John Owens: Train stations can be more than transport portals

Gleneagles railway station.
Gleneagles railway station.
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AS our roads become more congested and the green agenda encourages us onto public transport, rail is becoming increasingly important.

With the average Scot clocking up nearly 400 miles a year on a train, and all of them passing through two or more rail stations, it’s not hard to see why these often iconic structures nowadays provide a key retail and leisure hub.

A programme of station refurbishment can deliver some real regeneration across many communities. The required investment can be significant, but there is evidence that it can be good value. A report in the autumn showed that homeowners in London, living along the Crossrail route, are expected to enjoy a 25 per cent increase in property values as part of a £5.5 billion programme of station refurbishment and the accompanying commercial and residential developments expected to follow. Meanwhile, the £800 million refurbishment of St Pancras, which re-opened in 2007 with upmarket shopping, music and drama events and the longest champagne bar in Europe, has attracted a new audience, with around 25 per cent of visitors never getting on a train.

Scotland is also investing in some of its key rail stations, partly to improve disability access but also to create wider value beyond their use as transport portals. Edinburgh Waverley is probably the best example, with its improved access routes, including the Balmoral Bridge and Market Street entrance which open up the station’s food and shopping facilities to a wider public. Glasgow Central (with a planned programme for Glasgow Queen Street to follow) and Dundee are other city stations undergoing investment which will could create community hubs. Additional refurbishment plans are also being rolled out in Perth while works were recently completed on Gourock station.

Rail travel passenger journeys are increasing, which makes the investment in stations justifiable. The additional potential to create spin-off retail opportunities while providing an exciting and vibrant hub makes the principle of station refurbishment an enticing and attractive proposition.

• John Owens is area director of design and engineering consultancy, WSP Group.