Step into the future

The German Gymnasium, situated next to the building site that is Kings Cross Station, was the ideal and very apt location for the second Future of Station Design (FoSD) conference.

Sponsored this year by Atos Origin and organised as always by Murray Media, it ran under the subtitle A further step into the future. Host Maggie Philbin and Chris Green, chairman of the FoSD steering committee, welcomed delegates and looked forward to the day’s events.

Tony Lacy from Atos Origin made the day’s first speech on technology that enables a ‘better passenger experience in the station of the future’.

His thrust was that the intelligent use of information technology improves operational efficiency, revenue generation and passenger satisfaction.

After reviewing the current use of technology in rail travel, highlighting such features as gate lines and Oyster, he looked forwards to contactless ticketing and other applications using smartphone technology.

Tony made the point that; “More children aged between two and five can use a smartphone (19%) than can tie their own shoelaces (9%)”.

While railway passengers tend to be older than that, it won’t be long before innovative web and mobile solutions can deliver smart ticketing and real-time train information.

The first of the day’s workshop sessions followed. Chaired by Eric Holland of UKTI, it considered ‘continental connections’.

Eric and his panel – Chris Cox, International Operations Manager for Codra and Gavin McMurray, Sales & Marketing Director of Merson Signs – looked at their experiences in Europe and joined with delegates in discussing what could be learned from ‘over there’.

Anthony Smith of Passenger Focus asked the question “What do passengers want at stations?”

Looking at recent satisfaction surveys, the answer seems to be accurate real-time train information (54%), staff (53%) and toilets (45%). No great surprises there. But it was interesting to discover how results varied from station to station, reflecting local issues.

When asked what would be needed to give their station a better overall score, passengers at Luton replied ‘Better general appearance/decor (67%)’; at Barking there were many more answers but the top one was ‘Improved safety and security (27%)’ whilst at Clapham Junction the leading response was ‘Address platform access and congestion on the station (28%)’. Anthony made the point that both global and local surveys have their benefits.

All things retail

Gavin McKechnie, Head of Retail for Network Rail, was first on after lunch with ‘Retail in Network Rail-managed stations’. There are 18 of these with over half-a-million square feet of retail space between them.

Over 1 billion passengers pass through every year but fewer than 5% use the shops and restaurants. To improve this performance, Gavin outlined how Network Rail plans to enhance the overall customer experience by providing an excellent environment with outstanding food and drink offers, as well as ‘leading edge retail’.

This will create a reason to dwell and make the stations destinations in themselves, as has already happened at St Pancras.

The aim is to attract both top brands and new up-and-coming names to create an eclectic mix that will appeal to their wide range of customer profiles and, at the same time, create a ‘sense of place’ by incorporating local products and/or brands to capture the spirit of the market thereabouts.

Innovative use of architecture and art will help support this while avoiding the trap of having homogeneous stations.

An absorbing workshop on retail followed. Chaired by Elaine Stewart of Atos Origin, the panel included Gavin McKechnie, Ben Whitaker, CEO of Masabi, Stephen Ames, Commercial Director of Travel Point Trading, Tony Keating, CEO of SSP, and Neil Grice of Grice Collins Long.

With much experience of retailing in stations as well as motorway service areas, discussions revolved around both the type of retailing that is suitable for stations and the commercial contracts that should apply, particularly turnover-based rents.

The passenger experience

Julian Maynard, Principal Designer, Crossrail Architectural Components, gave a stirring presentation on ‘the passenger experience’.

He looked at the different types of passengers who use the network, from season ticket holders who travel every day to tourists who may even be new to our language and customs; not forgetting families with small children and the disabled or sight-impaired.

Stations need to provide a straightforward way for all these passenger types to catch a train and they need to do it in pleasant and comfortable surroundings.

Julian estimated that “by 2015, 1 in 8 mobile users worldwide will either buy transport or entertainment tickets on their mobile or will have them delivered to their phones”.

He finished by looking at proposed designs for Crossrail stations and how they will improve the travelling experience for millions of passengers a year.

The last workshop of the day, on station design, was hosted by Julian. His panel included Hiro Aso, Director of Transport and Infrastructure for John McAslan + Partners, David Watts, Managing Director of CCD Design & Ergonomics, and David Hunter, Regional Director of Atkins.

The panel discussed the challenges facing architects and designers in creating the stations of the future and how advancements in construction techniques can assist them. Modular stations formed part of the discussion, as did separating passenger ‘holding areas’ from the platforms themselves.

Staying with the theme of ticketing and ticketless systems, Shashi Verma, Director of Fares and Ticketing for TfL, gave the audience a guided tour through the history of ticket offices and automatic ticketing machines.

From the early days of manned ticket offices, through the introduction of the first coin-operated machines and onto the new Crossrail stations which will be completely unmanned, it was a fascinating journey and very well presented.

Best in show

During the breaks between speeches and workshops, there was plenty of time for delegates to look around the exhibition.

Merson Signs had a variety of wayfinding solutions to see. Two machines from AMT Coffee kept everyone topped up with caffeine while Genwork showed off its novel cycle lockers that can easily be installed at any station. Fortunately, no delegates managed to get themselves locked up although a few were seen to try!

Atos Origin was showing its intelligent software systems in conjunction with customer Red Spotted Hanky; they also had a major display on the ground floor. Software systems specialists Codra were there too with a display as were UKTI and CCD Design & Ergonomics.

At the end of the day it was time for the FoSD Awards, sponsored by Merson Signs. Hosted once again by Maggie Philbin who had been keeping delegates informed of her FoSD Twitter campaign all day, awards were made to companies and individuals who had excelled in innovation.

The award for ‘Innovation in Design’ went to Jonathan Hodges of Jason Bruges Studios. For ‘Innovation in Engineering’, the award was presented by the rail engineer to Mervyn George of AATi, who make all the non-slip metal edges for steps on London Underground and elsewhere.

Neil Monnery of WH Smith won the award for ‘Innovation in Station Retail’, Red Spotted Hanky were ‘Best In Conference’, and the overall ‘Outstanding Achievement Award in Station Design and Construction’ was presented to a delighted Hiro Aso of John McAslan + Partners.

At the end of the day, delegates could relax at a short drinks reception. They were very up-beat about the programme.

“An excellent opportunity to meet large number of people, sharing ideas and listening to inspirational speakers” was the opinion of Lorraine Organ from Chiltern Railways.

Craig Tucker of TfL found the day to be “An extremely valuable opportunity to analyse a better infrastructure” while John Russell from Royal Haskoning praised the “Excellent range of speakers and topics at an extremely well organised and delivered event.”

Look out for FoSD3 next year.