Rotterdam-headquartered Hunter Douglas has done work on some stations for Dubai Metro Image Credit: Supplied

With the GCC hosting $115 billion worth of rail projects, comfortable stations will be key for growing ridership, industry experts said in the build-up to next week's The Big 5 construction exhibition.

The GCC hosts rail, tram, light rail, metro, and monorail projects, with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia leading at $45 billion, followed by Qatar at $35 billion, the UAE and Kuwait at $15 billion each, and Bahrain at $10 billion, according to a report by the German Near and Middle East Association.

Regional metro projects include the Dubai Metro expansion, construction in Doha, Qatar, and Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and plans for metros in Jeddah, Medina, and Dammam in the Kingdom.

“While the GCC countries are constructing a large number of rail projects, in order for them to succeed in growing strong ridership numbers, they need to create uncluttered, well-lit stations where travellers feel comfortable,” said Frans van de Laak, General Manager, Hunter Douglas Middle East, an international ceiling manufacturer that has worked on prominent rail stations including the Dubai Metro and the Delft Railway Station in The Netherlands.

The company will be at Big 5 2015, which takes place from November 23 to 26 at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

“Ceilings play an important part in enhancing the traveller experience, as they can absorb sound, lead travellers toward trains, and make travellers feel safe by providing human-sized proportions and ample lighting,” van de Laak added.

In both the Dubai Metro’s Union Station, one of the busiest stations in the system, and the Delft Railway Station, Hunter Douglas installed ceilings with tapered baffles of extruded aluminium. These ceilings have the strength to handle the trains racing by, and with half the reverberation time of traditional train stations, can absorb the noise of trains and travellers.

“This is just one small part of a complex puzzle,” said Daniël Jongtien, architect at Benthem Crouwel Architects, on the Delft Railway Station. “Together with Hunter Douglas, we designed the baffles in such a way that they bow, as it were, to the rush of passers-by, with the vertical baffles gradually turning horizontal. It provides a natural way of leading travellers towards the stairs.”

An important factor in making sure travellers in an underground station feel safe is light, which is why in between the baffles, artificial lighting has been installed. At 110 gloss units, the baffles have an exceptional gloss level for reflecting light. Special weather-resistant coatings can also reflect daylight.

Both projects brought logistical challenges, with Hunter Douglas fitting the components into place piece-by-piece, along with tight planning, and efficient installation thanks to an efficient numbering system.