Design Process: Ageing populations - Stations of the third age

Design Process: Ageing populations - Stations of the third age

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All but 18 countries in the world are experiencing population ageing. In the UK over 65’s increased by 23% between 2009 and 2019 to 19% of the total population, whilst in Singapore over 65’s will rise to 25% of the overall population by 2030. Andrew Postings explores the design aspects in stations that can support not just an ageing population, but everyone.

Our aim should be to enable everyone to be able to lead active, engaged, and valued lives within their communities. By providing public transport infrastructure designs that facilitate people living in their preferred environments by increasing their autonomy, self-confidence, and mobility, we bring benefits to the whole of society. Designing for inclusivity results in higher quality, more accessible and usable spaces for all on a much wider level. With positive affects beyond the specific stations environments, as well as to the operators of such infrastructure.

For the new user a station can present a confusing, difficult to navigate and often overwhelming public space. However, in making the station as inclusive as possible we provide benefits to all – both passengers and operators. There are a number of key areas to consider:


Station designs should provide clear, visible, and legible routes from street to platform and vice versa. When the layout is intuitive, easy to navigate and understand, passengers move through the station more easily, which also benefits station staff overseeing daily operations. Spatial designs must provide clear visibility of routes to and from platforms and wayfinding needs to be intuitive, reducing the level of signage required. However, signage needs to be located strategically at various decision-making points to assist passengers. Ticket Office and/ or Assistance windows should be designed at heights suitable for all passengers including wheelchair users. Sufficient numbers of accessible fare-gates should be incorporated into gate-lines as determined by the demand numbers and pedestrian flow modelling.



These areas are typically those in the top-risk classification for the potential for slips, trips, and falls amongst all passengers. These include stairs, ramps, escalators, and lifts. For all publicly accessible means of level change the designs should provide sufficient run-offs to top and bottom landings (and intermediate when required), together with treads and risers that meet statutory requirements with sufficient lighting and appropriate waiting areas at top/ bottom / landings.


Highly reflective surfaces cause problems with glare and produce reflections which can cause confusion and can be misinterpreted. The need for hard wearing easily cleanable architectural finishes tends to result in the specification of shiny surface finishes in stations. The balance needs to be judged carefully as overly prescriptive restrictions in materials choice reduces the opportunities for innovation and expression. Manifestations with appropriate contrast must be installed on any obstruction or glazed elements in accordance with relevant statutory requirements. Fritting applied to glazed balustrades will benefit passengers in navigating the station, as visually impaired passengers or staff may find transparent surfaces problematic. These features also aid others such as autistic passengers or staff, or passengers with dementia.



The use of colours when proposing the finishes is vital in ensuring members of the public and staff with visual impairments can navigate the station safely and independently. As per industry standard guidance there must be appropriate colour contrast between planes, and to indicate doorways and obstacles. Colour choice will follow both industry guidance and consider the needs of passengers, such as those with visual impairments, autistic people, or people with dementia.



Marked changes in lighting levels and flickering light sources can prove problematic for some passengers. The industry standard requires minimum light levels in public areas of the station with minimal deviation and with increased levels for areas such as stairs and escalators. This should reduce the potential for confusion and disorientation within the station environments. Modern energy efficient light sources typically use LED lamps which have the potential to flicker, however the expectation is that the specification of light sources will be sufficient to provide stable light output with minimal flicker. Where local requirements permit, architects should seek to allow natural lighting into the building, and to provide longer views out of the station buildings.


Railway station signage is often held up as an exemplar of how to design and provide consistency in the style and design of direction, route guidance and legibility. Wayfinding signage helps to underline the station and operator’s identity. All signage will be adequately lit and easily recognisable by all passengers with clear lines of sight. Emergency signage is self-illuminated, operating on emergency power as standard. Customer information needs to be positioned in prominent and accessible locations. Key legislative requirements for warning signs and evacuation routes will be incorporated where appropriate in conjunction with PAVA systems.


Stations are designed in conjunction with acoustic engineering inputs with absorptive materials to give reduced reverberation times and to allow speech intelligibility. This allows PAVA systems to be able to operate effectively, and there will be benefits to passengers, including autistic passengers or passengers with dementia, with regard to excessive sound levels. Induction loops or equivalent hearing aid systems should be incorporated into the communication design scope to ensure passengers can receive updates and notifications from the operator, communicate clearly with members of staff and in case of emergency.


Seating should be provided in ticket halls and circulation spaces, near to level changes and on platforms. Consideration can be given to provision for a respite space for disoriented or anxious passengers. Long interchange routes should provide for resting areas out of the path of trafficked areas.


Station designs should provide for a Changing Places facility in the central area, which will be readily accessible to passengers. These should be provided in addition to public toilet facilities including accessible toilets.



A sensory room is an interactive space designed to help travellers who are neurodivergent and may become particularly overwhelmed in a bustling and unfamiliar terminal. They can help travellers with conditions like autism, dementia, or other sensory processing issues.



In busy public spaces it is considered imperative that operational staff have received training in being able to offer assistance to passengers, including neurodivergent users.



For passengers and station operational staff who require either a Guide Dog or a Service Dog to enable them to live in their preferred environments a Dog Spend area will be provided close to the entrance to the station ory processing issues.