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From Dystopia to Utopia: What can we learn from Arcadis?

4 min

c. Nata Romualdo, Pexels
Following Arcadis’ SPOTLIGHT: North event, From Dystopia to Utopia, Quadrant Transport reflects on the event, highlighting the important themes and ideas discussed.

Opening with a video excerpt from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, host Debbie Francis OBE, Non-Executive Director and Chair of Arcadis, highlighted how far transport has come since the 1927 film.

As we emerge from this dystopian-like pandemic, Debbie explained how “people are at the forefront of [Arcadis’] plans, in the foreground, not the background.”

“Our railways can and need to be much more than just a mode of transport; they connect communities, they give people access to better homes and jobs and they support local prosperity,” she added.

Our railways can and need to be much more than just a mode of transport

Expressing the need to improve rail services as we emerge from the pandemic Debbie said: “We’ve got the opportunity to rebuild our life balances based on a stronger sense of community and naturally challenge how and why we travel. We know that it has the potential to shift the focus from necessity to travel choice.”

Building on the key idea that transport should “add to the quality of life”, the industry-leading specialists at the event looked to unpack and discuss the opportunities in rail.

Power and possibilities of sustainability

Arcadis’ UK Climate Change and Sustainability Director, Ben Harris, discussed the key role sustainable practices play in the journey to Utopia in rail.

“We can’t talk about Utopia without first thinking about what it means for sustainability and sustainable infrastructure,” Ben explained.

Drawing on the importance of the Circular Economy in decarbonising the rail sector, Ben highlighted the importance of materials as we look to decarbonise the rail sector.

“As we think to upgrade, maintain and build new infrastructure, part of how we think about that is really about that utopia future of using materials in its best form and supporting economic growth through that,” he commented.

Throughout his discussion, Ben emphasised the power of sustainability in rebuilding from the pandemic and explained to harness its full potential: “We need to take the practical steps to target whole sectors and value chains.”

Urban change: how travel can shape a new future

Arcadis’ Town Centre and High Street Lead, Nick Kealey, used the event to discuss the importance of stations in responding to the changing dynamics of town centres.

Following the pandemic, town centres are going through a period of consolidation, repurposing and change. New trends mean what people need from the high street is different to what they needed 18 months ago.

Station hubs could be an integral part of the repurposing of town centres in the future

Nick said, “Station hubs could be an integral part of the repurposing of town centres in the future.”

To support the high street, Nick explained station hubs need to be better linked, provide greater connectivity and “are a critical asset if delivered correctly.”

Through bold visions in local leadership, station hubs can transform areas and benefit the community. They “are the future that will form part of the integrated rail plan” Nick stressed.

Highlighting their importance, Nick showed the integral role station hubs play in improving rail services, transforming the high street and supporting the community.


Major transformations in rail technology

Natalie Sauber, Leading Market Intelligence and Future Mobility across Arcadis discussed the exciting changes happening in rail through technological innovation.

With the ever-changing landscape within the transport industry, Natalie showed how it is important that rail is reactive to these changes and looks to adapt to harness the opportunities that change drives.

Adding to the previous discussions, Natalie highlighted the importance of technology in decarbonisation and improving stations.

Electrification and hydrogen power are key to the decarbonisation of the rail industry. Looking specifically at the technology to support this, Natalie observed “We are making some really great advancements.”

Moving on to station hubs, Natalie echoed Nick’s discussion around their significance.

“We need to see stations as more than just a transport hub. They need to be not only firmly embedded in the community but become a go-to destination,” explained Natalie.

Freight plays a vital role in building back better

Arcadis was joined by Assistant Policy Manager at Rail Freight Group, Phil Smart, who discussed the much-needed improvements to rail to support freight to close off the panel discussions

“Freight on rail is more carbon-friendly than road freight” explained Phil.

“By improving rail freight services massive carbon savings can be made, especially as “post-COVID, freight volumes are already matching pre-COVID levels.”

Freight on rail is more carbon-friendly than road freight

“To boost these carbon savings we need is a national commitment to a rolling programme of electrification that needs to start with the principal freight roots to encourage investment in electric locomotives,” said Phil.

“The freight industry supports key sectors in society such as construction. Improvements to rail, such as strengthening bridges and embankments, are imperative to ensure freight can continue to support these key sectors in society,” he concluded

Achieving Utopia is not a pipe dream 

What was clear from the event, Arcadis is determined for a sustainable, decarbonised regeneration of the rail industry. To achieve this utopia, infrastructure, stations and freight need to be part of the discussion around improvements to the industry.

To watch the event in full, you can watch the on-demand link here.

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