Traditionally, railway stations have been described in the first place in terms of their transportation functions, or through a transport development perspective as sketched earlier. More recently, because of factors cited in the introduction to the book (section 1.2), interest has arisen in the development of railway stations in combination with their surroundings. That is, railway station areas are increasingly perceived as urban districts with more than a transport function. This implies that they are seen as objects of property investment as well. In other words, the place dimension of the railway station area is becoming more central. In this section, the prospects for railway station locations are discussed in an urban context. We interpret the term property development rather loosely, as comprising any alteration of the physical fabric at and around stations that results from quantifiable investments made by one or more actors.
Thus we do not limit ourselves to the conservation or expansion of the transport-related structures of this area.
The property development prospects of a station location at a given point in time will depend on many external factors. These include the economic and property market cycles, the relative attractiveness of investment in real estate, and general and specific demand characteristics. However, location-specific conditions will play a role too. These conditions are of special interest in this paragraph. Location-specific conditions of railway station sites are closely connected to the station's transport development prospects. A crucial feature of the location is its accessibility, but there is more. A firm or household considering a change of location (perhaps within a station area) will take into account not only node but also place features. It is not so much the absolute performance of the location that will be important but rather the performance relative to alternative locations, both in the same city and elsewhere. Evaluation of the node component will include positive factors such as the degree of accessibility offered, and negative factors, such as disturbances caused by the concentration of infrastructure and traffic. Assessment of place characteristics will involve a complex of factors, including the availability and cost of accommodation, expectations of synergy and/or conflict with other activities in the area, the global perception of the location (its identity, security, liveability, liveliness etc.), and contextual factors such as government policies and market trends.
Railway station locations do not tend to score well on several of the criteria mentioned above. Indeed, they more often come close to the profile made by Troin (1995) of a typical station location in France. He describes it as an obsolete fabric with degraded housing and shops, the pejorative connotations of an area of transit, and a predominance and poor integration of transport functions in the pre-existing urban structure. Also, where there has been investment on station buildings, typically little or nothing has been done to improve the functionality and the image of the station neighbourhood (Troin, 1995, pp. 89-91). Though these might be common features, there are many different kinds of railway station location and diverse ways of looking at them. When assessing property development prospects, these differences have to be accounted for. In several cases, both the image and the function of the area are changing drastically. Besides the varying degrees of accessibility, some other basic distinctions are the sort of city that the railway station is in, and its location in that city. We begin with these latter distinctions. We then move on to a discussion of accessibility and other relevant factors affecting the attractiveness of railway station locations. To conclude, we review the strengths and weaknesses of railway station areas as locations for property investment.
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