St. Pancras Station


Hi folks – sorry for the delay in posts, but now that things have settled down a bit work-wise (and travel-wise) let me try to get some of my backlog of things posted.  St. Pancras Railway Station is probably my favourite station in London (and Astrid’s too!), and I recently saw it highlighted in an industry publication (appropriately named “Railway Terminal World”) as one of the top ten rail stations in the world.  Let me tell you about it. 

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. 

The amazing Victorian exterior - from 1868 - was home to the Midland Grand Hotel, which opened later in 1873.

The Barlow Train Shed at St. Pancras, which was the largest single-span roof in the world when it opened in 1868 and was meticulously restored - and actually improved - for the 2007 reopening.

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. 

This marks the opening of High Speed 1 and the terminal in late 2007 – just about 6 weeks before Astrid and I used it on our honeymoon trip between London and Paris!

 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 Eurostar's home is the historic train shed, where about 30 pairs of trains per day travel to/from Europe

Southeastern high-speed domestic trains go up to 140mph from London to Kent, serving destinations like Canterbury and Dover.

The station itself was beautifully redone, with lots of warm brick, natural light, shops and restaurants (of course!), and other amenities.

This is John Betjeman, Britain's Poet Laureate in the 1970s who was instrumental in savings St. Pancras from demolition.

A featured bottle at the Champagne Bar, supposedly the longest such bar in Europe

The lower-level retail spaces, a great combination of open space and glass with brick vaults, and the massive clock adorning the front wall, greeting travellers arriving from Europe.

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Posted on 17/11/2010, in Transit, travel, Within London and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Alex, this is fabulous! I think you should consider publishing. The pictures are spectacular!
    Love, ywm

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