What can the Bay Area learn from European Rail station design

Last week in San Jose, and this week in San Francisco, Eric Eidlin of the Federal Transit Administration, which funds local connections to High Speed Rail, gave a talk with case studies of European rail station design.  Update: here is his blog post on the topic.

Multimodal station integration

First, physical service integration. Here is the Central City station in Erfurt, where the local light rail pulls up below the High Speed Rail tracks. The station, in a mid-sized city with about 200,000 residents, serves 34,000 passengers per day with 344 underground vehicle parking spaces.

Erfurt station

In contrast to the superbly-integrated Erfurt station, the station serving Aix en Provence, a city with about 140,000 people, is located 10 miles from the center of town, and serves 7000 passengers with 2860 parking spaces.

Aix Park'n'Ride

Integrated customer experience

High Speed trains in France are faster point to point than in Germany, and tend to use dedicated tracks. By contrast, trains in Germany often use blended tracks with local service, along the lines of the blended system between Caltrain and California High Speed Rail. While the German trains are slower point to point, the German system has much better connections – both physical connections, and integration of fares, schedules, ticketing, for an overall more seamless rider experience.

The app below lets you plan a trip, from origin all the way to destination, including a connecting bus, local rail, and high speed long distance rail. You don’t need to think about the fast that the components are provided by different agencies.

Integrated planning and ticketing

There is a service that integrates other first and last mile modes, such as carshare and bikeshare, into a rider membership program (I don’t think they are technically integrated yet, but imagine if they were?)

Mobility service integration

Station as destination

Some European stations do a superb job at creating stations that are shopping and entertainment destinations. The photos below show stations in Leipzig and Paris St Lazare which are popular shopping malls.

Downtown Leipzig station

Paris St Lazare Station and Shopping Mall

Faster in France, more connected in Germany

Lessons for the Bay Area

The Bay Area’s major multi-modal stations – Transbay, Millbrae, and Diridon – where local services connect, and also feed High Speed Rail have opportunities to learn from best practices in Europe to provide better pedestrian connections between modes, and to consider a high-traffic station as a potential shopping and entertainment destination. The most immediate application of these lessons are in Millbrae, which is considering a major mixed-use transit-oriented development for approval this year, and San Jose, which is reviewing the Diridon Station Area Plan this year. While the major transit new construction in Diridon is years off (BART, High Speed Rail), the zoning and policy decisions (like parking) will have a big impact on how successfully Diridon can transition into an urban destination.

The lesson about service integration is profound. In an ideal world, which may not be this one, our region would rally, and make use of the Clipper transition to demand actual integration of fares, schedules, and data, to enable the sort of rider experience provided by that app in Germany.