to be a move away from siloed thinking to emphasising the big picture. This sort of approach was proved highly successful at our Paddington Integration Project where a number of different clients were brought together as a single client board to rethink the project brief allowing the delivery of a fully integrated solution which met the immediate needs of all while enabling the future integration of Crossrail and over site commercial development.
Hand-in-hand with innovative approaches in design thinking will be the tools used to deliver the projects themselves. HS2 provides the opportunity for the UK to further cement its position as one of the world leaders in BIM, reaping the benefits and efficiencies both in the design and construction stages as well as the ongoing operation and maintenance of the stations.