Moving Stories: Lighting Transport Hubs for the New Normal

As the world adjusts to life post-lockdown, people are starting to travel again - whether it’s the commute to work, an evening trip to see friends, or cross-country journeys to visit family. In many cities, where the car isn’t king, that means walking, cycling or taking public transport. City authorities worldwide have set rules on precautions in vehicles and the wearing of masks - but what about transit hubs?
These areas are indispensable for many journeys - and lighting can play a vital role in bringing people together while keeping them apart.

Lighting transport hubs presents a multitude of challenges. Lighting levels need to accommodate everything from winter morning rush hours, to the last train on a sleepy Sunday. Maintenance needs to be minimised - shutting areas or platforms can create havoc for transport services. In many cities, stations are heritage landmarks as well as major interchanges. And that’s all before the new challenge, of ensuring passengers can socially distance as they make their way to their bus, train, tram or bike. Good lighting design can really help make transport safer as the world bounces back.

Going Places, Seeing Faces

Intelligent, thoughtful lighting design “boosts confidence, allows people to see each other and makes them feel welcome,” says lighting designer Leni Schwendinger, who has created night time environments in cities worldwide.

Light is not only a spatial tool, it’s also a wayfinder and can set direction in transit hubs, if integrated with material, colour and other design elements to aid traveling through complex routes.

Leni Schwendinger - International Nighttime Design Initiative
Leni Schwendinger
Director - International Nighttime Design Initiative

Light can add moments of joy to navigating a transport interchange, she notes, and create a safe, welcoming environment throughout.

Tunable light gives potential for using tints and colours based on real life circulation patterns or desire lines - how people are moving to and from the subway, bus, main train station, and so on. Especially after the pandemic, with wanting to keep people a little more separate, illumination tools can echo preferred routes of circulation to guide people to destinations. 

Leni Schwendinger - International Nighttime Design Initiative
Leni Schwendinger
Director - International Nighttime Design Initiative

Also, creative use of light can set boundaries to remind visitors to safely distance for health reasons. 

Railway Cathedrals, Lit for Modern Life

Stations across Europe and beyond are realising that shopping, eating and drinking are as much a part of the experience as catching a train. The São Bento Railway Station in Porto, Portugal, welcomes 1 million passengers per month and is one of the most beautiful stations in the world. Opened in 1916, the spectacular entrance hall is covered with 20,000 splendid tin-glazed ceramic tiles that describe the country’s history of Portugal and are classified as a national monument.

Energy-efficient lighting improves the lighting levels for a better passenger experience and enhance the historic patrimony of Sao Bento train station

In 2017, we worked with n&m Lighting Design Studio to implement a new energy-efficient lighting scheme that would improve passenger experience and show the historic tiles in their best light. Using Neos and Dexo luminaires, lights were suspended from the central axis of the roof to increase brightness and visibility so that passengers and staff can board and alight the trains in complete safety and comfort. Meanwhile, Neos floodlights illuminate the magnificent iron and glass canopy and pillars to highlight the station’s architecture.

All Change for the New Normal

New approaches to transport are crucial, the European Commission noted in its May 2020 guidelines on the restoration of transport services. 

Urban mobility is already being re-thought in several Member States, regions and cities, such as extending pavements and bicycle paths, adapting timetables and developing innovative technologies to manage passenger flows and avoid crowding. The Commission encourages... new urban mobility solutions and measures to facilitate active, collective and shared mobility in a safe manner, and to ensure trust among citizens," wrote the Commission. 


Lighting can play a vital role in this, especially when it comes to trust. Getting it right means that passengers can use the entire platform while waiting for connections, thus making social distancing easier. It makes changing trains quicker and easier. And the use of light to make zones, pathways and areas distinct can also help - and is easier to adjust as the situation evolves than creating physical barriers.


Meeting Standards, Exceeding Expectations

In the UK, we have worked with Network Rail and train operators to ensure compliance with safety standards for issues specific to transport hubs, such as lighting designs for usable platform edge, driver's line of sight and crime reduction. That includes projects at stations with complex platforms, such as London Waterloo and London Bridge, and the introduction of sensors to reduce energy and increase safety at stations: lights which highlight where people are on platforms have led to drastic reductions in vandalism.

At Reading station - which serves more than 15 million passengers a year, and is one of the busiest UK stations outside of London - we provided lighting for all the station platforms that were not under cover. That included creating a bespoke solution to provide battery backup in case of emergency, as if power is lost to any of these platforms, the lighting needs to provide an instant backup for passengers to get around safely.

Schréder luminaires provide a safe passage for commuters arriving and leaving St Pancras and King Cross stations in London

We have helped travellers navigate some of the world’s biggest interchanges. Two of London’s biggest rail stations, King’s Cross and St Pancras International, provide vital connections to Paris, Brussels, Edinburgh and major UK cities and airports, as well as being a hub for London’s public transport system. The space between them, Pancras Road and King’s Boulevard has been redeveloped since the turn of the millennium into an attractive area for shopping, dining and meeting. These roads are lit by Hestia luminaires so that travellers using the twin hubs can navigate their changes quickly and efficiently - and see and enjoy the wide range of facilities while they do so. 

We also worked with Transport for London to deliver multi-billion pound infrastructure upgrades, which involved changes to our manufacturing setup. Designated workstations were set up, specifically for this project, with specially calibrated tools. These areas were reviewed by stakeholders throughout the process, which included air testing every single unit. (Fun Fact: we developed novel ways of air testing luminaires when we lit the Channel Tunnel, as the lighting in the undersea tunnel linking the UK and France has to withstand extreme air effects from passing trains). 

Next Stop: The Future

Responses to the pandemic, from stopping services, to using reservations to ensure social distancing, and investing in critical infrastructure, mean that cities are once again at the forefront of change. As transport links gradually re-open and services ramp back up, an investment in lighting could be a great way to reinvigorate cities.