Last Train to Trancentral – From Infrastructure to “Info”structure, A Case Study of Embedding Digital Technology Into Existing Public Transport Infrastructures

This article was a further investigation into the various methods by which we may be able to move from an infrastructure to an “infostructure” – integration of responsive technologies into our transport environments.

Presented at the Computer Aided Architectural Design Research in Asia Conference (CAADRIA 2011), the article examined three potential solutions for developing an infostructure. The ideas stemmed from an architecture graduate studio with Sydney’s transport as the focal point. The projects aimed to address issues such as ticketing, wayfinding and public information.

Lead the way

Wayfinding is a fundamental aspect of public transport – reducing station congestion and increasing customer satisfaction by getting people to their platform on time.

But with so many people moving about in a transport environment, dynamic signage on the walls and floor proves difficult to make a success.

Taking this into account, the “Lead the way” concept advocated placing modular lighting units on the ceiling of a train station – in somewhere like the underground tunnels of Sydney’s Central station. Controlled by a central computer, the lighting could display colour-coded arrows that matched particular train line colours, easily directing passengers to their correct platform.  Such a system could also operate in emergencies to point customers towards the nearest emergency exit, dynamically changing based on the safest route out of the station.


Intelligent tunnel

A key part of Central Station is the well-known Devonshire Street tunnel, connecting Ultimo with Central’s underground and used by thousands of commuters each day. The first of our projects re-envisioned this tunnel, keeping in mind the fact that public transport patronage is set to significantly increase in coming years.

We found that at times the tunnel experienced extreme patronage, and at others significant downtime. We considered two ideas as part of the solution to this – firstly, the inclusion of a travelator in the tunnel. Widely used in airports, travelators are able to control the direction and flow of customers, getting a greater number of people through the tunnel at a more rapid rate.

Coupled with the travelator would be digital screens placed along the walls of the tunnel. The screens could give customers information or entertainment, psychologically reducing the distance of the tunnel further.


Forward motion

Forward motion aimed to propose an alternative solution to the issue of fare evasion. Currently, large physical barriers block the exit of the station for those without a ticket. In peak travel periods, it can be difficult for customers to move quickly through the barriers.

Forward motion advocates the complete removal of the barrier ticketing system. In its place is suggested a “shame” security system, which would involve RFID-embedded tickets and RFID sensors scanning people for their tickets. Those without a valid ticket would be highlighted by red LEDs at their feet, following them as they walked, and allowing passengers and staff to quickly recognise a fare evader. This would also have the added benefit of allowing customers to seamlessly flow from station platform to station exit.


Barker, T; Gardner, N; Haeusler, M; Tomitsch, M (2011): Last Train to Trancentral – From Infrastructure to ‘Info’structure, a case study of embedding digital technology into existing public transport infrastructures. Presented at the 16th International Conference of the Association for Computer-Aided Architectural Design Research in Asia (CAADRIA ’11), Newcastle, Australia.

Download the authors’ version of the paper.