Back in August 2011 (issue 82), the rail engineer reported on the work being done at King’s Cross to create a new Western Concourse and generally improve the structure and amenities of the station. Since then, work has progressed rapidly and the new concourse opened on 19 March 2012 while the train-shed roof repairs will be finished in May.

The Western Concourse

Now colloquially christened the ‘Flying Saucer’ because of its semi-circular shape when viewed from above, this new construction joins the old western range buildings to the Great Northern Hotel, the latter also being extensively refurbished. The concourse will be the heart of the station so the architects set about designing something spectacular. Despite being modern in concept, it blends remarkably well with the adjoining older buildings. Fitting out is almost complete and the two main indicator boards mirror what is displayed in the existing concourse area at the front of the station. The new granite flooring is laid but is still protected in places to stop it being ruined by any remaining construction work.

The new ticket office is equipped with lots of counters and an organised queuing system. A separate area is assigned to self service ticket machines of which there will be many. Clearly there is unwritten encouragement for self service to be the norm. Ticket barriers at the southern end of the concourse give entry to the main station platform areas. The ticket gates are capable of reading three types of tickets – oyster, bar code (as printed when buying on line) and magnetic stripe.

At the northern end is a separate line of barriers to the suburban platforms 9-11. For most of King’s Cross history, these have been like a carbuncle on the side of the station, rather drab in appearance and accessed by a dingy walkway through the western range offices which, to the unknowing, was difficult to find. It was as if they were ashamed to be part of such a fine terminus. All this is now changed and for the first time, they have become an integral part of the station.

A mezzanine gallery hosts a number of retail and food units. They provide a good view of the main concourse area and it is likely that some of the forthcoming food outlets will capitalise on this to enable people to just watch the world go by, whilst enjoying a quick bite to eat. The northern end of the mezzanine will give access to the First Class lounge incorporated into the western range building, as well as an alternative entrance to platforms via yet more ticket barriers and the new station overbridge.

The grandeur of the concourse can only be realised by visiting the station and seeing the spectacular construction of the roof. This has necessitated some imaginative column and bracket supports, all having to be specially made. The roof is reminiscent of geodetic construction, similar to that pioneered by Barnes Wallis in the wartime Wellington bomber. It gives the impression of lightness but immense strength, which is exactly how it is. From the outside, it will be barely visible from the Euston Road, as the Great Northern Hotel will be the main focal vision. Travellers emerging from the mid-way undercroft at St Pancras will get a much better view, but even here the visual impact gives little hint of the magnificence inside. A seamless interchange between the two stations is part of the plan.

The passenger flow design will mean entry to all platforms is through the new concourse, with the ticket barriers at the end of the main platforms 0 to 8 being for exit only. The intention is to segregate arriving and departing passengers as far as possible, so as to avoid the present situation where people queuing for trains in the concourse prevent arriving travellers from easily accessing the underground or bus stops. Some conflict will remain at the platform ends but the buffer stops have been moved back to increase the size of the circulating area.

It is anticipated that between 10-15% of passengers will access the platforms via the mezzanine floor and station overbridge, also passengers for the suburban platforms will have their separate access point from the new concourse. The opportunity for passenger paths to clash is thus much reduced. Step free access will be provided throughout including that to taxis on Pancras Road, cycle parking and the hire of ‘Boris’ bikes. Escalators and lifts give easy access to the London Underground lines including one ‘tidal’ escalator (down in the morning, up at night) direct from inside the concourse.

The Main Station and its Roof

Since the August article, work has continued apace to renovate the two roof barrels as well as implementing improvements to other parts of the station. Work on the roof has necessitated a new access bridge adjacent to the north end screen. It was not possible to provide an access deck supported at platform level, so access facilities have been constructed in a semi-circular shape underneath the roof barrels, supported by special triangular ‘Toblerone’ beams attached to the station sidewalls. This deck allows renovation work to be safely carried out without risk of material falling on to the tracks and platforms below.

The concept was new and, to make sure it would work, a trial was conducted at Chester, which proved successful. Once the renovation work is complete the ‘Toblerone’ beams will be removed. Future access to facilitate cleaning and maintenance will be from the original but refurbished walkways. Reglazing and iron work restoration continues as planned and the new, lighter, appearance of the old station can begin to be appreciated. The installation of photovoltaic cells is proceeding along the middle of the train shed barrels to contribute to the station’s power requirements.

The replacement footbridge, midway along the main station, takes people down to platform level either by escalators or lift. The old footbridge was carefully removed and will eventually see further service on the Mid Hants Heritage line at Ropley. Platform refurbishment is well underway by taking out an island platform at a time. Platform 0, built on the old cab road underneath the eastern range offices in 2010, was primarily provided to give sufficient platform capacity while this work is being done but is a useful addition for the years to come.

The ugly 1970s electrification stanchions on the platforms are being removed and replaced by suspension wires strung between the station walls. These are much less visibly intrusive.

The Southern Façade and Shared Service Yard

The 1970s southern concourse at the front of the station will eventually be removed once the new facilities are fully operational, but not until after the Olympics. Whilst this building has received its fair share of criticism over the years, at the time it was a distinct improvement on what was there before. At least the main part of Cubitt’s design could be seen but, with increasing passenger flows, no doubt increased by the Eurostar service next door, it had become overcrowded and congested. All will be swept away and replaced by a piazza type area with trees in keeping with the upgraded vision for the entire area.

To the north, and underneath the western concourse, the new underground plant room and service area is nearing completion, needing to be carefully constructed to take account of the old ‘hotel’ curve that brought trains up from Moorgate until the 1970s by way of the ‘Widened Lines’. This will be a common user area with lorry access to store goods and material for TOCs, Network Rail, LUL, retail companies and general station requirements. Direct service lift access to the main platforms will limit the passage of tractors and barrows through busy passenger areas. With East Coast serving 100,000 meals per month, the logistics of getting the food to the trains can be appreciated.

The Train Operators’ Perspective

With all the work that has been going on, it has been a challenging time for the TOCs using the station – principally East Coast and First Capital Connect. A full train service has had to be maintained and also expanded to cater for growing passenger numbers. FCC has added 61 more coaches in the period with 22% more peak time travellers. East Coast calculates that 66% of its passengers use King’s Cross with 76 services departing and arriving at the station every day. It is thus very important to all the TOCs that King’s Cross portrays a good image and trouble free experience for rail customers.

Finance and the Future

The cost of the King’s Cross improvement project will be around £550 million. The new concourse has been paid for by direct funding from the Department for Transport whilst the roof renewal and general upgrade work comes under the Network Rail financial umbrella. King’s Cross sees upwards of 47 million people passing through its space in the course of a year and the facilities have to be capable of handling that number. The project has attracted a large number of stakeholders including the relevant TOCs and the local boroughs but more surprisingly organisations such as the RNIB and Deutsche Bahn.

The story does not end there, however, as the King’s Cross Station work is only part of a massive regeneration project for the whole area. Plans reveal the restoration of the iconic gas holders which were listed structures but had to be removed when St Pancras was extended outwards. The Regents Canal will be made a feature and new developments will be constructed on the land formerly occupied by the King’s Cross goods depot and the locomotive ‘top shed’. All of this will happen over the next few years.

The two famous termini of King’s Cross and St Pancras have existed alongside each other for nigh on 150 years, competing for custom from travellers to Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford and elsewhere. In more recent times, the emphasis has been on St Pancras with its renaissance for the new Eurostar service but the present project will bring glory back to King’s Cross. The two great tower clocks will continue to eye one another and hopefully, with modern technology, they will even tell the same time.

Thanks are expressed to Tom Hyland, Jon Crampton and Ian Fry from Network Rail, Paul Emberley from East Coast and Roger Perkins from FCC who gave their time to explain the project and facilitate the visits.