Reading Station is used by around 14 million commuters each year and Network Rail plans to invest £400 million in a major refurbishment of the site – due for completion in 2015 – as part of a redevelopment of the surrounding area. With the company’s wide-ranging experience of transport sector projects, FDS Consult was brought in to address the fire safety challenges of this open plan, large occupancy environment with the team’s innovative approach to fire engineering.
The station building is on three levels: the lower ground floor (basement) level will have retail units positioned around the edge and a seating area in the centre with escalator access to the ground floor; the ground floor houses the main concourse, ticketing and platforms and the bridge level will provide access to platforms and a seated café area. The refurbishment also involves construction of a new entrance and the architectural design is based around three large columns which fan out to provide a feeling of openness and act as light wells, bringing natural light to the lower ground level. The brief for FDS Consult’s expert team was to work with the building to conserve the architectural impact of the design whilst enhancing safety and ensuring exit routes and evacuation times were viable.
One of the most challenging aspects of the station layout was the extended size of the compartments and FDS Consult took a creative approach to addressing this, justifying retention of the open plan design whilst creating a fire strategy that would both ensure safe evacuation and underpin business continuity.
The architectural columns created openness throughout the station which had significant implications for the dissemination of smoke. This was particularly pertinent to the bridge level café where the anticipated occupancy loads of 60 persons theoretically required two staircases as means of escape. FDS Consult used the team’s understanding of smoke behaviors to address these issues.