With the official reopening of Birmingham New Street Station yesterday we take a look at the plans for sustainability which have been incorporated into the station. Words by Azhar Quaiyoom,Project and Sustainability Manager – Published in Environment Magazine, November 2014.

The architectural challenge – how to turn Birmingham New Street station: a dark, unwelcoming and overcrowded hub with poor access for passengers, into a light bright welcoming space.

The environmental challenge – how to convert a very dated and energy intensive system of heating, cooling and ventilation, which was poorly maintained and controlled, into a modern, green, sustainable development while adhering to stringent rail standards.

When the project commenced design in 2008, Network Rail was in its infancy regarding corporate policy and guidelines for creating sustainable transport hubs and the BREEAM methodology. So when the funding partners set the goal of achieving a BREEAM minimum rating of ‘Very Good’ the team knew that this would not be a straightforward target to achieve against a background of complex refurbishment in a rail environment.

Network Rail and its delivery partner Mace, backed by Birmingham City Council, Centro and the Department for Transport, needed to deliver the kind of station passengers deserve: one that the people of Birmingham can be really proud of with sustainability credentials not achieved for a major train station of this kind.

NSS1New Street is the busiest station outside London and the busiest interchange station in the UK with a train leaving the station every 37 seconds. All this work had to be done without causing disruption to the trains or the live railway station which the project surrounds. The first part of the new station opened to the public in April 2013 and it provides a fantastic experience for everyone who passes through its doors. It is brighter and lighter and gives a great first impression of the city. Once the project is finished in 2015 there will be 36 new escalators and 15 new lifts – reaching every platform. The exterior of the station will be clad in a stunning new stainless steel façade and the construction of a huge atrium will allow natural light to flood into the station concourse.

However, complying with current legislation for disabled access for a sub-surface station with additional lifts, escalators and increasing concourse capacity and retail facilities also significantly increases energy requirements. Therefore it was very important when such an increase in energy occurs for the same building, low or zero carbon solutions must be explored as long as there is a viable case to satisfy the triple bottom line for a sound economic, environmental and social case as well as a safe one for the daily passengers through the station.

Refurbishing a 1960s structure to meet modern day sustainability requirements in a busy city centre can bring some challenges. However, the project team have been working hard to gain green credentials for the project through various recycling and energy monitoring initiatives as well as working closely with the designers and regulatory bodies.

Key facts

The completed station incorporates:

  • Low energy and high efficiency LED lighting
  • 60% of the toilet flushing demand provided by rainwater harvesting system
  • Efficient water spray taps for water conservation
  • Energy efficient lifts and escalators
  • Sub-metering for all water, heating and cooling to monitor energy consumption
  • Natural daylight for the concourse and natural ventilation where possible to minimise energy consumption
  • Responsibly and legally sourced materials including timber
  • se of alternative materials such as carpet tiles with the yarn made from recycled fishing nets
  • Network Rail’s first ever station to incorporate a standalone Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant with the station electricity taken from the plant and waste heat transferred into a city district heating scheme

Waste recycling To create space for the new station concourse that opened in April 2013, over 7,500 tons of concrete was removed from a disused car park adjacent to the old station. All the waste concrete removed from this site has been taken to a waste recycling facility for use on other projects. 98% of the material from the demolished Stephenson Tower (now the site of the new John Lewis department store) has also been recycled.

The project is aiming to recycle/re-use an average of 95% of the non-hazardous waste material as a minimum, of which we have currently exceeded in elements of the demolition works and general waste. We have been closely engaged with our supply chain regarding waste and our main waste contractor Weir Waste, recently using a new local state of the art facility to segregate and recycle construction waste crestor medicine.

Energy Monitoring

The redevelopment project has also installed a sub metering system which allows an accurate mNSS5ethod of measuring water, electricity and carbon usage across our worksite on a day to day basis. This helps the project to monitor targets and reduce consumption throughout our works. This information has been shared around the works site and canteen areas


BREEAM has become the principle measure used to describe a building’s environmental performance and Network Rail is dedicated to ensuring best practice for sustainability measures where we can.

It has been a tough journey but the station has met its target to gain a BREEAM rating of ‘very good’ for the design stage. The project team is now monitoring construction activity to ensure that we maintain this rating throughout the build and in the finished station.

Procurement and Site Management

Network Rail and its partners have been working closely with many external bodies throughout the project, including The Carbon Trust, WRAP (Waste & Resource Action Programme) and NISP (National Industrial Symbiosis Programme).

The project has also created and implemented a bespoke Project materials procurement policy to ensure the supply chain sign up to legal and responsible sourcing of materials.

We also ensure our supply chain hold Environmental Management Certificates to ISO 14001 or BES 6001 or equivalent.

Keeping traffic off Birmingham’s streets

Working around an operational railway can be a challenge in itself; however it also provides a very accessible resource that the project team uses to transport material into and from site, without having to use carbon intensive lorries around the busy city centre.

Every week the train makes two journeys into the construction site from a logistics depot in Bordesley, on the outskirts of the city, and is expected to keep 10,000 lorry journeys off Birmingham’s roads throughout the life of the project.


The expansion of the station concourse and additional lifts and escalators will mean that we will need nearly double the amount of power. So, in 2009, Network Rail commissioned the lead design and engineering consultant Atkins to carry out a Low and Zero Carbon (LZC) study for the project.

Before pursuing renewable technology it is imperative that the building fabric is the first area to improve, but one disadvantage of using the existing 1960’s façade is that it becomes very costly to improve with long payback times and therefore unviable. New areas of the façade were built to current Part L of the Building Regulations.

Network Rail worked closely with Atkins to make the main concourse area naturally ventilated to minimize energy usage. Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD) modelling was carried out to ensure the new atrium worked effectively in extracting warm air in the summer using the stack effect and the station concourse was not too cold in the winter. Some seating and waiting areas were to be installed with radiant heating panels as a result of the modelling.

Exploration of various renewable and low carbon technologies ranging from Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP), Biomass boilers, and Photovoltaic (PV) to cover 2,000m2 around the South of the station façade was undertaken. Using an existing city centre location meant special constraints excluded the use of many technologies such as Biomass and wind.

When PV’s were discounted due to the John Lewis development on the South Side removing the proposed PV area, Network Rail actively pursued the option of a Combined Heat & Power (CHP) scheme to provide the station with electric from gas and also looked at options of connecting into the local district heating network to the North of the station. This would reduce carbon emissions from site micro generation, as opposed to traditional power station generated grid electric, reduce transmission losses and use the waste by-product of heat that is normally lost in the cooling towers of old power stations. The preferred bidder Cofely was also very keen to use the subterranean network beneath the station to supply the south of the city and avoid disruption around the city centre.

The dilemma for Network Rail for using a CHP system was that the station demand profi le was more electric intensive than heat: to a ratio of around 8:1. A heat partner was required to utilise surplus heat generated from the CHP plant and John Lewis was an ideal candidate being attached to the south of the station with its biggest store outside London. With the inclusion of John Lewis agreeing to sign up to a heat agreement with Cofely, a carefully co-ordinated agreement was created that acquired simultaneous signing of Energy Supply Contracts.

Once key partners and an outline scheme were identifi ed, the major challenges of fi nding a location for a proposed 1.6MWe engine and planning the pipework routes through the station and John Lewis without disrupting a complex programme of works around the station redevelopment is a key challenge. Identifying the location of the plant to satisfy The Clean Air Act and avoiding a large chimney stack to satisfy local planning is just one of many obstacles the team have overcome in pursuing low carbon technologies.

Lighting and Controls

All lighting is being changed to low energy LEDs and lighting controls significantly improved to ensure lights are turned off in back of house areas for prolonged unoccupied periods and dimmed in public areas where passengers are not present. All lighting shall be centrally controlled and monitored via a Building Management System (BMS) based in the control room.


The project aims to minimise the consumption of potable water by the use of dual fl ush cisterns in all toilets along with low flow sensor taps. All water consumption is also to be monitored via the BMS to allow close monitoring of consumption, something not regularly carried out at managed stations. A leak detection system will also produce an alarm in the control room if a leak is detected in the system.

The project has also constructed a large 100m3 rainwater collection tank that collects clean rainwater from the roof and façade to provide for more than 60% of the stations toilet flushing demand and irrigation for planting.

Other attenuation tanks have also been installed to prevent flooding from overwhelming the main local sewer during periods of intense rainfall due to the future effects of climate change and increased risk of flooding in the city.


Sourcing materials that have a low environmental impact has also been a key consideration. Processes introduced on the project at an early stage ensure suppliers and contractors responsibly source all materials to ISO 14001 or equivalent and legally source all timber to FSC and PEFC. The project actively researched alternative materials and sourced carpet tiles from Miliken of which the yarn is made from recycled fishing nets and the base from recycled off -cuts from car seats.

Land Use and Ecology

Despite the location for New Street having a low ecology site, Network Rail appointed suitably qualified ecologists to advise and report on enhancing and protecting the ecological value of the site. A key feature of the output was a 325m2 green wall with over 25 different species along the Moor Street link to the East of the new station, creating a completely new welcoming route into the station and concealing a long dark and dirty retaining wall.

Article available at the link below.

Sustainability at New Street Station


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