Pedestrian flow modelling is enabling informed design decisions during the construction of huge new stations in Beijing and Guangzhou

Cameron MacDonald, Principal Consultant, Atkins China

WE HEAR constantly about China's astonishing growth: the boom in building, its burgeoning, overcrowded cities and the huge investment in infrastructure development taking place right across the nation. China's confidence in its seemingly unstoppable growth is evident in the ambitious vision for major projects, from Beijing's Olympic stadia to the 88-storey Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai. Two massive railway stations currently under construction are typical of the country's bold approach.

In the capital, the enormous Beijing South Station is rapidly taking shape against a completion deadline of 2008, while in the south of the country, China's third most populous city will have its own gigantic facility with the completion of New Guangzhou Station in late 2009.

Beijing South Station will provide a vital link to the cities of Tianjin and Shanghai, serving a catchment area of some 270 million people. A core project for the 2008 Olympic Games, it must be completed on time. New Guangzhou is no less important. Situated on the Pearl River Delta, Guangzhou is a strategic link to Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Macau. The city has expanded rapidly since the 1990s and the station will enable its transport infrastructure to catch up.

When completed, the two stations will be among the largest and busiest in the world. It is expected that 110 million passengers will use the 500?000 m² New Guangzhou Station each year, and Beijing South is only slightly less ambitious in size, being built to accommodate 105 million passengers annually.


Getting these major simultaneous projects right is essential for the client, the Ministry of Railways. Architects Terry Farrell & Partners were charged with the design of the stations, while our team at Atkins China was awarded the challenge of ensuring that the stations would operate as planned; including, of course, that they provide a smooth, efficient flow of tens of millions of commuters and other pedestrians through the two stations each and every month.

Atkins has a great deal of expertise running pedestrian simulation projects to improve and optimise designs, and we have worked across China on projects for the Shenzhen, Shanghai and Hong Kong metros. Once the architects had formulated their designs for Beijing South and New Guangzhou, we were brought in to give the Ministry of Railways the assurances they needed that the stations would function optimally for the people using them.

Over the last six years Atkins has frequently deployed the Legion Studio pedestrian simulation tool to identify and help fix problems related to the flow of pedestrian traffic in large public spaces. On the Beijing South and Guangzhou projects we have used Studio to analyse the station designs, quickly highlighting areas where layouts could be improved before construction got underway.

With as many as 28 platforms each, the stations require enormous arrival and departure halls. Our main objective with the pedestrian simulation was to test and validate the proposed provision for passenger circulation within these huge spaces, ensuring that the provision for passengers was sufficient for the projected numbers.

We used Legion Studio to quickly and efficiently create detailed simulations of each station, which we then analysed and used to produce passenger density maps. The value of these colour-rich density maps is in how simply and visually they demonstrate the types of conditions passengers will experience as they move about the stations, using escalators, ticket gates and security checkpoints. This is key information for planners, and informed important design decisions.

Getting to grips with Guangzhou

At New Guangzhou Station we were specifically tasked with reviewing the operation of security checkpoints.

The Ministry of Railways specified that there should be no more than 15 to 20 passengers waiting at each checkpoint at any given time, and so the planners needed to know the appropriate number of checkpoints which would be required at the departure level.

Peak hour demand simulations showed how queues would build up, how long they would be, and the waiting times passengers could expect for a range of scenarios. Crucially, the simulations we ran showed that the layout of security checkpoints which was initially proposed would need to be rethought to meet the client's expectations.

Beijing's better interface

At Beijing South our work focused on the interface between the metro station and the arrival level of the main station. With up to 30?000 passengers per hour expected to interchange between the metro and the main railway lines, it was critical to get the ticket gate arrangement right.

Our study compared various scenarios for the numbers of ticket gates and their directional operation, and once again, the results flagged up problems with the existing plans. In this case the location of inbound and outbound gate lines adjacent to one another proved unworkable. Using further simulations we were able to demonstrate how separation of gate lines would better segregate opposing passenger streams and reduce congestion.

Safety in numbers

For each station, Atkins also investigated safety issues, in particular the effects of a fire. We used Legion Studio to produce evacuation models that simulated how passengers would egress in the event of a fire on a platform. By analysing the safety simulations we were able to create evacuation maps, showing how long from the beginning of an evacuation all areas of the station are occupied by evacuees.

We also clearly demonstrated to the stations' owners and operators that the defined evacuation routes have sufficient capacity to facilitate a successful evacuation from various areas of the stations within specified time limits.

What we see with Beijing South and New Guangzhou Stations is just how valuable pedestrian simulation can be for the design process of any building.

The insight we've achieved with Legion Studio has been instrumental in giving the stations' designers and operators the confidence that their plans are the right ones. It has enabled the designers to fine-tune their plans, and take informed decisions about critical aspects of the operation of the buildings, for example the alignment and number of security gates, which means they can ensure the user experience is as positive as can be.

  • CAPTION: Top and Above: Construction and commissioning of Beijing South Station must be completed well in advance of the opening of the Olympic Games on August 8 2008
  • CAPTION: Terry Farrell & Partners is responsible for the architectural design of Beijing South Station, which is expected to handle up to 105 million passengers a year
  • New Guangzhou Station Beijing South Station
    Client Ministry of Railways Ministry of Railways
    Local design institute Fourth Survey Design Institute, Beijing Inst of Architecture & Design Third Survey Design Institute
    Design architect Terry Farrell & Partners Terry Farrell & Partners
    Passenger/traffic engineer Atkins China Atkins China
    Structural engineer Ove Arup & Partners Hong Kong
    Technology provider Legion Legion

    Completion 2009 August 2008