Saturday, April 7, 2012


I first saw St Pancras Station in August 1998. Early in the morning, beneath a filthy roof sat a train, one train, and little else. They say first impressions count and all I remember was the uneven tarmac on the platform and the fact this vast space was occupied by one Nottingham-bound Midland Mainline service.

 Up until that point the only truly grand stations I'd seen (sparking an interest in architecture) were Newcastle, Bristol Temple Meads and Paddington. Newcastle with it's theatrical location by the Castle Keep and bridges, Bristol with it's curvy 'hello, this is the city Brunel built' confidence and Paddington which was in the midst of a redevelopment with the daring (at the time) idea of putting bars and restaurants (and even the very futuristic check in desks for Heathrow) on the newly glazed Lawn.

I saw the opening of St Pancras online in 2007. That great evening, where the railway put on a show for all of London and the World to see. For the first time in a long time, the railway had recaptured that feeling that got us from the Rocket and Rainhill to TGV and magnetic levitation. That feeling : confidence.

On the two visits I've made to St Pancras since, the building, the operations, the passengers and the staff give off this infectious feeling of confidence. A confluence of a sympathetic, but realistic regeneration, high-end railway infrastructure (high speed commuter, intercity and international services) and the renewed railway ethos of a new public space being for the public, result in this confidence.

I spent a morning photographing at St Pancras in March and saw firsthand all these elements in play. The train shed gives off a great substantiveness, but is light enough to allow an airy atmosphere to reach the lower departures level. The space throughout is well used with international passengers, domestic and underground commuters, but is designed so it never feels cramped or crowded, there's always available space.

I started on the upper level being awed by the Barlow roof, but then got drawn down to departures and to one spot in particular, the entrance to the Underground concourse. After a short while I realised why, an announcement would cut through the gentle hum of the people, proclaiming the arrival of a service from Paris or Brussels and within a few minutes, an army of continental arrivals, business travellers, holidaying families, backpackers, retired couples would march along towards the Underground. Seems I've become a people-watcher!

Much has been said about St Pancras, far better than I could, but this quote from The Independent's travel editor, Simon Calder sums it up, "the world's most wonderful railway station."

Sir John Betjeman would be so very proud.

Great thanks to Nigel Harris, Managing Editor of RAIL Magazine and Ben Ruse, Head of Media at High Speed 1, for their help in this continuing project. 

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