Why design is important

Andrew Wolstenholme, Chief Executive of Crossrail, and Vice President of the ICE, explores the importance of good design in public transport spaces, and what this means for communities.

An artist
An artist's impression of passengers entering a Crossrail station

In December 2018, the Crossrail project will transform into the Elizabeth line when passenger services begin operating in central London. As the newest addition to the city’s transport network, the Elizabeth line will add 10% to rail capacity in central London and reduce journey times. The capital’s evolving network began over 150 years ago, with the opening of the Metropolitan Railway and, since then, design has been at the heart of transport in the city.

Whether it’s Eduardo Paolozzi’s famous mosaic at Tottenham Court Road, the Sherlock Holmes themed tiles at Baker Street or the award-winning design of the epic Westminster station; architecture and design has transformed the spaces underneath London into a part of the city’s identity.

This is important because the design of a public transport system can become a symbol of that city. Even if you haven’t visited Moscow, it is likely that you will have seen pictures of their lavishly decorated Metro stations. Similarly, millions of people associate Harry Beck’s famous tube map and TfL’s roundel with London despite never having set foot in the city. Done well, the design of a new railway can become an advertisement for the capital and so internationally-renowned architects have worked on the Crossrail project to ensure that the finished railway has a world class design, recognised around the world.

Artist's impression of Tottenham Court Road
An artist's impression of a redesigned Tottenham Court Road station. Design of our stations will be a symbol of London.

The design of stations is also important to local people, as they define places and act as gateways to communities. The first impression we get of somewhere is often as we exit a station, so we recognise that the Elizabeth line won’t just be judged on the railway service but also the overall experience of passengers as they arrive and leave stations. In collaboration with TfL and local authorities, we are using the development of the railway to deliver £130m of improvements to the urban realm outside stations along the route – creating attractive, secure and accessible spaces at the heart of London’s communities.

Naturally, the design must also have practical considerations in mind. We are creating safe stations – well lit, with curved corners at platform level to help control passenger flow. Capacity has been taken into account – as London grows, our transport needs to grow and the stations will accommodate trains which are double the size of a standard tube train. This means that visual clutter has been kept to a minimum to help passengers avoid confusion as they continue their journey and interchange with other services. The stations have also been designed with accessibility in mind and, for the first time in central London, we are incorporating the use of incline lifts to run alongside escalators.

Crossrail is moving London forward and when the railway is fully operational, up to 200 million people per year will travel across the capital using the new stations and trains. Their world class design means that the passenger experience will be enhanced and Londoners will discover stations which enhance their communities locally and serve as a symbol for London internationally as a world leading city.