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For the majority of people, the station is still the place of passage, the one we leave as soon as possible to go to town, to work or to back at home. No need to stay in the middle of this environment which, with its noisy trains, looks like more an industrial place than a place of pleasure. It is true that the steam trains of 70 years ago caused a suffocating smoke and their so characteristic noises. Times have changed. Today the electric trains are much more discreet, especially as they are stationary. But people are in a hurry to leave and they continue to flee the station.
Some managers have examined what could be generate with railway stations, to make them more accessible, more cleaner and that gives to people the desire to stay. Awareness of this situation led of what appears to be obvious in Japan: the station is also real estate and juicy recipes, even for small stations. Now, it has become part of Railway’s company mission to take overlooked or underused parts of their stations and turn them into « money-making enterprises », exactly like an airport.
The flow marketing experts have very well understood. Transit stations are characterized by the absence of a static or permanent population, and the presence of pulsating, heavy flows of people moving through a space. Train stations are ideal locations for small businesses to set up shop, because they are hubs of human interaction where hundreds or even thousands of people day and night come and go. Each person in this flow of foot traffic is a potential customer who might need a specific item or purchase on impulse while waiting for a train. For this type of flow, the station must provide an accessible and affordable shopping experience offering merchandise or services that travelers might not quickly find elsewhere en route while traveling. “We’ve tried to fill pretty much dead space in the station with something that really draws people in,” said David Biggs, director of Property for Network Rail, talking about King-Cross station in London.
To do this, it was important to renovate some large stations or, when it was too hideous, to demolish them and build new station, like in Liège-Guillemins or Vienna-Hauptbahnhof. Architecture is a controversial subject because for many people, the train is not a pleasure because it brings you to work. The railway is seen as a bad constraint in the day, especially for commuters who are experiencing delays and trains crowded and often late. So architecture is equated with a waste of public money while many pressed commuters will only spend less than 10 minutes in the station self. However, a beautiful architecture also has the mission to put a barrier against the insalubrity and the filthy side that we often attribute to the stations and their neighborhood. By this mission, the beautiful architecture of a station secures the neighborhood, its inhabitants and the passengers in transit. This observation is also valid for small stations: the more they are renovated, the more they are respected. The presence of food places, open at evening, also secures a station that is often scary to those who take the train in late evening.
Train stations transformed into a friendly space with services, shops and restaurants are destined to become integrated places in their neighborhood, and not a separate and glaucous element as is still too often the case in many cities. Renovated or rebuilt railway stations have a three-fold mission: to offer better services to transit travelers, to offer better security, better atmosphere and improved services to the whole neighborhood, and to offer additional revenues to the railway companies.