Room for sustainability and biodiversity



A station area is more than a transport hub. In many cities it is becoming a location for biodiversity and nature, a landmark, and a link in the urban ecological structure. The agricultural area outside the city is so intensively used that more and more species, animals and plants, are seeking refuge in urban areas, for example in verges and close to railroads. These are places where nature is still mostly left alone, so insects and small animals can survive.

The soil near the railroad is often barren, preventing fast-growing grasses and nettles, allowing for the increasing presence of exotic plants. Adding life to the area, with the benefit of these green spots requiring minimal maintenance -5-. Additionally, homes and offices could be constructed from timber, a highly sustainable material which is a great alternative compared to concrete, bricks and aggregates.

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ProRail supports this philosophy and aims to preserve the railway verges in a sustainable manner. As requested by ProRail, Sweco has analysed the current setup and maintenance of verges and has supported ProRail with developing a point of view on enhancing the circular economy and “infrastructure” in railway verges. See also https://www.sweco.nl/nieuws/nieuwsartikelen/artikel-landwater-natuur-en-circulaire-economie-in-spoorbermen/

A green corridor

Biodiversity is a prerequisite for a healthy, attractive and climate-adaptive city, as it offers resilience to pollution and illnesses. Vegetation cleans the air, cools down the atmosphere and retains water, as well as the emotive benefit of reducing human stress. This factor is recommendable in and around railway stations with fast-paced travellers as it promotes areas of respite and safe spaces.

Rail corridor verges, grassed or vegetated embankments and channels, green sound walls and green railway tracks all enhance the green-blue network. Together, they lay and direct a green corridor from rural areas to the heart of the inner city.

Plots and buildings around and above the railway station can be utilised for greed spaces, from vertical gardens to biodiverse roofs and faҫades that offer nesting facilities to birds, bats and insects. The station itself is also a space for green opportunities, with the platform and central areas offering room for green spots and green walls, connecting the outside with the inside.

Building up: timber building

Wood is a strong material with the benefit of lightweight constructions and foundations, an attractive advantage for building homes, offices and/or shops on top of railway stations. Additionally it contributes to sustainability goals, with guidelines for packaged CO2 in timber.

Traditional concrete or steel buildings impact negatively on our environment, approximately 5% of CO2 emission worldwide is a result of the cement industry. Although steel and concrete will remain vital for the building (e.g. foundations and coupling agents) industry, there are opportunities to reduce its consumption and use timber for large-scale homes and utilities – including high-rise buildings. A common perception is whether timber is a realistic option when it comes to fire safety. However, current knowledge of burning behaviours and technologies are providing fire-safe designs.

One of the best examples of successful timber building is the Mjøstårnet, an 18-storey building in Brumunddal (Norway). Sweco was involved in providing construction advice for the Mjøstårnet. It is the highest timber building in the world (85 metres) which includes apartments, a hotel, swimming pool, a restaurant and office spaces.

Claes Janson, Sweco Architects AB:

The area around Malmö Central Station is a far more vivid place than before.

‘Similar to the situation in the Netherlands, Swedish railways are often barriers in towns and cities, dividing them in two. About twenty years ago the bridge between Danish Copenhagen and Swedish Malmö was opened, which turned Malmö into a part of greater Copenhagen. To make a shortcut from the existing Malmö Central Station – a terminus - it was decided to build a tunnel underneath the city, adding three new stations. Sweco Architects AB was one of the parties involved in this process. Malmö Central Station was turned into a two-storey station with new entrances from the former “backside” and new tracks underground as well as above the ground. About ten years ago, the project was finished. Nowadays, we are able to see what a major change this has made. Many new buildings have been developed at what was previously the desolate backside of the station. The Central Station has become a far more vivid place than it used to be.

Another case I would like to mention is Lund, a university town approximately 20 kilometres north of Malmö. Lund is divided by rail as well. It’s a busy station, with trains travelling between Gothenburg/Stockholm and Malmö/Copenhagen. Currently, a four-track railroad is being developed from Malmö to Lund which will continue towards Stockholm for another 100 kilometres. This will cause even more traffic. Sweco has a commission to work on locating the stations on this new line within Lund. There are a number of alternatives, but the most attractive proposal is certainly to build six tracks underground and delete the tracks on the ground, replacing the existing railyard with buildings and “healing” the wound in the city. A similar idea was proposed in the past, but it was dismissed because it would be the most expensive solution. However, we took a holistic point of view on the problem and calculated not only the costs, but also the potential benefits of such a solution. Developing a central piece of land in a location such as Lund, which is only 40 minutes from Copenhagen International Airport, can be quite lucrative. However, the costs would precede the benefits by about 15 years. Since our client is a national transit authority and the local town of Lund is likely to benefit the most from this proposal, that is a bit of a challenge. If we want this proposal to succeed instead of working with any of the other solutions, we need to find an investor with a long term view.’