Researchers evaluate air quality at Birmingham New Street

Birmingham New Street station

Researchers from the University of Birmingham have undertaken one of the most comprehensive air quality monitoring projects at a railway station at Birmingham New Street.

The station environment has been considered in terms of the European Union (EU) and Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) limits as part of the monitoring methodology, but it should be noted that these limits do not apply in this environment as the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulation 1999 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 are applicable.

The results showed that, whilst the legal requirements of the Workplace Exposure limits were met, the concentrations of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) were in excess of the EU Public Health limits, particularly on those platforms adjacent to tracks mainly used by diesel trains.

The concentrations of particulate matter (both PM10 and PM2.5) were also in excess of the EU public health limits but not to the same extent as the NO2 concentrations.

The research, published in the Journal of Rail and Rapid Transit, used findings from the station over a three month period in late 2016/early 2017.

Staff and students from the Birmingham Centre for Rail Research and Education at the University of Birmingham and Network Rail  worked together to carry out the extensive monitoring programme of air quality at the station.

Measurements for NO2 and particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) were taken on all platforms and in the concourse lounges. Both long term average concentrations and short term concentration fluctuations were measured.

The major peak of NO2 occurred in the early morning and late evening when diesel trains were idling in the station having just arrived from, or waiting to leave for their depots. These trains were built before emissions limits were introduced in 2006, and therefore are not subject to current legislation.

Professor Chris Baker explained: “Whilst individual peaks of pollutant could sometimes be identified with the presence of specific trains in the platform, this was not always the case. This suggests that the spread of pollutants through the station is quite complex.”

The results also showed that the pollutant concentrations were sensitive to weather conditions outside the station, with still conditions resulting in high concentrations, and windier conditions producing lower concentrations.

New Street station in the centre of Birmingham is the seventh busiest station in the UK and the busiest outside of London, with 170,000 passengers using the station on a daily basis.

Birmingham New Street station has 12 platforms beneath the large, new concourse, in a tunnel like environment, and the enclosed space is considerably smaller than other enclosed railway stations, such as London Paddington.

Although the station is electrified, many of the train services run on non-electrified routes and as a result, there are approximately 600 diesel train movements per day at the station.

The results are already informing Network Rail’s programme of work to optimise the ventilation system within the station, and to develop other methods in conjunction with the train operators.

Professor Baker added: “Birmingham New Street is a particularly complex station environment. As such it’s a positive that we’re able to bring together our researchers with the Network Rail team to understand the complex environment of the station.”

The team are working on further analysis of the current data to determine the impact of environmental effects on concentration levels and an in-depth analysis of the relationship between individual trains and concentrations.


For more information or a copy of the full paper please contact Luke Harrison, Media Relations Manager, University of Birmingham on +44 (0)121 415 8134. For out of hours media enquiries, please call: +44 (0)7789 921 165.

Notes for editors

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 4,000 international students from nearly 150 countries
  • “Evaluation of air quality at the Birmingham New Street Railway Station” by A L Hickman, C J Baker, X Cai, J M Delgado-Saborit and J E Thornes, Journal of Rail and Rapid Transit, can be downloaded from (open access).