The future of railway stations
The rail industry is changing. The focus shifts from the most effective and efficient way of getting passengers from A to B, to the total seamless journey. The trend is that railway stations not only function as a location for catching a train, but also leisure and business. Restaurants, shops and office buildings become an integrated part of the station. This is where the cohesion between travel, leisure and the city arises, as railway stations are a central point of social interaction for cities. Imagine picking up orders at the online-shopping point or meeting-up with a friend, drinking coffee at one of the shops.
Urbanization and growing population numbers contribute to added stress on city- and rail infrastructures. The United Nations states that globally, the world population is likely to reach 9.7 billion citizens by 2050, approximately 66% of the population will reside in cities. Utilizing the city infrastructure in a more efficient, intelligent and integrated manner seems to be the key. Yet, how will the rail sector anticipate towards a rising amount in passengers?
When it comes to this industry, the desires and expectations of passengers push towards innovation. Convenience, comfort, safety and reliability remain to be the vital elements for passengers to choose for travel by rail. In addition, rail is a sustainable and responsible means of transportation. Passenger expectations indicate limited waiting times, reliable time schedules and seamless journeys integrated with other modes of transport which could be offered as a service, the so-called “Mobility as a Service”. Imagine planning journeys ahead, taking advantage of a combination of various transport modes like trains and a shared automated vehicle to cover the last mile from the central station to work.
Individual, custom information marks excellent customer service. To realize these expectations, insights need to be created and future possibilities must be addressed. For railway stations this means a removal of the thin line between railway function and community services. Passengers will not only commute but also dwell around the station environment.
The British Rail Delivery Group has indicated 9 key principles for the future of railway stations. The principles are described as: Increased customer focus, Intelligent use of technology, Seamless journey experience, Reflect local needs and opportunities, Safe and secure environment, Entrepreneurial spirit, Flexible and long term stewardship, Shared industry know-how and Optimized network. All of these principles have a significant impact on passenger flows and therefore the use of the station’s infrastructure. Industry innovations like pedestrian location tracking significantly support in the monitoring and analysis of passenger flows. But how can future changes of the railway station be achieved? Is the current station infrastructure capable of dealing with the ongoing growth of passengers number’s, technological innovations and change of use?
In order to cope with all the future changes involved, creating insight in the passenger journey is essential. Insights can either be created in the (re)design phase of the building but also during operations. This is where virtual modelling comes into play. Simulation provides one of the solutions as a modelling tool to create a virtual representation of reality. Developing a crowd model of enables the designer to create insight in the crowd flows of alternative designs. Visualizing processes, while dealing with uncertainty in an understandable way, allows to assess, compare and improve alternative designs, plans and policies without having to experiment in a real life situation. Data insights and analytics help to eventually shed light on the underlying problem areas while keeping customer experience, station capacity and the safety perspective in mind.
The evaluated scenarios help to reduce time-consuming mistakes and overall cost while improving continuity and creating insight in safety. Simulation supports in answering the “What if” scenario involved and how a process will perform in the (near) future.
With the use of simulation, the city- and rail infrastructure can be utilized in a more efficient, intelligent and integrated way. Assessing the entire infrastructure and pedestrian flows in and around the train station and surrounding areas is of importance. Bottlenecks in the infrastructure, timetables, flow and safety of passengers can be analyzed and pinpointed. Commercial attractive areas can be identified. The technology can be used to predict consequences of various incidents and other emergency situations. Surrounding areas of the station are influenced by incidents, so necessary changes in design, plans or policies might need to be identified in order to help the area perform better. Overall, simulation provides the possibility to increase throughput rates to accommodate rising passenger numbers, simulate morning and evening peak moments, calculate the ‘social cost’ involved, increase overall revenue and improve customer experience.
Implementation of virtual modelling
Simulation as a virtual modelling tool enables to visualize crowd flow scenarios. The implementation can be realized by importing CAD drawings or BIM models in the software. The outcome reflects the geometry of the design. The ability to define input such as train schedules, train load, passenger demand and route preferences brings the design to life and simulates the passenger flows through the 3D model.
Data generated in the simulation software provides the designer with quantitative statistics to assess the overall design of the railway station. Density maps analyze the crowdedness in the stations; which can be distinguished by various travel times to ensure passengers can get to their next destination in time. The so-called „social costs“ element determines the business case of the train station in terms of capital and resources.
Preparing for the future
As indicated previously, the rail industry changes. Whether the future of the industry leads into more futuristic ways like the ‘Hyper Speed Vertical Train Hub’ as envisioned by Christopher Christophi and Lucus Mazarrasa (image courtesy: eVolo) or the proposed ‘Hyperloop’, anticipated as “the fifth mode of transport” by entrepreneur Elon Musk (image courtesy: Unlim3d/123RF), no one really knows.
One thing is for certain, the rail industry has to deal with current changes in the field of urbanization and growing population numbers. The increasing desires and expectations of passengers push towards innovations like intelligent use of technology, the seamless journey experience as well as ensuring safe and secure environments. Simulation, as a virtual modelling tool, creates the insight needed to meet the above mentioned innovations for all public transport passengers.
About the author
Marlies Wouters is a Senior Simulation Engineer, specialized in crowd simulation. She’s best known for her expert knowledge in modelling and analysis of public transport environments using Pedestrian Dynamics software. Marlies has a twelve year career at INCONTROL Simulation Solutions, were she worked on many projects like Utrecht Central Station (250.000 travelers daily) and Metro Amsterdam.
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