Public subway systems and light rail stations serving urban communities contain a unique occupancy due to the nature of transient ridership throughout their operation. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recognizes the distinct characteristics of rail stations and has developed NFPA 130, Standard for Fixed Guideway Transit and Passenger Rail Systems, for the protection of such unique occupancies, which has been adopted in Massachusetts through 780 CMR The Massachusetts State Building Code.
Given the special challenges associated with the occupancy of rail stations, NFPA 130 evaluates the means of egress system using performance-based evaluations. These evaluations are based on the performance of the station’s egress features and use timed 4- and 6-minute tests. This approach differs from the normal method of evaluation in the building code for most other occupancies which uses occupant load factors and egress width factors.
A key component to these performance-based calculations is the determination of the anticipated occupant load (i.e. ridership) that will need to be evacuated from the station and/or platform, which is determined in a manner that accounts for numerous variables specific to the facility. Another aspect of rail stations that differs from most other building types is that, often, station occupant loads are expected to grow over time to account for factors such as population growth, ridership increase, surrounding developments, etc. This occupant load plasticity, in contrast to other occupancy types, necessitates the periodic re-evaluation of the means of egress of stations.
Apart from normal population growth, a station’s occupant load may be significantly impacted by projects and development in the surrounding area. Where this is the case, the previous egress system within the neighboring rail station(s), that may have once been adequate to support the original station’s ridership, may be rendered inadequate to support the resulting occupant load in the future. Such projects that may alter the occupant load and necessitate a re-evaluation of the station’s means of egress can include the following:
- Projects located within the air-rights of an existing station;
- Projects that are part of Transit Oriented Developments that is focused on the ease of access to a nearby public transportation; or
- Projects involving a large new assembly facility such as a stadium or conference center located along a transit line.
Building or renovating near a transit station? Make sure thought is given to the effect this can have on ridership, station occupant load, and means of egress.
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