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The train station with sustainability at its heart

21 July 2021

Sam Uren explains how the award-winning Worcestershire Parkway scheme perfectly serves the local community, while meeting one of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

The train station with sustainability at its heart
The award-winning Worcestershire Parkway scheme. Image credit: SLC Rail

Worcestershire Parkway is one of a few stations that wasn’t designed or built by the rail industry. This third-party delivery option is becoming more popular as the government starts to encourage alternative investment into the railway.

In the case of Worcestershire Parkway, that third party was Worcestershire County Council, and we at SLC have worked closely with the council in developing its rail investment strategy, identifying ways in which investing in the railway can help enhance the local economy and community for its residents.

We’ve been helping councils and other outside investors navigate their way through the regulation and processes needed when working with the rail industry, for the past 12 years.

We’re extremely proud of Worcestershire Parkway: not only did the station go on to become the Overall Winner at the 2020 ICE West Midlands Awards but also - and more importantly - it’s transforming lives for the people of Worcestershire and beyond.

So, what makes this project such a sustainable success and what we should be considering when thinking about future station design?

Building sustainable communities

The UN Sustainable Development Goal 11 states the importance that transport plays in sustainability:

‘Sustainable transport achieves better integration of the economy while respecting the environment improving social equity, health, resilience of cities, urban-rural linkages and productivity of rural areas.’

Creating a legacy and enabling an improvement in people’s everyday lives is something that we, as civil engineers, all strive to do. Rail stations are about creating connections: enabling travel helps improve individual mobility and opens up prospects and opportunity for all.

This is the heart of this sustainability goal.

Understanding the purpose of the project

The beautiful county of Worcestershire, also my home county, is located immediately south of Birmingham. It is said to be Tolkien’s inspiration for the Lord of the Rings fictional Hobbit land of ‘The Shire’. With Birmingham on its doorstep, it had a good rail network at its heart, since the 1800s, but something was missing.

Although the city of Worcester already had two stations connecting it to the north, south and east, the community was lacking in connectivity to the wider Worcestershire community with both stations having limited car parking opportunities. Additionally, the main Birmingham to Bristol line (which bisects the county) ran straight through without stopping.

As civil engineers, we’re used to finding solutions to complex problems and we can put that problem-solving mentality to good use in helping communities to be more sustainable. In this project, transformational change could only be achieved if we delivered major improvements to connectivity (both in terms of train connectivity and the link with the local community). The location of Worcestershire Parkway is the key to its sustainability success.

The station is located at the intersection of two key routes: the Birmingham – Gloucester – Bristol and the London- Oxford - Worcester main lines. Locating the station here gives easy access into London and to Birmingham, as well as better connections between the two lines, creating new journey opportunities for thousands of people previously reliant on the car.

However, it's also just half a mile from Junction 7 of the M5, an ideal strategic location to encourage modal shift from car to rail.

The purpose of the project was clear – provide additional connectivity to encourage and improve transport links for the county.

How sustainability shaped all our decisions

Throughout the delivery of this project, our commitment to sustainability was considered at every possible point, with significant design decisions based around the station’s ability to connect with current and future generations.

The station was designed to create a navigable space suitable for all types of passengers. The architectural vision of the station was to create a light and airy station in keeping with its rural location, complementing the environmental and ecological strategy to ensure it was sympathetic to the local community and surroundings.

Early in the project, it was established that a robust drainage solution was required to be able to accommodate large volumes of water during wet weather. The construction includes a flood alleviation area, balancing pond and SUDS [Sustainable Drainage Systems] drainage.

The flood alleviation area also doubles up as a wetland and area for wildlife, which now supports reptiles, bats, birds and bees, helping passengers feel connected with nature, while they wait.

Train stations as a 'true leveller'

The station opened just before the pandemic hit, but even in that short time it exceeded passenger forecasts. There's no doubt that it will continue to be a major asset for Worcestershire as we emerge from lockdown.

Stations of the future are a huge discussion point at the moment, with many asking about the role of the railway in a post-pandemic world. Combined with the emergence of Great British Railways, this raises lots of questions for many people.

For me, it's clear: if we are to increase mobility across all members of society, we need to create better stations, improving the ones we have and building new ones from scratch.

A station is a node connecting people to the rail network and which creates opportunities and prospects for individuals and communities. It's a true leveller that allows individuals to benefit economically and socially.

The station of the future needs to be bespoke for the local community it serves and provide the optimum connectivity and sympathy with the individual challenges for the individual communities and locations it serves.

  • Sam Uren, ICE Fellow & Engineering Director, SLC Rail at SLC Rail and ICE Fellow