Modern concepts of transport interchange often shroud simple user needs with architectural embellishment and multiple levels of heavily engineered tunnels and crossings. However, the concept itself has underpinned human activity for centuries.
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However, the concept itself has underpinned human activity for centuries.
It is easy to overlook the sophistication of historic examples but coaching inns were an important element of the British turnpike road network. Travellers could hire or stable their own horses and join regular coach services, while the coach operators could change horses and drivers, find food and drink, and perhaps deliver and take on mail. The facilities would also have been used by carters, the equivalent of modern road hauliers. They are perhaps not what we would envisage today – and all at one level – but the speed and efficiency of a number of operations would have served a variety of users and evidently drove profit for facility owners.
At the peak of the turnpike road network, another ancient transport system – inland waterways – received considerable investment. Traditional river navigations involved the interface between land transport and water, and associated craneage and goods and passenger handling. To understand the scale of this activity, the frequent “zones portuaires” and riverside factories can be seen alongside the great river navigations of Europe, such as the Rhine and the Danube.
Difficulties in bringing heavy goods to the nearest river navigation were one factor in the development of early railways from the seventeenth century, initially using gravity and horse haulage with wooden rails.
Following the success of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the rapid development of the railway highlighted the challenge of designing sustainable interchanges in a fast-changing transport environment. Totally inadequate planning for passengers was characteristic of the early railways and became a major contributor to increased costs.
Both terminal stations on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway soon became redundant for passenger traffic. The inconvenience of Crown Street on the outskirts of Liverpool led to an expensive tunnel to Lime Street by 1835. Lime Street itself was rebuilt three times in the nineteenth century.
The story of railway station design has been one of continual redundancy as new transport methods have advanced.
It will be interesting to see how the High Speed 2 interchange designs change over the next decade as they adapt to the app world and accommodation for revived bicycle use, as well as moving people vertically and horizontally on already congested sites. In that sense, the enduring nature of the simple riverside interchanges that survive is perhaps the ideal. Nobody wants to walk miles underground or climb walkways and as the early railway planners soon realised, this can be an expensive frustration. The HS1/HS2 compromise in central London has had plenty of unfortunate precedents.
- Mike Chrimes is a civil engineering historian