Conference considers rail stations of the future

3 min read

While the design of trains has come a long way since the steam locomotive, there has been little focus on making stations more technologically advanced and environmentally friendly.

So argue the organisers of The Future of Station Design conference, which will be held on 29 April at the Transport Museum, Covent Garden, London. Industry leaders and engineers will here proffer their ideas on developing more modern station designs that integrate renewable energy technology such as solar panels.

Phil Hardy, business development manager of power conversion system supplier Eltek Valere, said the London Crossrail project currently underway presents a huge opportunity for more futuristic station redesigns.

The Crossrail line will connect the Great Western Main Line near Paddington to the Great Eastern Main Line near Stratford with a new set of east-west tunnels under central London. Most of the stations along the route will need to be fitted with extended platforms to meet an expected increase in passengers. There are also plans to completely rebuild many stations.

Hardy said station developers should look no further for design inspiration than Blackfriars. The mainline and underground station has been undergoing major renovations since early 2009. According to Transport For London the redevelopment should be completed by late 2011.

Hardy added that some of the ‘green’ changes being made to the station include the incorporation of photovoltaic panels over the mainline platform’s sawtooth roof and solar water heating.

‘Stations require a degree of power and I don’t for one minute say the whole station should be supplied by solar power but its addition would help,’ he said.

One of the areas where solar power could make a difference is uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), said Chris Williams-Lilley, an organiser of The Future of Station Design conference and sales manager for Emergency Power Systems.*

‘Most UPS fitted at our stations are valve-regulated lead acid batteries, with a standby duty of one to three hours, or 12 on the East London Line stations,’ he added. ‘There is a lot of scope to look at photovoltaics and alternative green technology to recharge these systems more effectively.’

Williams-Lilley said ‘greener’ back-up power supplies will only be plausible if stations dramatically cut their energy consumption. He provided estimates showing the power consumption of a typical station such as Shepherd’s Bush consumes a constant load of 200kW for critical supplies for communications, ticket hall, lighting, CCTV and lifts. Non-essential supplies, such as general lighting and comfort cooling, he said, can add a constant load of 300kW.

He added: ‘With thousands of commuters using our city stations every day, there is a real need for engineers and designers to see where power can be used more efficiently and economically.

’If you consider the wasted energy through heat losses on equipment and huge costs associated with cooling our stations equipment… there must be benefits in looking at new emerging green technologies.’

Network Rail, which owns and operates Britain’s rail infrastructure, including most London terminals and regional stations, claims to have taken energy efficiency into serious consideration over the last several years.

According to spokesman Chris Mitchell, the operator has carried energy audits of all its managed stations and will be developing programmes to deliver a 20 per cent reduction in its carbon impact use by the end of March 2014.

Network Rail and the Carbon Trust are currently reviewing development plans for Edinburgh Waverley, King’s Cross and Birmingham New Street.

Mitchell said there are plans in the pipeline for ‘green’ improvements on other stations such as at Farringdon, where Network Rail is considering the installation of brown roofs, which are covered with vegetation and a rainwater harvesting system.

Environmental initiatives have also been recently taken up by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), which recently published initial results of research conducted through its Sustainable Rail Programme (SRP).

The programme is currently reviewing the possibility of carbon-neutral stations along the Bittern Line in East Anglia and the feasibility of a new ‘eco station’ at Accrington, Lancashire. 

As detailed in its case study, the RSSB has suggested rebuilding Accrington station to showcase how future stations could be constructed with more sustainable materials, energy-efficient designs and renewable power.

Some of the suggestions in the case study include installing a Proven Energy 3.5m diameter 2.5Kw turbine mounted on an 11m column outside the station. It is estimated this would produce 1,700kWh of energy per year. The RSSB claims the inclusion of a wind turbine such as this would provide 10 per cent of the internal energy requirement for electrical services.

Hardy views these sorts of efforts as a good start, but said there is still a way to go before energy efficiency is as commonly considered for stations as they are for transport systems.

‘Efficiency of stations has been traditionally looked at just getting people through the gates and onto the trains,’ he added. ‘We are looking at efficiency from a different angle: how can we make more efficient use of power in our stations?’

*While Chris Williams-Lilley established the Future of Station Design Conference, he has since completed duties as an organiser of the event.