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Insight | Engineering challenges for safe standing stadiums

Rail seats in klagenfurt, austria

With the World Cup in full swing and transfer rumours starting to heat up, the debate about safe standing stadiums has slipped somewhat under the footballing radar.

However, rail seated stadiums are set for their day in the Commons today, after a petition gathered over 110,000 signatories.

Should the proposals get the green light then there is sure to be plenty of interest from the country’s top clubs.

Looking at the challenges of converting a seated stadium to a safe standing stadium, engineers at WSP, Aecom and Mott MacDonald have raised a variety of considerations that must be made.

WSP UK head of stadium design Peter Chipchase sees “no reason” not to have safe standing stadiums in the UK, so long as a series of tests are passed first.

He said: “In terms of converting an existing stadium the first thing to consider is loading. At the moment current stadia are designed for double what they currently hold.

“Modern stadia are designed at 4kN/m² but currently only holds 2kN/m², so increasing capacity would be no problem, if that is what a club wanted to do.”

Chipchase also pointed out that the dynamics of stands would need to be tested to avoid them from vibrating under the movement of a standing crowd.

“The behaviour of a standing crowd is a lot different to a sitting one and that must be considered,” he said.

“In Frankfurt, the Eintracht fans know that if they all jump at the same time they can get the stands to move up and down with them. It is pretty scary to watch and they could be resonating the tier to collapse.”

He added: “They are able to get it going because the stands are designed with a frequency of 2Hz. That wouldn’t be possible in a modern stadium, as they are all designed with a frequency of 6Hz.

“I can’t think of a single stadium in the UK that would have an issue with dynamics, but they would still have to be tested before being converted.”

Mott MacDonald technical director Nick Ling also pointed out that visibility could become an issue when introducing safe standing sections to existing stadiums.

“The main issue could be in terms of sightlines and the ability to see over the person in front and adequately see the field of play,” Ling said. “Standing sections increase the risk of reduced C values or even negative values.”

He added: “So sightline and C value issues could mean that tiers need reprofiling which could result in a change to the structure and retracing.

“It is feasible for some stadia, but more difficult for others. If sightlines are tight, it could be difficult to make the alterations required.”

Ling also has concerns over the rail barriers being proposed under the safe standing scheme. Under the new scheme, rail barriers are errected in front of every row of supporters, with a folded up seat marking each designated standing slot.

In particular, Ling believes that fixing the barriers to older terraces could be very difficult.

He added: “A recent stadium I worked on had very poor quality terraces, which would be very difficult to fix barriers to and therefore more capital investment.”

The use of rail seats has already been trialled in Scotland at Celtic Park and rail seating stadiums are popular across Europe, particularly in Germany.

In fact, Aecom head of sports Peter Ayres said that proposed rail seating stadiums would actually improve safety in some stadiums.

“Many stadiums already have an unofficial standing area, often labelled as ‘singing sections’,” Ayres said. “But of course these areas don’t have the rail seats which are being proposed.

“Putting in rail seats would actually make these areas safer than they currently are.”

Ayres added that he has already held talks with a number of Premier League and Championship clubs about converting existing stadiums, with interested parties keen for the vote to go ahead.

“We have been talking with three or four Premier League and Championship clubs and the issue of safe standing does come up when making decisions,” Ayres said. “Some of the clubs that are currently selling out a 20,000 to 30,000 stadium see safe stadia as a way to potentially increase the capacity.

“Others see it as a way of improving atmosphere at the grounds, while some believe that they don’t need safe standing as they already have singing sections which create a good atmosphere.”

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