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Change for Interchanges

Change for Interchanges

What's Preventing Better Railway Stations?

Considering that a good transport interchange is one of the most obvious characteristics of an integrated transport system, this article seeks to ask the simple question: what is stopping us from achieving more good transport interchanges, particularly at major nodes, such as railway stations?  In other words, why is there a patchwork of interchanges and how can we do better?

We have chosen three different stations that have recently undergone major changes in order to illustrate this point; for one reason or another each of these stations has achieved different outcomes.

Cambridge conjures up images of excellent public transport provision, possibly because of its cycling culture. Yet the recent development at the station has produced mixed results. Yes, a nearby building houses over 3,000 secure cycle stands (that are over-subscribed). Yes, the taxi facilities are plentiful and immediately outside the station entrance. Yet one feels that things could have been better! It is not solely that the bus facilities have been dispersed on different nearby roads (there is no bus station, as such). Both the pedestrian environment and wayfinding, together with landscaping are lacking. One feels that the car/taxis still predominate and that the road network eventually dictated the form and nature of the interchange!

Reading has recently finished an impressive station expansion. The station has gained a significant taxi rank and there are also easy drop-off/pick-up facilities underneath the station that link directly to the station concourse. Despite this, even Reading has not achieved perfection! The station concourse appears cramped (much more space could have been given to pedestrian circulation) and the area outside the station, which links the station to the town centre, appears harsh and without much character. Much like Cambridge, this town has also chosen to opt for dispersed bus facilities. One feels that had there been more “damning down” of the roads immediately outside the station and had the landscaping been better, the result would have been a much more attractive environment, which would have enhanced the station’s interchange as well as its linkages to the adjoining town centre.

Finally, South Shields in South Tyneside, has bravely relocated the metro station so that both the metro and bus stations are housed in one building. The £21m facility includes bike storage and waiting areas and is expected to be used by an estimated £7m passengers a year. Instead of bus services being on the road, there is now a purpose-built facility, which also houses pub and café facilities.

So why such a patchwork of results and what is it that stops us from achieving the “perfect” transport interchange which, we all recognise, would vastly enhance the passenger experience as well as boost the economy (and prestige) of the surrounding area?

The immediate response to this puzzling question is that a good quality interchange is often no-one’s particular responsibility. Is it the responsibility of Network Rail? That of the train operators? The Highway Authority? Is it the responsibility of the private sector?

That nobody is directly responsible is clear from existing legislation. If we look at the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), February 2019 para. 104 states that planning policies should provide for any large-scale transport facilities that need to be located in an area.  It further states that policies for large-scale facilities should, where necessary, be developed through collaboration between strategic policy-making authorities and other relevant bodies but there is nothing explicit about the imperative to establish good transport interchanges and very little about their consequent benefits. 


Elsewhere, in the Highways Act 1980, whilst provision is made for agreement between local highway authorities and other organisations, the focus is on roads, without consideration of their interaction with other modes of transport.

This lack of imperative is also illustrated by the National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC) key objectives which are:

  • To support sustainable economic growth across all regions of the UK;
  • To improve competitiveness; and
  • Improve quality of life.

However, these are very general policy statements but with no imperative or specific actions. This was picked up by a recent report by the Campaign for Better Transport entitled ‘Integrated Transport: A New Generation of Interchanges’ which highlighted the need for the NIC to identify a number of key locations which could be promoted as major interchanges.

In addition to the lack of this centrally driven directive for good quality interchanges, it is evident that there are a number of different practicalities which stand in the way.

First and foremost is (as always) lack of adequate funding. From our experience this must be the responsibility of different stakeholders, including the Local Authority, Network Rail (who can, more often than not, provide the required land) and the private sector (who stand to gain from improved accessibility and a better physical environment).

This leads us onto the second significant obstacle which is the different land ownerships that are often involved. A simplified procedure needs to be set out, whereby all the different landowners will be able to come together in order to make it feasible for the best possible interchange to be achieved. It is disappointing that currently the exact opposite is happening with “ransom strips” standing in the way of a good interchange design.

The third significant stumbling block is lack of technical guidance. There is guidance for motorway interchanges, for different types of junctions and highways but no specific technical guidance of how to design a good transport interchange. TfL’s ‘Interchange Best Practice Guidelines 2009’ go some way towards filling this gap but are inevitably specific to a large urban environment, in this case London. This guidance does, however, identify key themes of efficiency, usability, understanding and quality.

Similarly, the EU PIRATE program had started, some 20 years ago, to compile evidence from a number of European countries in an attempt to promote interchange rationale and transfer efficiency.  More work needs to be done in this direction.

So, what can be done? Would a Good Practice Compendium for good (and bad) transport interchanges from around the world help in this regard? Such a compendium could provide examples from a range of different environments, as well as different types and scales of transport interchanges, reflecting the requirements for and interaction of different travel modes. Is this where the CIHT could step in?

In addition, there should be a streamlining of procedures so that the planning and implementation of good transport interchanges does not become protracted or entangled in a web of obscure and antiquated norms and processes. Perhaps there should be a simple and recognised methodology, very much like the CPO process which is universally applied for highways schemes.

We also believe that what will really be transformative is for Local Planning Authorities to take the initiative and, in effect, accept nothing but the best for all the interchanges within their boundaries. This could be achieved through clear and unambiguous stipulations in their Local Plans and/or sub-regional plans, which are increasingly being prepared by bodies such as TfSE and TfL. The preparation of Planning Briefs as well as masterplans that look holistically at each station in conjunction with the surrounding area would add further impetus to the requirements for quality interchanges.

A good example of this approach is the work that has gone into the preparation of a very impressive masterplan in Stockport which has seen the interchange as integral, not only to the station itself but all of the surrounding area as well (see the image below).

 Stockport Interchange

Artist’s Impression of Stockport Interchange (Source: Transport for Greater Manchester)

One last (but very important) point:  The objective must be the creation of not only an efficient interchange but also a better place - one that adds value to all stakeholders, but primarily those of the travelling public. Its characteristics should be safety; a pleasant environment to be in; easy to understand and navigate; and one that not only offers seamless transition between the different modes, but, through good placemaking, positions the station and interchange at the heart of the community.


(First published CIHT Magazine September 2019) 

Andreas Markides and Peter Thompson of Markides Associates

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