Penn Design Charette – High Speed Rail

EurostarBetween the 4th and 8th March, RTPI London and TfL welcomed students from the University of Pennsylvania to London for a 5 day visit themed around high speed rail and major station design.

Their activities across the week in London were designed to explore how other nations plan and construct major infrastructure schemes in order to apply this knowledge to project ideas for the delivery of a new high speed line and reconfigured Penn station in New York.

Following a visit to Kings Cross to tour the Argent development and the redevelopment of Kings Cross station the group travelled to Canary Wharf to hear about the Crossrail Project from Crossrail Ltd and Canary Wharf Contractors Ltd. The presentation looked at the need for the new east west link across London a little around the history of planning this project and a detailed view of the construction of the Canary Wharf station. This included the reconfiguration of the docks and drainage to enable construction of the station box. The group were then given the opportunity to don their personal protective equipment and tour the Crossrail station under construction. The development which includes the station, ticket hall, retail and a rooftop park areas is six storeys high and is the length of approximately One Canada Square lying down on its side! The tour enabled the group to appreciate the scale of the new station which will be served by 200m long trains and the complex construction project which is underway. The platform level area is now ready for the arrival of Elizabeth and Victoria, Crossrail’s second pair of Tunnel Boring Machines who are tunnelling between the Limmo Peninsula and Docklands.

The group through the week heard from a variety of academics and practitioners on planning experience on major projects and some main challenges and solutions to major station design including the need to think wider than the station around the interchange and its connectivity and the architecture and design of the station. As part of this series of seminars, TfL delivered a session which looked at the London Plan and MTS, demonstrating that it is important to undertake wider modeling and strategy building to define the need for projects and to place the project through the design process into the wider context. In addition a presentation was delivered on Euston and some of the lessons learned from Kings Cross and St Pancras and how it is hoped to apply these lessons in the next major station planning and design process at Euston with HS2.

Following the series of seminars and site visits it was the turn of the students to apply this London and wider European context into proposals to deliver a revitalized station at Penn in New York which can link to a wider regional high speed rail scheme. This culminated in a presentation on the Friday afternoon. The students went as far as looking at how the station needs to be configured to accommodate high speed rail services not to the detriment of the heavily used commuter services. The solution was an expansion to the station or Penn South. Connections to the existing New York Subway were considered and enhancements explored similar to the context of Kings Cross St Pancras. In addition like Kings Cross the students felt that a project at Penn could be catalyst for the wider regeneration of the area and suggested suitable uses on the site as well as the wider area and looked at the context of the area suggesting where urban design improvements could be made to make the area and destination in its own right.

Key challenges which emerged were around the delivery of the project and funding. A variety of key stakeholders were explored and it was suggested that a partnership was vital to the delivery of any improvement. As suggested in an earlier seminar it was considered that a champion was also needed to drive forward the project a variety of politicians were considered for this role.

The students upon returning to the University will refine their ideas for presentation to wider stakeholders and politicians. Hopefully this will kick start the project! RTPI London and TfL found this experience of working with the American students extremely rewarding and it is hoped that these links can be maintained going forward.

Andrew Dorrian

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