Change Here for 3,956 Departures
Astrid told you about our upcoming move, and how excited we are. As you can imagine, I’m especially thrilled about the transportation access of our new location at King’s Cross / St. Pancras. I quickly got to work trying to figure out just how many trains serve our new ‘hood. The confluence of transportation suggests that this might just be one of the most accessible places on earth, in terms of number of destinations available from one point, and the frequency of many of those connections. Sure, Birmingham New Street station in the UK is in some ways more central, with direct trains to a variety of locations in Wales, the primary cities in Scotland, and many corners of England, but does it have the Eurostar to the Continent? And yes, Tokyo Station is the hub of the world’s first and arguably best high-speed rail system, but it is really only served by one line of the Tokyo Metro. New York’s Grand Central? Please – I love the terminal, but destinations like White Plains, Ossining and Cos Cob don’t really hold a candle to ones like Robin Hood country, the beaches of Brighton, or Edinburgh (not to mention Paris!).
So, let’s take a look at some of the numbers. I’ve roughly calculated that, on an average weekday in the fall of 2013, there are 3,956 trains that depart from King’s Cross / St. Pancras, from one of the complex’s 35 platforms, including the 8 platforms serving the four Underground lines and 27 platforms combined at both railway stations (but NOT counting platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross!). The busiest hour for departures is the 5pm hour, as commuters from the northern suburbs are heading home – with 264 trains, or one train departing every 13.6 seconds. This dwindles to just two trains in the 2am hour and three trains each in the 3am and 4am hours, when the Underground is completely closed and the only service running is the Thameslink line linking (you guessed it) north and south of the River Thames through the City of London.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know that I can break all of this down further. Let’s look at each of the services and the destinations involved.
The King’s Cross / St. Pancras station is the third busiest in the network, after Waterloo (the busiest railway station in the UK) and Victoria, London’s two busiest rail terminals. On an average weekday in 2012 there were about 123,000 entries, which would interestingly also make it the third-busiest station complex in New York (after 42nd St-Times Square and 42nd St-Grand Central, just a hair ahead of number three 34th St-Herald Square). It also serves the most lines (six) of any station, and narrowly misses the award for most platforms (losing out to Baker Street, with only 8 to Sherlock Holmes-land’s 9). The sub-surface route that serves the Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, and Circle lines is part of the first underground line in the world, dating to the start of the Metropolitan Railway in 1863 (but the station was relocated along the original tracks in 1941 to facilitate better transfer to the other lines). The Piccadilly Line opened in 1906, the Northern Line in 1907, and finally the Victoria Line in 1968. Unfortunately, the station is also known for a 1987 fire in an escalator pit that killed 31 people (and led to the replacement of wooden escalator steps with metal ones, and much stronger enforcement of no-smoking rules).
80% of the trains serving King’s Cross St. Pancras are on the Underground, with an Underground train departing from one of the eight platforms every 22 seconds during the middle of the day up to every 17 seconds during rush hours. There are direct trains to 62% of the 267 other London Underground stations, including to the Underground’s furthest destination of Amersham and Chesham in Zone 9 at the end of the Metropolitan Line (but interestingly not to the Underground’s busiest station at Waterloo). This also means that I will have more than a few ways to get to work, including a one-seat ride on the Piccadilly Line (with all the tourists and Heathrow Airport travelers), a fast-and-frequent option via the Victoria Line (currently with the most frequent rush-hour train service in Britain at a train every 109 seconds) to the District and Circle Lines, or the long way around the historic Circle Line route (which will soon have the newest trains in London that for the first time have air-conditioning!). Phew! And that’s not even thinking of buses!
King’s Cross opened in 1852, just 11 years before the Underground. It is one of the 14 London terminals, but only the eighth-busiest, serving relatively more long-distance passengers (on fewer trains) than suburban commuters (like Waterloo or Victoria, which serve the areas where you can only go so far before you hit water!). It is the London end of the East Coast Main Line that stretches about 400 miles to Edinburgh via York and Newcastle. Although there are only about 6 intercity train departures per hour during the day, these include headline trains like the Edinburgh to London Flying Scotsman (formerly known as one of the world’s fastest steam locomotives, and now the 5:40am departure from Edinburgh that gets to London in just 4 hours), the Northern Lights between London and Aberdeen, and the longest journey from King’s Cross St. Pancras on the Highland Chieftain service between London and Inverness, which takes about 8 hours to travel the nearly 600 miles to the highlands of Scotland using one of Britain’s famous High Speed Train (HST) fast diesel train sets. King’s Cross is also home the
boring very important suburban services to Cambridge that will take Astrid (non-stop) to her new job!
Now the most spectacular station in London, it was for a long time the most neglected, and even threatened with demolition during the dark days of the 1960s (much like the demolished Penn Station and preserved Grand Central Terminal in New York). However, the construction of a new high speed line (creatively called High Speed One, to leave you with hopes for more) linking London to the Channel Tunnel led to a massive restoration and reconstruction the mid-2000s that cost more than US$1.2 billion, but looks the part. This is undoubtedly our favorite station in London, with a fantastic Victorian exterior and a sublime blue wrought-iron train shed. Today the station is known as St. Pancras International, because its most cherished service is the Eurostar that goes through the tunnel to Paris and Brussels (and, on Saturdays in the summer, direct to Avignon in the south of France, which is the longest journey by distance – not by time – possible from this hub). With the growth of high-speed rail in Europe, the Eurostar can now connect with services to places like Amsterdam (about 4 hours) and even as far-flung destinations as Barcelona (which only takes 10 hours).
However, despite taking up six massive platforms, the Eurostar only accounts for about one or two (18-car) trains per hour. The traditional route into St. Pancras is the Midland Main Line, which is now split into the long distance services with diesel trains to the East Midlands and South Yorkshire (operated by East Midlands Trains, which are visible from the windows of our new apartment) and the electrified suburban services that travel north as far as Bedford, which are part of the Thameslink service and use two underground platforms (that are actually the closest train platforms to reach from our new apartment). The primary Midlands destinations are Nottingham (of Robin Hood fame) and Sheffield (where we had to go last year to renew our visas).
The Thameslink service that serves the Midland Main Line to the north, including Luton Airport Parkway for London’s fourth airport (and headquarters of easyJet), also goes through the center of London and out the south end directly to Gatwick Airport and Brighton. I admit that I currently find it to be one of the laborious train services in the land, as it trundles slowly through the City of London (stopping virtually in the shadow of St. Paul’s Cathedral and at the cool new Blackfriars station that spans the River Thames with entrances on both banks), but it is also in the midst of a massive upgrade that includes new everything. I’m sure by the time we contemplate moving again the upgrade will be near completion, just in time for us not to benefit from it!
Finally, St. Pancras has some domestic services that share the high-speed line with the Eurostar. This line was used for the special Javelin service that was so successful during the Olympics last year, as it takes just six minutes in a long, fast tunnel to travel to Stratford International, which not only has the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park but also the largest mall in London. This line continues south to the London hinterland of Kent, serving historic places like Canterbury and Dover in just about an hour from St. Pancras by going 140mph.
Well, that gives you an idea of the transit at our new home. I’m not sure how to measure it against other very accessible places in the world, but it must rank pretty high. Oh, and don’t forget Euston Station just a 10-minute walk in the other direction, with Virgin Trains to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow … and I still haven’t even mentioned any of the buses! That will just have to wait for next time. (I know you will be waiting with bated breath!)