Towards the end of the 19th century, Joseph Pulitzer ran a campaign in his newspaper, the New York World, to raise money for the base of the Statue of Liberty after the US government had failed to raise the funds itself. In return for a few dollars, readers received a miniature souvenir statue – an early example of crowdfunding.
The story behind the Statue of Liberty’s plinth was told by Niraj Dattani, head of community development at crowdfunding platform Spacehive, during the third Rail Delivery Group (RDG) Stations Summit last month.
Crowdfunding has already been used successfully to benefit Britain’s railway. Flying Scotsman owes its comeback in part to public contributions. Niraj, the final speaker of the day, was now pitching crowdfunding as an alternative way of funding station projects. It is an interesting idea to many in the audience in an environment where investment tends to be targeted at large stations, leaving smaller interchanges relying on community rail partnerships to deliver improvements.
RDG began its Stations Summit series in 2014. The first event tried to establish a shared vision for stations for the industry to back, the second launched that vision and the third set out to begin embedding it. ‘Railways really matter and stations are the gateways to our amazing railway system,’ said Dominic Booth, managing director of Abellio UK and chair of the RDG’s Station Strategy Group, opening the conference.
The vision for stations is based on a set of fundamental ideas for what stations should be. These nine principles stress that stations should be designed to meet the needs of all customers, be integrated with other travel modes, be safe and secure, and enhance the communities they are at the heart of.
The ‘Vision for Stations’ document talks about ensuring that stations continue to meet the fast-changing needs of passengers. To illustrate this, RDG approached BPR Architects to design a set of CGI concepts for a station that incorporated each of these attributes; a model on which the more than 2,500 stations around the country could be based on.
An operator currently struggling with its stations is Northern. The lack of a coherent strategy over the years has left many of the stations across the Northern network bearing little resemblance to one another, said managing director Alex Hynes. Given that Northern manages around 20 per cent of the national stations estate, it is a sizeable challenge to take on.
But, with its new franchise deal in place, Northern is in a position to do something about this. Over the next few years, the operator will invest £60 million in its stations. ‘We’re going to make sure that the small and medium-sized stations get their share of the action,’ said Alex.
One particular point of contention for Alex was the lack of shelter at many stations, but the money will help address a number of other issues as well. ‘We operate more stations than anyone else. Most of them have no real-time information, no staff and no ability to buy a ticket.’
Alex also spoke about increasing the number of station adopters across the network. Earlier in the year, Northern created its Community Rail Executive Group (COMREG) – a forum led by Arriva designed to build on its relationships with community rail partnerships and friends group along the route. In addition, Northern has created new community outreach management roles within the business.
‘It’s difficult to deliver exceptional customer service if we don’t have investment,’ said Network Rail’s managing director Phil Hufton at the beginning of the conference, discussing the important role stations play in customer satisfaction.
Although so much of the summit was focussed on the challenges facing small and medium-sized stations, it is actually the smaller stations which regularly outperform Network Rail’s 18 managed stations in the National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS).
Network Rail’s stations director, Norrie Courts, later gave details about Project Osprey, an initiative exploring alternative funding models for stations, starting with the 18 largest. Norrie said that with less government funding expected in the future, the industry will need to be clear on its station investment priorities for CP6. Norrie followed Mike Goggins, who spoke about a complementary piece of research Steer Davies Gleave is working on which, in part, is looking at future models for leasing and managing stations.
The vision, by trying to anticipate the needs of future passengers, hopes to bring stations in line with public expectation. One session considered what facilities and services a station for HS2 might need. Will passengers still rely on large passenger information boards in 2027?
By 2030, RDG hopes to have achieved its vision. The Station Strategy Group is currently working with the Department for Transport (DfT) to deliver franchises that offer a transformative future for stations and also with local authorities to consider where stations fit within housing and development masterplans. More funding for community rail partnerships in the next few years will also mean more worthwhile projects will be able to get off the ground than in the past.
As Dominic Booth wrote in his foreword, RDG now needs to come up with a strategy to realise its vision. The complex nature of ownership and funding within the rail industry suggests that this won’t be straightforward, but those passionate about delivering it don’t believe it is insurmountable.