St. Pancras Station
To begin, I should mention that London is served by 14 rail terminals that are generally arranged in a rough circle (broadly matching the London Underground Circle Line, which was originally built largely to connect these terminals). When railways first came into real being in the mid-19th century, of course, London was already quite an old and developed place, and to avoid having all of the city core replaced or covered over with railways, this plan was created.
In order of modern passenger volumes, these are Waterloo (1848), Victoria (1862), Liverpool Street (1874), London Bridge (1836), Charing Cross (1864), Paddington (1854), Euston (1837), King’s Cross (1852), Canon Street (1866), St. Pancras (1868), Fenchurch Street (1841), Blackfriars (1886), Marylebone (1899), and Moorgate (1865). As you can see, they all come from the early railway era and generally have some great grand railway features. The only exception is Euston, which was demolished in 1961 and replaced with a 60s moderist, and actually quite lousy, structure (sounds like an overseas cousin to the New York Penn Station story, doesn’t it?).
But we’re here to talk about St. Pancras! As you can see in that list, it is neither the oldest nor the newest, the busiest nor the quietest – but it is perhaps the grandest and most attractive, and certainly one of the most important stations in London and in the world today.
So, a brief bit of history – the station was built by the Midland Railway as the London terminal for their Midland Main Line. There is an interesting, although I daresay typical, story about competing railways, trying to share limited approaches and terminal space in London, etc. Being one of the later kids on the block, and sharing prime real estate with the already existing Euston and King’s Cross terminals very nearby, St. Pancras was really aiming to impress from the get-go. Over time, the station turned out to be nothing special – consolidation of railways in the early-mid 20th century made the station less important, the hotel closed in 1935, and WWII damage to the train shed was in some cases just ignored. The familiar railway story appeared – in the 1960s the station was seen as redundant and many wanted to demolish it, but the rise of the historic preservation movement saved it. The late 20th century saw it in use as a minor station, with only a few trains per hour serving destinations like Leicester, Nottingham, and Sheffield only.
All of a sudden, though, an exciting new use for the half-abandoned, dowdy terminal emerged – to serve as the new London terminal for the Eurostar trains. As I posted months ago, the original Eurostar terminal, called Waterloo International, served the Channel Tunnel trains to/from Paris and Brussels from its opening in 1994 to 2007. In the early 2000s, though, a new high-speed line was constructed between the tunnel and London, which ultimately cut travel time between London and Paris by about 45 minutes (from around 3 hours to 2 hours, 15 minutes). The station, which was effectively on its last legs, got a £800 million reconstruction that has turned it into a London’s gateway to Europe.
Today, the station serves the Eurostar (to/from Europe via the Channel Tunnel), Southeastern high-speed domestic services to Kent, East Midlands Trains services to the Midlands (including Nottingham and Sheffield), and Thameslink suburban trains that stop at underground platforms below the station (and continue on to a through route across Central London and across the Thames to Gatwick Airport and Brighton).
The station itself was beautifully redone, with lots of warm brick, natural light, shops and restaurants (of course!), and other amenities.