Can the rail industry get back on track?

Railway Industry Association 2023 insights

Chris Weatherburn, Account Director responsible for Rail in the Construction Practice, attended the Railway Industry Association last week. He gives his observations on the current mood of the industry, and his thoughts on what he learnt.

The RIA Annual Conference took place in London this week, where the mood mirrored the November weather, slightly gloomy. The theme for the conference was “Promoting the case for rail and investment in uncertain times“, suggesting the industry felt like it was not receiving the support it needed from politicians and policy makers.

Of course, discussion quickly turned to the recent news of the cancellation of HS2 Phase 2. Aside from Huw Merriman, Minister for Rail, and some notable beneficiaries from the North of the country, the news was discussed with near universal disappointment. Not only was the mood soured because of a likely lack of delivery on a project the supply chain had made plans for, but because the decision was made unilaterally by No.10, without any consultation with organisations like Railway Industry Association (RIA), but also the Great British Rail Transition Team, Regional Transport bodies, Network Rail, HS2 or indeed, anyone who represented the sector.

It was not just the cancellation of HS2 Phase 2 that concerned members and delegates. Many of the speakers spoke about the need to fight against the ‘managed decline’ of the industry, and repeatedly pointed to the need for reform across the sector. The need to bring track and train together with legislation was repeatedly mentioned. The need to create a coherent long-term strategy for the railways emphasised, not only for the customers, but also for the people who worked within the industry and for the supply chain which builds and maintains them.

A sector derailed?

Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of RIA opened the conference with a powerful speech, stating that the fact Britain cannot build infrastructure such as HS2 in this country is an embarrassment, and informed attendees of RIA board members’ desire and commitment to continue to lobby for HS2.

Darren mentioned that after the Williams review, Rail reform is still desperately needed in the form of Great British Rail. Yes, he accepted, times are difficult, but the medium-term future for rail is bright. Darren said that rail is still the backbone for transport in this country and supplies much needed connectivity between our communities. Rail is not in decline, and more of it is needed – not less. Perhaps speaking directly to the current Secretary of State for Rail and HS2 in the audience, he said that increased political support is needed for industry.

Further highlighting the seismic (as Darren Caplan referred to it) decision from No.10 to cancel the project was that HS2’s Chair, Sir John Thompson was expected to give a speech at the conference. Sadly, he could not attend as he had to urgently speak to decision makers, but he did send a video message thanking RIA for their support of High Speed Rail, reconfirming his commitment to Phase 1 of the project and emphasizing that neither he, nor HS2 as an entity were party to the decision to cancel elements of the project.

Stephen Morgan MP, Shadow Minister for Rail had understood his brief from Labour HQ. He mentioned the need for a long-term rail strategy, and that the Conservatives had given up on railways, even quoting the RIA Chief Executive by suggesting that they are putting industry into a position of ‘managed decline.’ He noted the scaling back of Norther Powerhouse Rail and the scrapping of HS2 as evidence of this – replacing it with Network North of which he argued 85% was already promised or committed to. The Shadow Minister bemoaned the loss of time, jobs, and money, and suggested a lack of a long-term vision.

So, what will Labour do differently? Stephen mentioned that Louise Haigh, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport since 2021 has committed to an independent expert enquiry into the cancellation of the HS2 project. Beyond that, he echoed Keir Starmer’s conference speech when he mentioned that since 2012, National Infrastructure projects have taken 65% longer (referencing the timespan of a DCO), and that Labour were committed to stopping this deceleration.

Stephen mentioned it was 4 years since an update to the Rail network enhancements pipeline (RNEP), with projects stalling because of political instability. Labour, he argued, wants to deliver substantial change and transformative plans for rail and transport infrastructure, depoliticizing it and focusing on delivering value for the passenger. There seemed to be a commitment to GBR in principle, but the Shadow Minister stopped short of committing to that entity.

The Shadow Minister reconfirmed that desire for public ownership of railways, and that there needs to be more collaboration with organizations who work within the industry. He finished by reiterating that decision making processes are too long and convoluted. He said that Labour wanted to accelerate the consenting process, and fast track projects of national importance.

Sir John Armitt CBE, Chair of the National Infrastructure Committee, spoke of his disappointment about the cancellation of HS2, and the need for more strategic thinking. He pointed out that the HS2 trains will now have to continue North on the West Coast Main Line and as a result will be slower and provide less capacity. He also commented that Birmingham to Manchester still needs further consideration, and that Network North has not been fully defined. It is not, in Sir John’s opinion, a strategy.

The suggestion of a need for more strategy was made earlier in the day by Rufus Boyd, Interim Lead Director, Great British Railways Transition Team, who argued for more strategic thinking, (predictably given his remit) and the need to ask hard truths. Why is it that as an industry, rail is good at promising, but not always delivering, for instance.

Sir John Armitt also repeated his slightly controversial question of ‘why does rail always have to gold plate everything?’ He argued that the industry will never meet the demands of all the people, all the time. He said that a project such as HS2 which considers the needs from communities through the Select Committee process was always going to be challenging, and implied that it was not necessarily the best way to make decisions when you consider national interest.

Sir John pointed toward the example of Eurostar, designing trains to run at 250mph, when the optimum operational speed is 155mph, considering energy usage and journey time. His message was that the sector should address what customers want and need, and to build consensus across industry, rather than to simply create grand projects in a vacuum.

 

Can the industry get back on track?

The conference was far from completely negative, however. The energy and enthusiasm for the industry was very much apparent, with speeches from all parts of the sector focusing on the need to be advocates for the railway, whilst acknowledging that it needs to modernize and be agile through unfavourable economic circumstances. The recent announcement that CP7 funding (the five-year settlement which determines the level of funding that Network Rail receives for its operation, maintenance, and renewals activities) has been ratified was welcome news, and there was positivity for many of the projects which might well be possible over the coming years.

Huw Merriman, The Secretary of State for Rail and HS2 set out some of the projects which he thought were most exciting about the Network North plans: an electrified line linking North Wales to Northern Powerhouse Rail, significant investment in Sheffield and Bradford comprising of electrification projects, and a £2bn new station created for Bradford. Leeds was also cited as potentially receiving £2.5bn for a new mass transport system, whilst the Midlands Rail Hub was said to have been promised £1.5bn to fully complete it.

Ely junction, with a suggested further six freight trains per day being highlighted as a success for the freight industry. On an updated freight growth target, the Secretary of State argued that twelve new pathways from Oxford, and the example of Southampton financially incentivizing more port traffic onto rail gave a cause for optimism of a more buoyant market.

£17bn has been ringfenced for Metro mayors as a part of the HS2 Phase 2 cancellation, a sign the Secretary of State argued, of devolution at work. These funds could be used for whatever transport projects that Mayors felt appropriate. The possibility of bringing the Leamside Line back into service was used as an example of a project which would not have received funding otherwise – CP7’s scope for enhancements is less than it has set aside for maintenance.

The Minister argued that these projects were more targeted, would enable the country to meet 2050 Net Zero targets more easily, and would give a higher financial return. He argued that this £36bn of additional funding for Network North is on top of the 12bn for Manchester to Liverpool, in addition to Phase 1 HS2 Birmingham to Euston.

A Nations and Regions panel comprised of Martin Tugwell, Chief Executive of Transport for the North, Rupert Clubb, Chief Officer of Transport for the South East, Shona Clive, Project lead for the Forth and Tay Offshore project, Simon Jones, CEO of the Global Centre for Rail Excellence, Stuart Harvey, Chief Capital Officer for Transport for London, and Vernon Everitt, Transport Commissioner for Greater Manchester.

The discussion from the panel promoted the importance of rail to regional prosperity and growth, whilst again highlighting the need for more Integration and strategic thinking in the future. Martin Tugwell was enthusiastic about the transformative potential for rail, commenting that rail passenger numbers have recovered in the North more than elsewhere, and that 33% of port inflow/outflow took place there, highlighting the importance of the freight industry. Rupert Clubb noted the challenges in planning transport solutions for thirty years, and cited specific examples that he would like to see improvement in, specifically Hastings to Charing Cross and Portsmouth to Southampton.

Stuart Harvey from TfL pointed out the importance of collaboration and the benefits of long-term investment. He suggested that projects such as the Bakerloo extension, Crossrail 2, the DLR to Thamesmead and Piccadilly and Bakerloo Line upgrades were high on the agenda. Vernan Everitt spoke about the value of having a single guiding mind when making decisions, citing the example of Metro Mayors Andy Street and Andy Burnham. Mr. Everitt spoke about Manchester being a trailblazer in introducing the Bee Network, a ‘one-stop-shop’ for all local transport and active travel journeys, integrating fares and ticketing.

John Larkinson, Chief Executive of the Office of Rail and Road suggested that the industry is in danger of being too ‘doom and gloom’ about the future, whilst acknowledging that it certainly faces challenges. Mr. Larkinson made the case that for Network Rail to receive the £43bn of CP7 funding, a near identical figure to CP6, the ORR has done well. He noted that the pot of money for renewals is lower than in CP6, whilst the amount set aside for maintenance is higher.

This reflects a desire to steady the ship ahead of some of the challenges that the industry faces in the forms of industrial action, reduced passenger numbers since Covid, and the unlikeness of any railway reform legislation making it into the Kings Speech, or before a new Government. Mr. Larkinson also emphasized the need to continue to find efficiencies in CP7, providing value for customers and funders, and highlighting that in the absence of rail reform legislation, the industry needs to take accountability and improve on alignment and the simplification of processes themselves.

There was also a fantastic panel talking about international opportunities for people in sector, with more than one panellist noting Britain’s reputation as a world leader. Ireland ‘s National Transport Authority is planning on spending £15bn on a mixture active travel, busses and two major rail projects including Metrolink, which connects Dublin Airport, Irish Rail, DART, Dublin Bus, and Luas services to create a fully integrated public transport network for the Greater Dublin Area (GDA).

Australia is spending huge amounts of money on rail enhancements, with the Sydney Metro being completed in 2024, creating 4 new lines and 46 new stations. The Melbourne Suburban Rail Loop will include 15 new stations, and is being constructed in 3 sections, completed by 2035. An Inland Rail 1600km freight line from Brisbane to Melbourne is being investigated, whilst the Government has also announced a new High Speed Rail authority will be established this year, the first phase connecting Sydney and Newcastle.

Helena Matos, Senior Project Manager for Infrastructure of Portugal spoke about their plans to create a new high-speed line between Porto to Lisbon, part of their 10bn fund for rail projects, focused on passenger service. There was also mention of ‘Ferrovia 2020’ plans Improve the freight connectivity over 1/3 of their network.

Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of Network Rail and Great British Rail Transition Team rounded off the conference by suggesting that the CP7 funding was ‘a generous gift’. Mr. Haines noted there have been bumpy times of late, highlighting not only the difficult current economic climate, but the challenges of so much recent political churn, and having a fourth Secretary of State since the announcement of Great British Rail.

However, he argued that in CP7, the railways sector has a ‘staggering level of confidence and financial security’ that most others would be envious of. Mr. Haines also noted the point made by PM Rishi Sunak that every penny saved from HS2 would be reinvested in transport solutions to the areas that would have received the HS2 funds – £20bn for the North, and £10bn for the Midlands. He argued this was effectively £80bn of funding over the next five years, which would not have been conceivable without the cancellation of HS2, as the Government would not have borrowed money to finance these schemes in isolation.

It is worth noting that there is currently no clear timetable for the release of these additional HS2 funds, and therefore that these spending commitments are speculative, and dependent on what happens in the next General Election.

If you’d like to discuss more about what Chris learnt from the conference, or to find out more about what services Copper can offer the rail industry, please contact: chris.weatherburn@copperconsultancy.com

 

For more information on RIA visit their website.

Copper is shining a social value spotlight on…Community Rail Network who drives the delivery of social, economic and environmental benefits through the national rail network.

Across the UK, the Community Rail partnerships have turned stations into thriving community hubs, with local people themselves volunteering to drive the development and repurposing of station buildings and spaces.

Volunteer activity alone in community rail is calculated to be worth £39.9m annually, mostly from the social, health and wellbeing benefits among the volunteers and their communities. Since 2016/17, Community Rail Network has directly funded more than 170 biodiversity/gardening/wildlife-related projects, many supported by our Small Grants Fund which is administered on behalf of the Department for Transport.

The benefits that Community Rail Network offers are clear, which is why we met with Jools Townsend, Chief Executive of Community Rail Network, to hear Community Rail Network’s future ambitions and help us understand just how these partnerships reach into communities across the country and create positive change.

What is Community Rail Network’s role within the rail sector and how does it support it?

We’re a national not-for-profit umbrella body, grassroot movement across Britain representing community rail. We are made up of community rail partnerships and small voluntary groups that deliver activities at railway stations which are shaped by locals, local needs and contexts. We’re helping communities get the maximum value from their railways and stations, including using them and improving accessibility. We’re building positivity and confidence towards rail travel, particularly among certain groups. By promoting local economic development and delivering all manner of activities, we’re bringing stations into the heart of communities. We’re a unique part of the community and voluntary sector that works really closely at a local level with our rail industry partners.

What is your role in making sure that those benefits can be realised and have you got any examples of things that have been achieved?

We’re working with government at different levels and with the rail industry, feeding into the thinking around rail reform and advising on how to make community projects, smoother and less complicated. Another example of what community rail is increasingly doing is thinking about how we can better join up the railways with other sustainable modes of travel. There’s a lack of alignment between local bus services which commonly excludes a lot of people from using the railways and it can make sustainable end-to-end journeys much harder. Strategic level collaboration between bus and rail is a big challenge and something that needs to be looked at more widely.

Why is investment in rail so important?

As I have just alluded to, we really need both rail investment and modal integration. Modal integration is particularly important in these resource-constrained times. We should get better, greater value from what we’ve got. That’s not to say we don’t believe we need greater investment in rail and our wider sustainable transport network, we just need to be thinking holistically about it. We need to be thinking about how to invest in the whole piece in a way that enables and encourages people to make low-carbon journeys. If we’re to hit our net zero targets, we need to significantly reduce private car use. Putting rail at the heart of a coherent, sustainable transport system, we know that it makes an enormous difference. Once we start recognising that, that should inform investment decisions and increase the priority that’s been given to rail.

Putting decarbonisation aside, when we invest in public transport, active travel, community transport and shared mobility, these enormously benefit the lowest income groups and people that are otherwise marginalised and often excluded from opportunities. We often overlook the fact one in three adults in the UK don’t have personal access to a car. Investing in rail and public transport, has huge decarbonisation dividends but it’s also incredibly important in terms of the social value that’s delivered. It creates a more inclusive society with fairer access to opportunity such as employment and leisure opportunities. It literally broadens people’s horizons.

How can CRN be used to support the delivery of social value amongst rail schemes across the UK?

It’s important that we make sure that doesn’t become a tick box exercise. That we make sure it’s meaningful and not just about demonstrating social value, it’s about creating real benefits for local people. Community Rail provides a means to do that because it’s an existing grassroots network who have that local knowledge and ability to bring local people in. Our network can help the rail industry to listen and be community-minded and be appreciative of what local communities are thinking, feeling and wanting. There’s lots of scope for us working much more with supply chain and companies that are involved in developing railways.

What is your focus for Community Rail Network over the next 12 months?

Aside from what I have already mentioned in relation to modal integration and sustainable transport networks, we’re also ramping up our work to support our members on activities that engage with people with disabilities. We’re helping improve travel confidence and feed these lessons into the rail industry. We aspire to make railways more inclusive and welcoming for people with all sorts of mobility needs.

And finally, what should people do if they think they have a station that could benefit from becoming a part of the community rail network?

We’re certainly experienced in helping community rail to spring up in new areas and getting local people and partners enthused about the benefits that it can deliver. We’re happy to support where there are new opportunities and encourage anyone to reach out to us directly.

For more information on Community Rail Network, you can visit their website here.

Transport Committee inquiry findings

Today, the Transport Committee has released its mixed inquiry findings into the Integrated Rail Plan, the £96Bn flagship government levelling up policy which set out how Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 would be integrated to deliver a network of high speed lines across the Midlands and the North.

While the committee report does welcome the scale of the Government’s promised spending on improving rail in the North and the Midlands, it is also starkly headlined with a critical assessment of how some of the options and the benefits of these were assessed. The report states that,

“A thorough reassessment of the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan is essential to ensure this once-in-a-generation investment in rail is not a missed opportunity to address regional imbalances”.

 

What is the Integrated Rail Plan?

On the back of the Oakervee review and following a final submission from the National Infrastructure Commission, a new Integrated Rail Plan for the Midlands and the North was announced in November 2021. It outlines how to develop and deliver HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail, the Midlands Rail Hub, and major Network Rail Projects.

It was presented to Parliament by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps who pledged the investment would deliver faster and better journeys to more people across the North and the Midlands.

The views of the Transport for the North (TfN) Board, as one voice for the North, fed into the Integrated Rail Plan. The evidence reflected the ambition and vision of the North for the national rail network.

This work showed the vast capacity and journey time benefits that could be realised, alongside other investment in Transport for the North’s Strategic Transport Plan, which is in the process of being refreshed.

The Sub-National Transport Body Midlands Connect also provided evidence from the Midlands region.

 

What’s next?

With such a strong cross-party call for a review by many in regional political circles and by the committee, the new Prime Minister and their departments will undoubtedly have some tough decisions to make at a time where the North is questioning some of the levelling up policies that have been rolled out.

Just yesterday, a widely circulated report by IPPR North suggested that the gap in public spending between London and the North has doubled.

This coincided with a coordinated newspaper campaign in the region warning the Conservative leadership candidates against turning their back on the North.  Eyes are also firmly on what comes next for the promised £100m study to bring HS2 trains to Leeds, with the West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin describing it as being “left in limbo”.

However, while some wider regional connectivity has been scaled back, there have also been very welcome commitments to the TransPennine Route Upgrade, with spending trebled to £9bn to deliver more comprehensive East – West electrification between Manchester and York.

Despite the large investments needed to replace our Victorian infrastructure, it is clear that there is still huge support for rail spending in turbulent times.

With both Conservative leadership candidates pledging commitments to spur on new economic growth and with the ongoing need to tackle climate change, the North’s and Midlands’ rail plans could be a good place to start.

If you want to talk to us about how we can help with your infrastructure communications, then please get in contact with James Jordan.

 

 

Challenge

The HS2 interchange is set to be a world-leading station and an investment in Britain’s future.

It will unlock value across the West Midlands, transforming Solihull into a civic destination hub, driving job creation and wider economic growth, and levelling up the region. A partnership of two internationally renowned construction and civil engineering companies, Sir Robert McAlpine and VolkerFitzpatrick, and one of the world’s leading professional services firms, WSP has formed under the name Unity, to deliver the world’s first BREEM validated station. We were tasked with developing a web presence to position the partnership ahead of the bid process for Interchange.

UnityLogo_01
HS2
CS-Insight-v2

Insight

It was vital that decision-makers had confidence in those potentially delivering Interchange and that information was available quickly and easily. The website also needed to provide an anchor point for bid-related marketing activity.

CS-Strategy-v2

Strategy

The breadth of expertise within the partners is significant so we set out to emphasise its credentials as well as inspire confidence in the partnership itself by highlighting past collaborations. Given the audience, we also made a conscious decision to keep the website to key pages only, with an accessible design.

Amplify

A partnership between our creative services and construction team, we developed key messages and content, including case studies to demonstrate competence, experience and excellence. To bring the team’s value to life, we created an icon style and a series of other graphics that underlined the collaborative approach to the project.

Outcome

The website received positive feedback upon its launch.

In the Union Connectivity Review, Independent Chair Sir Peter Hendy concluded that the Government’s policies to build back better and level up require different, strategic cases for transport investment across the country. The review built on the ambitions of the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), widening its scope from transforming connectivity in England to the rest of the Union.

Hendy’s Review emphasised economic growth, job creation and social cohesion, themes that have since been echoed by both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

The potential implications of this are far-reaching – covering a wide range of projects, from the pre-application stage all the way through to construction. If implemented, its recommendations will offer plenty of opportunities as well as challenges, with planners and contractors potentially having to navigate very different infrastructure planning systems and political landscapes at the same time.

The Review outlined recommendations to improve connectivity with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In the Chair’s words, these provide ‘comprehensive, achievable and clear plans forward to better connect the whole of the United Kingdom’.

For Scotland, this could mean reduced rail journey times and increased capacity on the west coast main line, alongside an assessment of the east coast road and rail corridor.

In Wales, it recommended improving the North Wales coast main line and rail links to the Midlands from Cardiff. It also recommended improvements to the A55, M53 and M56 roads and the South Wales Corridor. As anticipated in our latest edition of infrastructure insights, it also recommends improving port capacity at Holyhead, identifying the North Wales Coast Line as a key route for communities and businesses.

However, Welsh MPs are asking why the Government has decided Wales is not entitled to a share of HS2 spending (as per the IRP), with Liz Saville Roberts saying it ‘reveals the reality of this union of inequality’. Such concerns highlight the importance of clearly communicating the purpose of reports and the relationships between them.

Over the Irish Sea, this could mean upgrading the key A75 link to improve freight and passenger connectivity (Northern Ireland).

The Report also recommended the following:

  • Design and implement UKNET, a strategic transport network for the UK. UKNET will assess and map out key points across the UK that are essential to stronger, more direct transport connections. With additional funding and regular review, this can better serve the UK’s social and economic needs.
  • Plan improvements using multimodal corridors to support levelling up and net zero.
  • Support the development of sustainable aviation fuel plants in areas that are particularly reliant on aviation for domestic connectivity.

The UK Government will now carefully consider these recommendations in detail and work to identify the solutions that work best for the people of the UK – although the Prime Minister has already committed to setting up UKNET: “If we want to truly level up the country then it’s vital that we improve connectivity between all corners of the UK, making it easier for more people to get to more places more quickly.

“Sir Peter Hendy’s review is an inspiring vision for the future of transport, which we will now consider carefully. Determined to get to work right away, we will set up a strategic UK-wide transport network that can better serve the whole country with stronger sea, rail and road links – not only bringing us closer together but boosting jobs, prosperity and opportunity,” he said. The Review was also praised by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

The Review is a positive step towards a better-connected, more economically buoyant United Kingdom. But, its success will depend on the delivery of relevant, benefits-focused narratives and engagement tailored to local people. Associate Director Pippa Gibbs Joubert tells us more about successful engagement for infrastructure projects.

Carol Stitchman, Technical Director Rail Group, WSP 

In Copper’s Perspectives series on UK rail stations, we’re asking construction sector leaders for their insights on challenges and opportunities arising from the new ‘golden age’ of station development. 

Following on from her role as a panelist in Copper Consultancy’s recent event, Insights from a new golden age of rail stations, Carol provides a behind-the-scenes account of modern station design and accessibility. 

The redeveloped Birmingham New Street Station opened in September 2015 after a £750 million transformation. Carol’s work at Birmingham New Street spanned 14 years from feasibility to completion. 

As Head of Design for Network Rail, I worked to transform Birmingham New Street station into a major transport and shopping hub, stimulating economic growth and regeneration for the Midlands region. Today, Birmingham New Street is the busiest major station outside of London. 

At the heart of the development of Birmingham New Street is inclusive design. Inclusive design aims to deliver spaces and places for everyone and puts people at the core? of the design process of spaces and places. In the development of Birmingham New Street, we worked with stakeholder panels to help us develop spaces that were truly inclusive, ensuring that people were at the centre of the design process, so everyone can use the railway safely, easily and with dignity. 

We did a lot of work around accessibility with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), one of the UK’s leading sight loss charities and the largest community of blind and partially sighted people. A key priority for us was how could we make Birmingham New Street station a lot easier to navigate for the visually impaired. 

The RNIB suggested that most members would want to first and foremost be able to access and navigate to the ticket office simply to buy tickets and or seek assistance for travel. To do this in a vast area, we located the ticket office in the centre of the station. In this area, we included a contrasting floor surface in the centre of the station in the atrium. We referred to this as a ‘pebble in the pond’, and the flooring in this area, glass blocks, differentiated texturally with the granite surface around it. If you are sweeping your cane in that area, you can feel the change in texture helping you to identify exactly where you are in the station. 

We also included sensory aroma cues to act as a navigational aid in the centre of the station. The Pret a Manger coffee shop which has a distinctive smell has been deliberately placed centrally by the textured flooring to act as another navigational instruction for our visually impaired travellers and visitors. Both sensory indicators are designed to tell visually impaired customers that they are in the centre of the station and the ticket office is located right in front of them. 

There are three distinct entrances into Birmingham New Street station, and we also created a ‘shoreline’ to help with access into the station. Shorelines are an important element of how a visually impaired person navigates. Shore lining is following a wall, kerb, hedge or other contrasting surface to the one a person is walking on to maintain a specific orientation while travelling through environments to arrive at a decision-making point. Shore lining allows a person to use their cane either to constantly contact a surface or use two-point touch technique to cross an open space and easily travel towards the station. 

From speaking to visually impaired groups interviewed early in the design stage, we found that they often counted the number of steps to help them navigate themselves from point A to point B, so we placed positioned lighting columns in particular locations along the shoreline at the eastern entrance opposite the Bullring and a certain distance apart, so they acted as another helpful navigational aid. 

Looking to future station developments in the city, the future HS2 Curzon Street Station in Birmingham – which, when built, will be the first brand new intercity terminus built in Britain since the 19th century – is unique, as it has a lot of landscaping around it which is very unusual for a railway station in a city centre location. 

One distinct feature of the Curzon Street Station design is the change of levels from the different entrances from the east of the west. One question we asked ourselves when designing this new station is how we could help our visually impaired passengers navigate through each entrance/exit, so they know which entrance they are approaching. 

To help announce to visually impaired passengers which entrance they are arriving towards, we asked our landscape architects to introduce scented landscaping that would differ at each entrance/exit to help with navigation, and we also included shorelines into the design, like at Birmingham New Street. Shorelines at Curzon Street include the buttresses that are part of the architectural design that support the roof. 

In the Curzon Street design, a customer information hub has replaced the traditional ticket office. Following feedback from visually impaired groups, this is placed directly at the front of the station western entrance and not at a right angle to the main entrance. Obstacle detection and warning can improve the mobility, as well as the safety of visually impaired people especially in unfamiliar environments. 

Based on our increased understanding and consideration of wellbeing and mental health awareness, a new element has been incorporated in the Curzon Street Station design to help our passengers who perhaps are not comfortable in large crowds. Large transport buildings like railway stations and airports attract large numbers of people, however for some, this is not a comfortable situation to be in. We incorporated quiet rooms in the design where people can retreat from the crowds. For passengers who would prefer not to be inside at all, the Curzon Street station design has a large public square to the western entrance with the opportunity to create areas outside where they can wait in a place of safety and be under cover, sheltered from the sun and the rain. 

Accessibility in station design must be a priority. Taking a journey by train is not as straightforward process for all passengers. Passengers have unique needs, therefore, it’s vitally important that this is taken into consideration in station design. Speaking directly to groups that use our stations means we have a better understanding of how we can design infrastructure that is accessible and inclusive for everyone, ensuring that all passengers can use and move through the station safely and independently. 

Carol Stitchman, Technical Director Rail Group, WSP has worked in the railway industry for over 20 years. Major projects under Carol’s belt include Birmingham New Street station where she was Head of Design and led the design for the station redevelopment. Following her award-winning work at Birmingham New Street for Network Rail, Carol went on to work for WSP as a Technical Director in the Rail Group division. 

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Hala Lloyd, Lead Architect for the Phase One Area North stations, HS2 Ltd

In Copper’s Perspectives series on UK rail stations, we’re asking construction sector leaders for their insights on challenges and opportunities arising from the new ‘golden age’ of station development.

Following on from her role as a panelist in Copper Consultancy’s recent event, Insights from a new golden age of rail stations, Hala highlights the importance of major station developments leaving behind a positive and lasting legacy.

In her role as HS2 Lead Architect, Hala will help deliver the station buildings and public realm at both Curzon Street Station and Interchange Station. A key element of her work includes leading design engagement with the independent design review panel and key local stakeholders.

I have been fortunate enough to help deliver some notable station developments in the UK. I now support HS2, the largest infrastructure project in the UK since the Victorian age and one of the most prominent in Europe. In its entirety, the project will include 345 miles of new high-speed track connecting Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and London.

HS2 will connect 30 million people and eight of our largest cities, with 25 stops from Scotland to the southeast. My role is to help bring forward the Phase One station buildings and public realm at both Curzon and Interchange in Birmingham and Solihull, respectively. While station functionality is crucial to the project, it is also essential to consider where they are and how they will impact current and future generations living nearby.

Our design vision for Curzon and Interchange aimed to secure a lasting legacy right from the outset. Our plans are underpinned by three pillars that informs our design approach, guidance and station requirements. Firstly, people will use the stations, so we must ensure that everyone benefits from and enjoys our design. Secondly, we recognise the importance of place. We have developed designs that make the stations a destination and somewhere people want to be, not merely a means to travel. Thirdly, we want our stations to last for a long time while benefiting their local communities. To hold our local stakeholders and us to account, an independent design review panel regularly measures our progress against these fundamental principles.

We are also keen that our stations designs align with local strategies. For Curzon, we have collaborated with Birmingham City Council to identify five key moves required to embed the station in its setting. This will enable future regeneration to take place in this part of the city. We are supporting Urban Growth Company and Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council with their plan for regional growth in the UK Central Hub. We want Interchange to become a major catalyst for economic growth there, bringing together the NEC campus, Birmingham Airport, Arden Cross, Jaguar Land Rover and Birmingham Business Park.

We have established some twenty-first century game-changing design requirements for Curzon and Interchange, aiming to create a lasting legacy.

Firstly, we have set out to ensure safety considerations span the lifetime of the stations, all the way from design to deconstruction. To meet this goal, our stations designers have looked to maximise an off-site manufacturing and, pre-fabrication mode of construction.

To set new benchmarks for equality, diversity and inclusivity, we are ensuring high standards permeate through design requirements, engagement, activities and delivery. As a result, we are already driving diverse and inclusive outcomes. For example, we have set mandatory requirements above current industry guidance for inclusive customer experience, including gender-neutral toilets, adult changing places, facilities for guide dogs and faith and quiet rooms.

The final key design requirement is to build sustainable stations to help the UK meet its commitment to become a net-zero economy by 2050. Consequently, we have set a BREAAM target of ‘Excellent’ for all stations, placing them in the top 10% of UK buildings. We have also established a requirement for all stations to reduce carbon emissions by 50% compared to the Phase 1 baseline assessments. Again, our station designers have responded to our challenges. ARUP exceeded our target by achieving a BREAAM ‘Outstanding’ certification for Interchange. This is a global first for any train station and puts it in the top 1% of UK buildings to achieve this rating at design stage.

We endeavour to leave a lasting legacy by upskilling Britain. We have already begun to meet this aspiration and intend to keep up our strong start. To start with, at peak construction, we will need 30,000 people to design and build HS2, including over 2,000 apprentices. More than 2,000 businesses have already delivered work on HS2, and 70% are SME’s. Throughout this project, we will always aim to maximise training and employment opportunities both at HS2 and in our extensive supply chain. This will not be exclusive to the south either, with employment opportunities available along the entire Phase 1 and 2 routes.

Community engagement and art and culture are of fundamental importance to the station projects and their legacy. Thus, we have sought to embed creative design thinking in developing and delivering our stations from the beginning. Additionally, we have engaged with local communities in the design stages for both stations to maximise inclusivity. Our engagement involves many activities and spans HS2 and our supply chain, including leafletting to homes, engagement events, displays, and interactive presentations.

Our engagement has generated a tremendous amount of feedback, especially on the design of the stations. The key messages we developed around Curzon and Interchange adhered to peoples’ opinions on external landscaping, diverse environments and heritage. The feedback has also been absolutely invaluable in helping our designers to progress the projects. While we have held thousands of engagement events involving numerous attendees, our engagement needs to ramp up now that the station contractor has been confirmed for Curzon. The same requirement will exist for Interchange when a contractor is selected.

In essence, our objective to leave a longstanding legacy is integral to the station projects at Curzon and Interchange. We have already begun bringing this into reality through our design vision and requirements, the employment opportunities we have created, and the brilliant feedback we have listened to through our community engagement. Of particular note, the sustainability credentials of the stations are of utmost importance as they can play a crucial role in promoting a positive agenda. It is not just about how they technically perform, but it is also about sustainable community growth. Younger generations must be brought along in our development process because their insights are vital, and they will benefit from the outcomes they influence.

Hala Lloyd joined HS2 in 2016 as part of the engineering team. Then in 2017, she was appointed Lead Architect for the Phase One Area North stations. Hala has over twenty years of experience working on transformational public sector projects, including the redevelopment of Birmingham New Street Station and Crossrail at Farringdon.

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Pride was a little odd for AECOM last year, as it was for organisations around the world. Gone were the parades, parties, and on-street protests thanks to the pandemic, but the LGBTQ+ community still rallied round, arguably more than ever. Collaborating with Building Equality, companies from across the construction and engineering industry worked together to host countless online events and ensure the community still felt supported.

With the prospect of in-person Pride events back on the table for 2021, the excitement from the LGBTQ+ community and beyond is already palpable. Due to re-opening dates being pushed back in many countries, we’re looking at the prospect of ‘Pride season’ rather than ‘Pride month’, and that’s no bad thing. It certainly feels like more companies than ever, across all industries, have changed their logos and voiced their support on social media for Pride season. It’s been amazing to see after a turbulent year, but it’s more important than ever to remember that we must be proud every day of the year, not just during Pride. It’s also important to keep in mind some of the positives we learned from the pandemic, we’ve proved that not only can online events and support be effective, they’re also low carbon and largely accessible if done right.

Year-round support for LGBTQ+ colleagues should start with establishing an employee resource group to raise and work on concerns. The group should be a safe, accessible, intersectional space, not only for the LGBTQ+ community but also allies and those who want to offer support but aren’t sure where to start. These groups generally start as grassroots movements, but it’s equally important to show that there’s not only leadership buy-in but also visible support and representation at the highest levels that cascades through the business.

Whilst employee resource groups tend to provide social support; policies, procedures and language use are also significant in terms of ensuring the LGBTQ+ community feel supported. Often overlooked, guidance on issues such as transitioning, pronoun use and the importance of allyship can be a vital resource; for both the LGBTQ+ community and managers alike. Much of this guidance is already available online, with relatively minimal work required needed to make it relevant for individual businesses.

This Pride season let’s make sure our support for the LGBTQ+ community is more outwardly visible and authentic than ever, it’s important to remember that Pride started as a protest and people around the world are still having to fight for their basic human rights. Arguably the real work starts not during Pride but during the rest of the year, when businesses and colleagues need to ensure that there is continual support for the LGBTQ+ community.

Pride: a deep sense of satisfaction in what you’ve accomplished; in who you are; and in what makes you unique. To celebrate Pride this month, we’ve encouraged our colleagues to share their stories and show that by championing inclusion and diversity (I&D), we can feel more empowered and united.

Let’s go on a quick tour of our global offices to see the work and activities carried out by our Pride@Stantec Employee Resource Groups – an initiative launched in 2017 to create a safe, supportive space for LGBT+ colleagues and allies to come together.

In the Netherlands, you’ll notice a flash of colour on entrances, as you print a document, grab a coffee, or visit a bathroom. Our Pride symbol, a rainbow pixel heart, in the form of stickers are placed in locations to communicate our inclusive culture.

In San Francisco, our Pride events coincide with the city’s world-famous LGBT+ Pride. To help new employees feel welcome in our large office, our staff send emails with their photos so everyone can quickly recognise and greet new starters.

In Canada, we held our first ever Pride float in Edmonton’s 2017 parade. The float helped colleagues get to know each other better and also encouraged to build up a local contingent of allies. The blend of people involved has demonstrated the concept of inclusion—it isn’t about creating exclusive clubs; it’s about bringing everyone together.

In the UK and Ireland, we’ve participated in national Pride activities including parades in various cities, and a 2020 Virtual Pride Parade. Last year, we established a partnership with Stonewall, dedicated to empowering individuals and transforming institutions to better support the LGBT+ community. This year, we’re holding virtual Pride celebrations from 28 to 30 June, producing role model videos around What Pride Means to Me, and are getting involved in Manchester Pride. Each reception area of our UK offices also now has an amazing ‘Everyone is Awesome’ Lego set.

In New Zealand, we launched inclusion workshops for teams which gave participants the opportunity to share their own experiences in a safe setting. The focus is also leading by example, and at the end of each inclusion workshop, the leaders ask participants what they’ll personally do to increase inclusion.

We encourage our staff to call out things that need to be corrected and be a voice for those who might not be brave enough or ready to be the voice themselves. This year, we’ve created Pride banners for our virtual meetings, and encourage staff to use pronouns on email signatures and LinkedIn profiles. Our people share their stories, through webinars, internal communications platforms and employee groups.

Other activities to increase the inclusiveness of our Company include examining our language, our policies and benefits programmes, setting up Inclusion & Diversity Councils, and hosting unconscious bias training. We’ve been named by Forbes as a top employer for diversity, are proud of our new partnership with Workplace Pride, and joined forces with other organisations, including Stonewall in UK, OK2BME and Pride at Work in Canada, and Rainbow Tick in New Zealand.

Over the years, we’re proud to say we’ve made some incredible progress. However, as we continue to evolve, so does our understanding of how we need to take this to the next level. The inclusive workplace we want to achieve empowers and inspires and provides psychological safety and wellbeing. Without inclusion, diversity is that much more difficult to achieve. To attract and retain top talent from all walks of life, we need to ensure inclusion is a way of being. Truly transformative work is born from diversity. Harnessing the power of all the characteristics that make us who we are is vital to our success. We design with community in mind and to genuinely fulfil that promise, we commit to equity in design and to be representative of the many communities we serve.