Demand and Capacity at Major UK Rail Terminals: a Fresh Look

Demand and Capacity at Major UK Rail Terminals: a Fresh Look


Oliver Stanyon, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Graham James, Parsons Brinckerhoff


The research assessed capacity pinch-points at 20 major UK rail terminals. Station throat or incoming line capacity were found to be more significant constraints than platform throughput, with direct implications for rail policy and investment.


The UK Department for Transport commissioned this research from Parsons Brinckerhoff to identify the extent to which rail terminal stations are likely to be a major constraint on network capacity over the next 30 years. This included understanding the potential theoretical capacity of terminal stations, and in particular the extent to which platform throughput and turnaround requirements were a limiting factor.

This reflects the UK’s cross-industry Rail Technical Strategy which highlighted station capacity as an area needing attention to cope with forecast demand growth and more intensive train service patterns.

Traditional infrastructure solutions are often expensive and disruptive, and this is particularly the case for major terminal stations in constrained city-centre environments. Crucially, this study gives the rail industry and government a new steer to help meet capacity needs and benefit a growing number of passengers. The research will allow the industry to better understand alternatives to traditional infrastructure solutions and to target its investment accordingly – and could have a significant bearing on a more sustainable rail network.

The research looked at twenty major UK terminal stations. We created a simple station capacity model to assess, on a common basis, the capacity pinch-points in the process of delivering trains and their passengers into the terminus and out again, including demand, rolling stock capacity, platform throughput, and passenger flows. We also created platform occupancy charts to show the current platform throughput – believed to be the first time this comparative exercise has been carried out in the UK.

We found that in most cases, platform throughput capacity is not the limiting factor. More often the station throat or incoming line capacity are the more significant constraints. We also highlighted the role of the critical load point – the location where demand is highest. Where this point is not the terminal itself, there may be opportunities to provide additional capacity where it is needed but without adding train movements at the terminal.

The research provides a robust evidence base for the current state of terminal operations; methods of presenting capacity and utilisation to enable a better understanding of the most important themes; and examples of best practice to make practical and policy recommendations.

The research gives a new perspective on terminal capacity and the wide range of factors and decisions involved in maximising this capacity most cost-effectively. The issues, opportunities and analytical tools explored in the project are widely applicable to any city-centre terminal station in Europe.


Association for European Transport