Transport

Can lighting guide railway passengers instead of signs?

Passengers at London Bridge station
Performance and safety, including the movement of people, at train stations is a hot topic in the rail industry as passenger numbers are soaring, often in out-dated stations.

CAN INTELLIGENT lighting replace signage in railway stations as a way to guide passengers?

That’s the question that researchers are probing in a new study to explore how passenger flow and safety can be improved while removing clutter.

Backers of the study – led by DW Windsor and including The University of Nottingham, train operator FirstGroup, Urban Control, the DfT, InnovateUK and the Rail Safety and Standards Board – say it has the potential to deliver benefits of over £258 million. 

Performance and safety, including the movement of people, at train stations is a hot topic in the rail industry as passenger numbers are soaring, often in out-dated stations. 

The idea is to create intelligent stations that respond to the needs of customers, using dynamic lighting. The project will explore if light can get people on and off trains and through the station quickly and safely. 

Researchers will try to find an alternative to existing wayfinding solutions which could lead to the de-cluttering of outdated signage and zoning.   

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 believed to be more intuitive and quicker to process.

Research has already 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.

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. 

It then conducted an extensive review of lighting research literature, particularly the reported effects of lighting upon behaviour and mood. 

As a result, FirstGroup agreed for a proof of concept trial site, at Chippenham Station. 

This project has been funded by the Department for Transport and delivered through a competition run by InnovateUK. 

DW Windsor has 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 aim is to reduce dwell time on platforms and improve customer experience and safety.

The lighting is providing intuitive information to customers on where to stand to board the train.

The trail 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?
  • Does the lighting lead to 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 team say the initial results are ‘extremely encouraging’. People did seem to notice the lights and a small proportion of people used the lights to stand in the correct place. There were several types of interactions with the lights.

Many stations are already upgrading their functional lighting to LED to save energy, but LED lighting, with intelligent control functionality, has further reaching potential. Pic: Ray Molony

Pulsing handrail lighting was also installed to indicate direction and pace on the stairway while colour LED lights were placed at the top of the staircase to align people descending. 

Survey responses indicate 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. 

Consultant Nick Coad said: ‘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.’