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Rail architecture

We design stations that are a cost-effective balance of elegance and function

We design stations that are a cost-effective balance of elegance and function

For over a century, rail stations have been the vital hubs of countries’ connectivity, part of an inclusive infrastructure system that drives economies and works for everyone.

Today, rail architecture must respond to the complex and changing ways we live and work, while meeting wider priorities like the push for net zero emissions. At Arup, we see it as a chance to bring human-centred design principles together with deep understanding of the role rail plays in the life of towns and cities.

The changing nature of travel

Rail architecture starts with the passenger or ‘user’ experience. Every location is different, every network has different connections, so every element must first be considered for its role in the local context and wider system. As designers and advisors, we bring together social, economic and cultural knowledge to bear, helping to shape a project’s nature from the very outset. Well-designed rail stations can become motors of the local economy and make public transport more popular, safe and inclusive.

In this digital era, we’re blessed with so much data, we can design more responsively and responsibly than ever. That means great travel experiences, that are sustainable from end-to-end. Tomorrow’s net zero world demands nothing less. ”

Nille Juul Sorensen Nille Juul-Sorensen Global Architecture Leader

The five principles of rail architecture

Our work on railway projects around the world has taught us the following five principles when designing stations:

1. Offer a brilliant passenger experience

Railway stations must compete with an increasing number of other travel options. A well-designed station becomes an emblem of city or town pride, and encourages more sustainable behaviour and a move away from fossil-fuel travel. It takes careful planning to design an effortless travel experience. It requires thoughtful use of quality materials, lighting, wayfinding and digital services. Ultimately, it ensures a station becomes the default option for tourists, business people and locals alike.

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Cityringen Cityringen

Copenhagen metro: An intuitive, seamless travel experience that provides passengers with moments of delight on their journey

2. Be cost-effective over the whole lifespan

Investing in public transport infrastructure means making a commitment to being great value for money. We believe rail architecture can blend function with elegance in a cost-effective manner. Our kit-of-parts design approach ensures maintenance and replacements remain affordable over the rail system's full lifespan, and it's at the hear of our design approach for Finch West Light Rail in Toronto and Luton Airport DART. We believe there’s beauty to a system that will remain operationally sustainable for the future.

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3. Provide seamless connections

Simple, well-designed connections are what elevates a station into a go-to hub for railway travellers. Designing seamless connections requires insights into travel patterns and an understanding of customers’ onward travel preferences. We use our MassMotion software to visualise real travel behaviours and use them to shape the design process. Our design for the UK’s forthcoming HS2 interchange in Solihull envisions the station as a key connector for rail, metro, road and airport users, becoming part of the ‘Midlands Engine’ regeneration area.

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HS2 connections Birmingham HS2 connections Birmingham

HS2 Interchange: The world’s first railway station to get the top award for environmentally-friendly design

4. Be a good, green neighbour

Rail is increasingly centre-stage as countries attempt to achieve net zero emission economies. This means rail architecture that is prudent in its use of resources, energy efficient in operation and broad in its use of circular economy principles. It also means station designs that are good neighbours to their surroundings. Our station and depot designs for HS2 are driven by this idea, prioritising natural ventilation and daylight, harvesting rainwater, and using solar energy to power key services – placing it in the top 1% of buildings in the UK for eco-friendly credentials.

Discover how we’re pioneering eco-friendly design for HS2’s Interchange Station

5. Be data-driven and digitally integrated

Rail operators are becoming digital to the core, from assets and maintenance to station management and on-board and pre-journey services. Today, every passenger is a digital customer. Digital services and infrastructure are the key to meet changing customer expectations and operating a more competitive service. That means that digital integration must be planned at the outset, with open data standards used to help stations share information and drive innovation in operator’s businesses.

Discover how digital could transform the future of stations
HS2 engineering study render HS2 engineering study render

Bringing future projects to life with digital technologies that help improve decision-making and stakeholder engagement

Beyond stations

Stations are just the most visible part of the network. As rail architects we also design the functional structures, the depots and over-site developments, that are just as much part of the network. Once more, our design principles embody a human-centred and highly sustainable ethos to what must be high performance buildings with cost-effective maintenance designed in from the outset.


Meet our people



Across the world, we shape and deliver major rail projects for clients in the public and private sector. Our approach combines systems-thinking, the latest technologies and decades of experience.

Across the world, we shape and deliver major rail projects for clients in the public and private sector. Our approach combines systems-thinking, the latest technologies and decades of experience.

Discover more about our rail experience

Rail systems

Our rail experts work with clients to plan, design, operate and maintain complex rail systems to enable safe and optimised operations, while mitigating costly risks. Our services include systems engineering; rolling stock consultancy; safety and assurance; detailed systems design and integration of signalling, track, traction power, overhead lines and communications and control systems.

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Rail infrastructure

Rail infrastructure

Using the latest technologies and innovations in design and engineering, we bring decades of experience from rail megaprojects and enhancement programmes from around the world. Our services include civil and structural engineering; architecture; mechanical and electrical engineering; environmental studies; geotechnics; noise and vibration; station, tunnel, viaducts and depot design.

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Digital rail

Digital rail

From the ability to transform asset management and maintenance to the clear benefits new technologies bring to the customer experience and seamless mobility, digital is offering enormous new opportunities for railways. We are working with clients around the world to help their shift to tomorrow’s digital railway.

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We help our clients realise their vision through architecture that’s grounded in people, their experiences and their environments, and we use the most advanced digital tools to unlock the potential in every project. 

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Advisory services

Advisory services

Maximising the wider benefits of rail for all stakeholders requires genuine ‘systems thinking’. Taking a holistic long-term view of the whole mobility landscape, our advisors work with governments, asset owners, operators, fleet manufacturers and financial investors to define and develop future strategies that return the highest value. Our services cover economics and finance, assets and operations, people and organisations, programmes and project delivery, and strategy and insights.

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