What I believe: Euan Hilton, Northern Rail

We must keep it simple

I look after utilities supply for Northern Rail, which is responsible for 2,500 local and regional train services, every weekday. As the largest train operating company in the UK, our big focus is to improve the station environment, and lighting is an essential part of the customer’s experience. As a result, our approach is to keep it simple, get the basics right and work as one team. These factors allow us to provide new lighting solutions that reduce costs but, more importantly, deliver a service that we can be proud of.

We’ve reduced energy use at most of our sites

In our unstaffed stations, lighting represents 90 per cent of our energy consumption, so implementing ways to save energy is a priority. We’ve reduced consumption to a minimum at the majority of sites by replacing analogue timers with digital units coupled with photocells. When sited in the right locations these systems contribute to great energy savings. We are also trialling some initiatives involving solar power. We have implemented standalone units that power some of our customer information screens in rural areas. However, our biggest investment has been in utilising the best of LED technology.

Maintenance first

Northern Rail contracts maintenance to a facilities management provider and so lamps are replaced on a reactive basis. The challenge is, at busy stations with high columns, it could take two engineers to replace fixtures. With safety implications to consider – for staff and customers – some maintenance cannot be completed with trains running. As a result, we have to apply for possession of a station to carry out work, which is expensive. When we were starting to look at implementing LED systems, energy saving and maintenance were two key areas of consideration.

Fitting in with history

We have a number of historic locations and listed buildings throughout our network and we had to have lighting fixtures that suit their vernacular. To retrofit more efficient lighting systems in these heritage locations, we don’t redesign, we re-lamp. By keeping the original heritage fittings and replacing the internal components, we can upgrade systems without changing the aesthetics.

Project success is down to staff engagement

One of the most successful projects for incorporating new lighting technology into a historical location was at Rainhill train station, which is one of the oldest in the world. We knew the benefits of LED and how it could improve the business and Rainhill proved an ideal site for a trial, using fittings from Dexeco. We carried out lux level testing throughout the station to ensure the new system could match, and in most instances exceed, regulation levels. We also engaged the staff at the station during every step of the project to get valuable feedback. The result is a proven energy saving of 57 per cent in consumption since the scheme was implemented. Moreover, it improved the clarity of CCTV footage, the customers’ overall experience, and staff awareness of LED projects.

In unstaffed stations, lighting represents 90 per cent of our energy use, so implementing ways to save energy is a priority

Future collaborations

At the moment, we’re working alongside facilities managers on a few projects to implement lighting alongside platform white lining. The idea is that by installing LED systems at the same time as safety fixtures – such as white lines along the edges of platforms – we can optimise both elements. In the future we hope to install upgrades alongside CCTV cameras to reduce shadows and increase the clarity and colour rendering of video images. By doing this at the same time, is also provides an opportunity to reduce costs and gain better outcomes for a multitude of services.

Customer service is a key priority

While quality is very important, I believe customer service from suppliers is often a higher priority because I need to know that if I have an issue with a product, I can get answers straight away. Also, innovation from suppliers and the ability and willingness to interact with the customer is essential because it enables us – the end user – to explain what we need from a product. The result is often improved aesthetics and usability of lighting products that are easier to specify and install.

How to stay ahead of the curve

While improvements in the LED market are happening at a rate of knots, some suppliers are very slow to bring products to market. We’re the people that are going to be using these products, so we need to be more easily informed about advances, but also new products have to be more readily available. We’re in a unique industry that has standards and guidelines that can appear to be restrictive or prohibitive. However, we need the lighting suppliers to engage with us; not tell us what we want, but find out what we need.

Looking to the future

I’m currently doing some research and hoping to find out more about graphene lighting and how that is going to change the industry. As much as I like LEDs, I want our lighting designs to optimise Northern Rail environments and products must provide a light source that looks good but also delivers something extra.

  • Lux is hosting a special Lighting for Rail conference in London on  Wednesday 22 June. It's free for consulting engineers and representatives of network operators and TOCs. To view the details and register for a place, click here.