Beyond transport: Modern train stations on the right track

 —  Article by Natasha Stokes
Kings Cross railway station in the UK
Image credit: Shutterstock

Across the UK, major train stations are evolving into lifestyle hubs as developers focus on improving facilities, maximizing space and enhancing surrounding areas.

Above the restored Victorian facade of London King’s Cross is a vast glass roof, creating a light-effused space with a mezzanine of eateries and shops far above the bustle of commuters. At Birmingham New Station, an extensive redevelopment led to the installation of a glass-topped atrium and a refurbished shopping centre with a 250,000 square foot John Lewis flagship, making over a once-cramped terminus into a retail destination.

“A successful train station development can be transformative – it becomes more than a place people pass through and becomes a place that people enjoy spending time in even when it’s not their end destination,” says Charles Pinchbeck, Director at JLL.

What a train station needs

 Major renovations to a string of commuter hubs such as King’s Cross, New Station and London St Pancras have replaced convenience-first food and drink outlets with contemporary boutiques, high-quality grab-and-go options, and upmarket pubs and cafes.

“The traveller experience becomes very positive, especially for long-distance trips where people often arrive with more time before departure,” Pinchbeck says.

Modernised interior design, meanwhile, has introduced open spaces to better facilitate the flow of tens of thousands of passengers a day as well as shoppers and diners.

An overhaul of Manchester Victoria station, for example, installed a transparent “bubble” roof for an enhanced sense of space, a mezzanine level for shops and cafes, as well as four new tram platforms and three new tracks that will see passenger numbers increase from 20,000 to 40,000 a day.

“The quality of the environment is a crucial feature if a train station is to successfully attract people for different reasons throughout the day,” Pinchbeck says. “You want to not only streamline the journey for travellers, but curate a mix of retail and food and beverage that is relevant to the people working and living in the area.”

Across Network Rail stations, retail revenue rose by a third following the redevelopment of its major transport hubs, with King’s Cross station increasing its retail sales by 130 percent.

“A huge impetus for investing in redevelopment has been to generate revenue to fund the upgrade and modernisation of train stations, especially in light of diminished government funding,” says Pinchbeck.

Some stations feature click-to-collect facilities, such as St Pancras’ John Lewis outlet, while others, such as London Liverpool Street, have bicycle lock-ups, with smaller stations including Richmond and Taunton offering cycle repair.

“There is an opportunity to enhance the interchanges at train stations, whether that’s for people reaching the station by bicycle, or for commuters switching rail lines, especially at terminuses like London King’s Cross,” Pinchbeck says.

Connecting commuters

Retail is far from being the only effective use of space in and around new station developments. As many companies recognise the importance of attracting and retaining high-quality staff, office spaces with good transport links are becoming more sought after.

“In an ongoing war for talent between destinations, a well-planned transport hub can encourage regional and international businesses to open nearby branches,” says Pinchbeck.

At Paddington Station, for example, the upcoming revamp will see the construction of a 15-storey premium office tower along with shops at the ground level. It’s just one of around a dozen stations set to benefit from the upcoming high-frequency Crossrail network connecting London and the South East. The wider project will create over three million square foot of high quality office, retail and residential space between Paddington and Woolwich.

“When completed, the Woolwich Arsenal station complex will feature not only an array of upmarket cafes and boutiques, but a major residential scheme with nearly 400 flats, a central garden and three shops.

Furthermore, it’s driving growth around smaller train stations on the Elizabeth line, with nearly half of all planning applications citing the new railway as a major reason for development.  “The Elizabeth line is primarily a business railway linking London’s major business areas with the airports,” Pinchbeck says. “It is creating locations with an internationally competitive edge. Further afield in areas like Essex, it’s about meeting the capital’s housing needs. By making underdeveloped areas more accessible, it will drive the development homes within the price range of London’s workers.

The value of going beyond transport

Analysis from the Rail Delivery Group found that the £5 billion investment into British rail stations is spearheading economic expansion in surrounding regions.

The £550 million refurbishment of King’s Cross station is credited with attracting £2.2 billion investment into the redevelopment of its surrounding site into the 120-acre mixed-use King’s Cross scheme, designed with central bands of luxury office space and shops encircled by residential units and interspersed with parks and playgrounds.

“The development is contoured like a city, transforming a once-derelict area into a place that attracts companies and people,” notes Pinchbeck. “It’s a great model for other station redevelopments.”

Yet it’s not about creating stations in isolation – the bigger picture is about improving connectivity between the UK’s cities and industry hubs. The London St Pancras and King’s Cross station complex, for example, is a departure point for key destinations in the life sciences sector, enabling easy travel between Cambridge, Paris and London’s Wellcome Trust – including numerous spaces to relax or shop while waiting for connections.

“Well-designed and well-managed stations are an essential part of the UK’s infrastructure to meets the needs of people and businesses,” Pinchbeck concludes. “Wherever they’re living, working or travelling to, everyone benefits from better accessibility, better amenities and better environment that today’s redevelopments are providing.”

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