Rail for Herefordshire:
Our aspirations for Hereford Railway Station (April 2011)
Rail for Herefordshire seeks to promote rail travel to and from Herefordshire. In order to achieve this aim, it would like to work with a wide range of partners in order to improve facilities for rail based passengers. Of the four stations in Herefordshire, Hereford is by far the most important, not only in terms of passenger throughput but also for onward connections by other modes and for access to the city itself.
In recent months, discussion within the group has focused on passenger expectations with regard to Hereford railway station. The prominent station building is listed and it certainly has a striking architectural elegance that could be enhanced to greater effect. The main question posed is the extent to which we can capture the sense of arrival and departure at one of the gateways to this beautiful cathedral city.
The aim of this discussion note is to set out a number of initial ideas of the group in order to stimulate further interest among passengers, owners, managers of the station and other stakeholders. In this way we are hoping to re-shape a vision of Hereford railway station as an exceptional and memorable place to meet, greet and travel to and from.
As a starting point for discussion we set out our vision:
“Hereford railway station and its surrounding environs should be a place where people can meet others in safety and comfort; as a gateway to the city it should exhibit best practice in use of a concourse. Thus, it should be a place where people might dwell awhile, take refreshment, seek information or book tickets in comfort, make future travel arrangements or spend time while waiting for onward travel to the city, county or mid-Wales.
The station itself should be user friendly, well maintained and a pleasing place to be both in the daytime and evenings. The station environs should be attractive, but at the same time, functional. In sum, priority should be to upgrade the public realm, i.e. the concourse and its connection with access routes to the city not only for those using a bus, taxi or car but also for a majority of passengers who walk or cycle to the station.”
The Railway Station
Hereford is a prime example of an impressive Victorian main line railway station, built to meet the aspirations of the citizens of Hereford in the mid-19th century. It is a grand building which is a tribute to the architects of the time. The railway station, therefore, has considerable space for passengers as they alight or board trains. We are very appreciative of the friendly and helpful attitude of the staff at the station, both at the ticket office and elsewhere, although they are not always easy to find in the evening. We are grateful for the investment in the station including improvements to the lighting and improvements that have been made to the Booking Hall.
We also note that there are firm plans to replace the existing access at ground level across the tracks with a new lift which will be of great benefit to disabled passengers and for those laden with buggies or baggage. Again, a clear statement of when this will be completed would be appreciated.
However, there is also a need to address the following if the station is to meet expectations of passengers:
(a) the lack of a waiting room for Platform 3 and 4 although it is realised that this matter might be resolved with the new booking hall,
(b) the limited opening hours of the buffet on Platform 3 coupled with a very limited at seat trolley service in the evenings on most services to Hereford,
(c) the poor image projected by the lack of design and lightly tended shrub flower beds on the platforms,
(d) the ‘night entrance’ needs to be re-appraised as it is not clearly signed nor lit; it is very off-putting for those who are not in the know,
(e) the maintenance of the station as there are many parts which could benefit from a ‘spring clean’ to remove dust, stains and grime accumulated in recent years,
(f) the lack of information about Hereford as a destination and about onward travel so that passengers can refer to this in warmer and drier conditions before leaving the station,
(g) the lack of information about arrivals on the departure screen at the entrance to the platforms.
(h) toilet provision is barely adequate, both with regard to quantity and quality.
None of these aspects require significant amounts of capital or revenue support but would add considerable value to the station as a place to be.
We regret, too, that a large part of the station building (upstairs) is not used – it is advertised as “To Let”.
Railway Station Concourse
The railway station concourse is predominantly given over to highway and parking. It is currently drab and is certainly not a welcoming place for the traveller. Step outside the door of the booking hall and the pavement is equally narrow; it makes for an awkward space for people to meet or greet in comfort. Furthermore, there is little or no information at this crucial point about the city or about public transport access, i.e., the services and their departure points. Of the leaflets available in the booking hall, only a few relate to Herefordshire; visitors to the Hay Festival, for example, not only see no obvious welcome to the bus to the festival but would not get the impression that there are many other visitor attractions in Herefordshire.
Almost all passengers arrive on foot or wheelchair at this cluttered entrance point.
We appreciate that plans were put forward during the initial stages of the Edgar Street Grid development which had the potential to enhance the station frontage. These plans seemed to have been downgraded or removed at some stage when it was recommended that an inner by-pass parallel to the station would be part of the answer. That would have been a retrograde step for the passenger and Rail for Herefordshire registered its concern at the time. This would have paid scant regard to the integrity of the station in relation to the city it serves.
The situation has now changed. Thus, we would welcome discussion as to how the concourse could be developed into a part of the public realm. Our aim would be to encourage a station concourse that is far more welcoming, making better use of the existing space and layout for interchange between the station and other modes of transport. Perhaps as important, it would help to restore a passenger pride in the place through introducing features which make it pleasant. Thus, we seek a solution which offers a balance between highway, parking and pavement to encourage regeneration, social inclusion and integrated transport that gives priority to other modes than the car. This would make it a place to be rather than a dusty and dirty thoroughfare to pass by as speedily as possible.
Our view is that there should be:
(a) a pedestrian concourse area would be expanded so that people could literally meet and greet without feeling hassled; this might include an iconic piece of artwork and seating,
(b) a properly designed taxi rank with some cover for inclement weather,
(c) a more effective interchange for buses with higher grade bus stands/shelters offering much improved levels of cover and information,
(d) a key bus stop with good signage which points visitors to ‘buses to town’,
(e) a ‘kiss and ride’ area for car borne access,
(f) a seating area which can be serviced by refreshments from the station buffet.
The Station and City
The third element relates to the connectivity of the railway station and the city centre.
The walk from the station to Station Road and beyond is not pleasing or comfortable. There is no clearly defined crossing point at this junction and the pedestrian is further hampered by access and egress points to the Morrison’s supermarket car park.
The walk beyond here, to the city centre is not, in the main, a pleasant prospect. Commercial Road is a classic example of a street dominated by frustrated motorists caught in endless congestion. It does have a relatively good amount of space for walking and a potential for a cycle route if on street car parking can be addressed.
Our view is that:
(a) the walking route into the city centre could be improved immeasurably with some improvements to road crossing points and on street design,
(b) there is a need for a designated walking route into town, made more meaningful by visual and durable route indicators (not signs but possibly small plaques embedded in the pavement) and some interpretation.
The aim of this discussion note is primarily to initiate a dialogue between Rail for Herefordshire members about how Hereford station can be improved for the benefit of passengers and staff employed by the various organisations responsible for delivering our railway and train services. It will also hopefully stimulate interest from a wide range of stakeholders including Herefordshire Council and Hereford City Council and many organisations interested in improving the quality of life for Herefordshire citizens and our visitors.
It is not a blueprint as such; there are others who are far more knowledgeable about design, materials, planning and resources than us. We welcome their input. However, many of our members are regular users of train services to and from Hereford. We have expectations about what is delivered in return for our fares and from taxation. As a proactive group, we also have aspirations as to how Hereford railway station might be improved so that Hereford citizens can be truly proud of their historic railway terminal and its access to the city.