Smart stations care for commuters
By Tao Zihui  ·  2021-07-12  ·   Source: NO.28 JULY 15, 2021
Photovoltaic solar panels on the oval rooftop of the Xiongan Railway Station in Xiongan New Area, Hebei Province, on December 26, 2020 (XINHUA)

China's railway dates back to the 1880s and since then, the routes in operation have grown to span more than 140,000 km, or 3.5 times the circumference of the Earth. As China's railway network is growing and modernizing, so are its stations, which are employing philosophies and cutting-edge technologies to deliver comfort and convenience to travelers.

"When I was in school, we always considered travel physically challenging due to underdeveloped transportation facilities. But now we have managed to turn what was once difficult into an enjoyable experience. As a railway designer, I'm very conscious of this change in travel experience," Zhang Han, associate chief engineer of the China Railway Design Corp. (CRDC), told Beijing Review. "Our approach now is that the design of railway stations must be guided by the actual needs of the passengers."

Tao Ran, chief engineer of the CRDC Construction Institute, said that currently a railway station is no longer simply a place where people wait for their trains, which requires designers to pay more attention to its comprehensive functions.

"We need to integrate railway stations with their surrounding buildings and landscape elements to create a livable and business-friendly environment," Tao added. He also stressed that the smooth connectivity of railways and other public transit systems such as subways and airport express lines is essential to facilitating a smooth passenger arrival and departure.

Philosophy in practice 

Covering an area of approximately 475,200 square meters, or the size of 66 soccer fields, the Xiongan Railway Station in Hebei Province is one of the world's largest train terminals. As one of the designers of the station, the CRDC gave priority to ensuring passengers move freely and comfortably on a truly massive scale.

One of the goals of the designers was to allow passengers to enter the station and wait only the time they would wait for a cup of coffee before departing. The design of the entire facility revolves around the convenience of passengers as they transfer and wait.

The core planning requirement for the station was integration between high-speed rail and other forms of transportation, including buses, taxis, and urban rail, to allow passengers to transfer without leaving the complex. In addition, a three-dimensional traffic layout means each service occupies a separate area, minimizing disruptions between them.

Located in Xiongan New Area, near Hebei's famously picturesque Baiyangdian Lake, the Xiongan Railway Station is designed to resemble a drop of dew on a lotus leaf. Its oval roof is a photovoltaic power generation system, in keeping with the city's green development drive.

Generating an annual average of 5.8 million kWh of power, the system helps cut carbon dioxide emissions by 4,500 tons every year, equivalent to planting 120,000 hectares of trees. A 15-meter-wide "sunlight belt" built into the ceiling improves the lighting in the waiting hall.

All pillars and beams in the station were built using fair-faced concrete, which minimized the need to use decorative finishing materials. The walls of the station are also designed to absorb sound in order to minimize noise pollution.

According to its officials, the station is operated by a "smart brain"—a hi-tech system that uses big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to provide various services for visitors, while guaranteeing the smooth operation of the station and reducing the energy consumption of the entire building.

Established in April 2017, Xiongan will take over Beijing's functions nonessential to its role as national capital. Its city proper will be a new home for Beijing's colleges, hospitals, business headquarters and financial and public institutions. With Xiongan aiming to become a smart, green, forward-thinking and resident-friendly city, the Xiongan Railway Station, the landmark of the area, is already serving as a model for future development. 

New technologies 

Wang Changjin, another associate chief engineer of the CRDC, said the company has adopted building information modeling and some 70 other cutting-edge technologies in the building of railway stations. These include the Internet of Things, cloud computing and big data, setting a new benchmark for intelligent high-speed railways globally.

One such technology was developed by another CRDC associate chief engineer, Hu Wenlin, who is also deputy director of the Vibration Reduction and Noise Reduction Laboratory at the National Engineering Laboratory. Hu's innovation, known as an acoustic camera, is already lowering ambient noise inside the Xiongan Railway Station and others like it.

Placed in any environment, the high-accuracy camera pinpoints the exact sources of each of the sounds that contribute to ambient noise. It then analyzes them and provides information that helps reduce or eliminate them.

"Do you notice how quiet it is inside our lab?" Hu asked during Beijing Review's visit. "Applying this technology to railway stations gives passengers a more comfortable environment in which to wait."

The camera has also been put to use by the CRDC in the construction of Beijing's Fengtai Railway Station, which began at the end of 2018. Designed to help reduce transport pressure on existing railway stations in the capital city, the new one is designed to handle 60 million passenger trips per year.

The first passenger-only railway station in China, it employs a double-decker rail yard, with trains arriving and departing on two levels. With a construction footprint of nearly 400,000 square meters, there is no international precedent for a two-level passenger railway station of this size.

The design of the station superimposes its functions vertically, maximizing the space of the zones of different functions and minimizing land usage as much as possible. "The design integrates transportation resources and saves on construction costs. It is also an exploration of new forms of transportation architecture and urban development," said Lu Da, another official with the CRDC. 

In addition to merely transporting passengers, stations like Fengtai and Xiongan are increasingly considering passengers' needs for comfort, convenience and ease of travel. Ensuring the design of each station reflects its environment and is thoroughly integrated into the surrounding cityscape not only helps passengers get around more efficiently, but also makes the daily commute more enjoyable.

(Print Edition Title:Hubs for Humans)  

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson 

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