West Midlands: first railway station in the world to obtain a sustainable label

21/11/2021 – By Frédéric de Kemmeter – Railway signalling and freelance copywriter – Suscribe my blog
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The future station of West Midlands, being built for HS2 has become the first in the world to be awarded the highest ranking by a sustainability rating scheme.

BREEAM, Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method, is the world’s longest established method of assessing, rating, and certifying the sustainability of buildings. It recognises and reflects the value in higher performing assets across the built environment lifecycle, from new construction to in-use and refurbishment. More than 550,000 buildings have been BREEAM-certified and over 2 million are registered for certification – in more than 50 countries worldwide.

In 2018, the whole project HS2 has already become the UK’s first infrastructure project to be awarded a BREEAM Infrastructure Scheme Certificate for its ambitious sustainability strategy on Phase 1 of the project. The future West Midlands station is part of this project, and it is the first station in the world to obtain this prestigious certification.

The future station is under construction to the east of Birmingham on an area in the centre of Solihull, also known as the West Midlands, close to the M42 motorway, and positioned on the high speed line section of the HS2 bypassing Birmingham towards Manchester.

This comprises Birmingham Airport, Birmingham International Station, the National Exhibition Centre, Jaguar Land Rover and Birmingham Business Park.

BREEAM recognises the station’s eco-friendly features, including maximising natural daylight and ventilation, a station roof design which can capture and reuse rainwater, and features to enable net zero carbon emissions from day-to-day energy consumption.

The company Arup, which was appointed in 2009 for route engineering studies of HS2, also undertook the design of the Curzon Street station in Birmingham and the West Midlands interchange discussed here. It’s’nt a station in the centre of a town, but on the outskirts of Solihull, in the heart of a built-up area close to numerous communication routes. Interchange Station will be the best-connected place in the UK by rail, road and air with customers able to reach London Euston in just 38 minutes. It will also connect to the city centres of Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester. The station will be linked to the National Exhibition Center (NEC), Birmingham International Station and Birmingham Airport via an automated people mover carrying up to 2,100 passengers per hour in each direction. In addition to the APM, the station will be fully integrated with other local buses, taxis and private vehicle options.

The fact that important places in the suburb, such as the NEC, can also be connected shows that large areas can be connected without the need for a car or taxi. This increases the sustainability of the project. This station differs fundamentally from the projects in France such as TGV Haute-Picardie and Meuse-TGV, or the Reggio Emilia station lost between Milan and Bologna.

The Interchange Station itself will be made up of two 415 metre long island platforms, offering 4 platform faces, as well as 2 central high speed through tracks for non-stopping services. The Arup’s design minimises embodied carbon through the use of life cycle assessment reporting for key building materials and waste at source through material efficiency analysis. Energy efficient technology will be incorporated, such as air source heat pumps and LED lighting. In addition, the station and Automated People Mover maintenance facility, also designed by Arup, have over 2,000m2 of solar panels generating zero carbon electricity.


Directing rainwater from the main station building via a network of underground pipes into a rainwater harvesting tank will assist in providing part of the building’s water requirements, which will reduce the mains water demand for the station. The landscaping features sustainable drainage systems to reduce the burden on surface water drainage whilst naturally irrigating planted areas, and there will be new natural habitats created around the station, promoting biodiversity.


There will be 222 electric vehicle charging points in the car parking, and cycle storage for only 176 bicycles which actually seems like very little, but we’re not in Utrecht! However, dedicated pedestrian access into the station from the east of the railway and multiple dedicated cycle routes will provide passengers with a safe, direct connections to the station.

« As sustainability and resilience become ever more crucial in transport infrastructure, this BREEAM award represents a significant milestone for station design and a step forward in our quest for greener railway, » explains Kim Quazi, lead Architect at Arup.

The site of the railway station is also an opportunity, in the surrounding area, to start the Arden Cross urban-planning project, which is a masterplan to enable the delivery of 5.95 million sq ft (552,750 sq m) of commercial space suitable for national and international occupiers, up to 1,600 new homes, complementary retail and leisure amenities, a high quality public realm and an education campus.

In our opinion, we would have liked car parks to be underground and sustainable housing to be built above them, as there are in many eco-neighbourhoods in Europe, where cars no longer appear in the landscape, but without banning them.

Of course, BREEAM does not reflect everything we can do on a project, as it is an environmental methodology. So, improvements to jobs, wealth, the public realm and society in general are not included. We add also that BREEAM is such a part of UK building certification that it’s largely embedded into the building regulations. But BREEAM is a it’s an interesting instrument really helpful for embedding sustainability into buildings from the outset and pushing developers to think about environmental factors.

We can bet that elsewhere in Europe, other recently built or rebuilt stations could also obtain the BREEAM label.

These developments are necessary in this dramatic period of Coronavirus and the shutdown of our economy. But this British project also shows us that many sustainable elements can nowadays be compatible with the creation of large infrastructures, contrary to degrowth enthusiasts who propose the extinction of creativity.

The future decarbonation requires a combination of the best of ecology and construction techniques.


12/05/2020 – By Frédéric de Kemmeter – Railway signalling and freelance copywriter
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