Making light work for more intelligent stations

A consortium led by DW Windsor, consisting of Urban Control, the DfT, InnovateUK, FirstGroup, The University of Nottingham and the RSSB, embarked on a study to address station capacity and passenger flow, which has the potential to deliver benefits of over £258m.

The challenge

Performance and safety (including the movement of people) at train stations is a key concern in rail transport today; especially with the increasing numbers of passengers, and often out-dated station spaces.

The Rail Technology Strategy believes that improving capacity and enhancing customer experience will increase passenger flow in stations. Which has the potential to deliver benefits of over £258m.

Key project requirements

  • Create intelligent stations that respond to the needs of customers, using dynamic lighting
  • Use light to get people on and off trains and through the station quickly and safely
  • Ensure lighting does not cause glare or visual discomfort for drivers and passengers
  • Find an alternative to existing wayfinding solutions; de-cluttering stations of outdated signage/zoning systems  
  • Modernise the rail industry through the use of current trends i.e. experience lighting: that’s flexible, controllable, responsive and intuitive
  • System must be instinctive and engaging

The solution

Why lighting?

Traditionally, printed signage has been used to help commuter flow, but signs need to be cognitively processed, which can take a few more precious seconds. Light on the other hand is more intuitive and quicker to process.

Research has shown that lighting can influence behaviour, speed and the movement of people. Many stations are already upgrading their functional lighting to LED to save energy, but LED lighting, with intelligent control functionality, has further reaching potential.

Proof of concept

The University of Nottingham’s Human Factors team and Geospatial Institute led a research study to identify the typical movement related issues a station faces. They then conducted an extensive review of lighting research literature, particularly, reported effects of lighting upon behaviour/mood. Which led to the identification of clear opportunities for using light to influence movement behaviours.

As a result, FirstGroup agreed for a proof of concept trial site, at Chippenham Station. A project funded by the Department for Transport and delivered through a competition run by InnovateUK: Accelerating Innovation in Rail 4 (AIR4).

DW Windsor led the project, working with sister company Urban Control to develop new wireless, connected lights and sensors that are controlled through cloud-based software. 

The projects: Platforms

Aim: to reduce dwell time and improve customer experience and safety; providing intuitive information to customers on where to stand to board the train and improve the flow of passengers off the trains and on the platform.

We used Gobo projected lighting on the platform to indicate to passengers where to stand in alignment with a carriage door; allowing a freer flow of passengers disembarking.

The trial was evaluated by the University with a series of research questions:

Do the lights function as intended?
Do passengers respond to the lighting/move to stand for the train?
Do passengers distribute evenly along the platform?
Do passengers appreciate the lighting intervention? More orderly boarding?

A combination of observations (both direct and indirect), interviews with customers and staff and Wi-Fi sniffing data were used to measure success.

The result

Initial results are extremely encouraging.

People did seem to notice the lights (i.e. looked up ‐ looked back, looked up ‐looked along) and a small proportion of people used the lights to stand in the correct place. There were several types of interactions with the lights.

Responses were categorised into 5 major response types:

  1. The participant is positioned in an area from which it would be difficult to see the light and/or they are turned away from the lights.
  2. The participant is positioned in an area in which it would be easy to see the lights, but for whatever reason e.g. on the phone, they do not notice the lights.
  3. The participant notices the lights and may look up into the canopy, onto the projection or along the platform, but takes no further action in response to the light. 
  4. Participant notices the light and interacts with it by looking/moving either a body part (e.g. foot) or whole body into and/or out of the projection. 
  5. Participant is positioned away from the lighting but once activated, appears to move closer/into the light after the light.

The projects: Handrail, stairway lighting​

Aim: to encourage efficient bi-directional passenger flows, improve space allocation and regulate walking speeds.

Here, the approach was to install pulsing handrail lighting to indicate direction and pace on the stairway. Furthermore, coloured LED lights were placed at the top of the staircase to align people descending.

The trial was evaluated with a series of research questions:

Do the lights function as intended?
Do passengers move up and down the appropriate side of the stairway?
Do the stairways clear quicker during busy times?
Are there any improvements in passenger experience?

Customers and staff were interviewed, and observers took photos to document results.

The result

Survey responses indicated that passengers understood the purpose of the lighting.

It was found that the lights were more visible during darkness or partial light – ideal for high commuter times, but the movement effect was strongest around dawn. Several incidents were noted where passengers predominantly used the stairway as directed. Some people were observed moving from one side to the other after observing the lights.

In conclusion the lights were noticeable and functioned as intended. People responded to the lights and some understood the intended reaction, others thought they were to inspire use of the handrail, which encourages safer usage and movement. Staff found the lights useful as a device to back up their suggestions on how to use the stairway.

Nick Coad, Insetting Ltd Consultant, working with Urban Control states: “There was so much interest in our demonstration that is shows that the market is ready for a change. The beauty of these solutions is that they are not limited to rail alone, they can be applied anywhere crowds need to be influenced. The application possibilities are extensive from football stadiums to music concerts.”

Stuart Parker, FirstGroup, Property Director, comments “This has been a very exciting project to be involved in. Innovative initiatives of this nature can open the door to a world of possibilities and are setting the standard for future customer experiences”  

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