St Pancras International Railway Station, London, UK

St Pancras International Railway Station, London, UK

St Pancras railway station is a major railway station situated in the St Pancras area of central London between the British Library and King’s Cross station. It was opened in 1868 by the Midland Railway as the southern terminus of that company’s Midland Main Line arriving from the East Midlands and West Yorkshire.

The station is celebrated for its architecture. During the 2000s, the complex was renovated, expanded and reopened as St Pancras International, with a new security-sealed terminal area for Eurostar trains to continental Europe over High Speed 1 to the Channel Tunnel, along with domestic connections to the north and south of England. The station is served by King”s Cross St Pancras tube station on the London Underground network, as is neighbouring King’s Cross station.


The station is the terminus of East Midlands Trains for services from London to the cities of Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Sheffield, and smaller towns in between. The station provides direct passenger interconnection with Eurostar’s high-speed services to Paris, Brussels and Lille, and First Capital Connect trains on the cross-London Thameslink route, which stop at platforms beneath the station and offer services going south to Gatwick Airport and Brighton, or north as far as Bedford. Domestic services to Kent (run by Southeastern) are due to start in 2009.

St Pancras is often termed the ‘cathedral of the railways’, and includes two of the most celebrated structures built in Britain in the Victorian era. The main train shed, completed in 1868 by the engineer William Henry Barlow, was the largest single-span structure built up to that time. The frontage of the station is formed by St Pancras Chambers, formerly the Midland Grand Hotel (1868–1877), an impressive example of Victorian gothic architecture.

Location and Layout

St Pancras station occupies a long thin site orientated north south. The south of the site is bounded by the busy Euston Road, with the frontage along that road provided by the former Midland Grand Hotel. Behind the hotel, the main Barlow train shed is elevated 6 m (20ft) above street level, with the area below forming the station undercroft. To the west the station is bounded by Midland Road, with the new British Library on the other side of the road. To the east the station is bounded by Pancras Road, with King”s Cross station on the far side of the road. To the north are the King”s Cross railway lands, a complex of intersecting railway lines crossed by several roads and the Regent”s Canal.

The platforms used by Eurostar extend back into Barlow’s train shed, whilst the other platforms terminate at the southern end of the extension. The Eurostar platforms do not occupy the full width of the Barlow train shed, and sections of the floor of this area have been opened up to provide natural light to the new international concourse, named The Arcade, that lies below. This has been fashioned from the undercroft and runs the length of the Barlow train shed to the west of the Eurostar platforms. Arrival and departure lounges lie below these platforms, and are accessed from the international concourse. The southern end of the international concourse links to the western ticket hall of the King”s Cross St Pancras tube station.

The various domestic service platforms, both above and below ground level, are accessed from a new street level domestic concourse, named The Market, that runs east west across the station below the point where Barlow’s train shed meets the new extension. The domestic and international concourses meet at a right angle. The main pedestrian entrance to the station is at the eastern end of the domestic concourse, a location that will eventually link to the planned new concourse for King’s Cross station and the planned northern ticket hall for the tube station. However until these are completed, access to the tube station for domestic passengers involves either an outdoor walk to the main ticket hall, or a walk of similar length along the concourse of the international station to the western ticket hall.

At the south end of the upper level of the station, a 9 metre high, 20 tonne bronze statue named The Meeting Place designed by British artist Paul Day is intended to evoke the romance of travel. A nearby statue of John Betjeman, gazing in apparent wonder at the Barlow roof, recognises his successful campaign to save the station in the 20th century.


Requirement for a new station

The station was commissioned by the Midland Railway. Prior to the 1860s, the company had a concentration of routes in the Midlands and north of London but not its own route to the capital. From 1840, Midland trains to and from London ran from Euston using the London and North Western line via a junction at Rugby. Congestion and delays south of Rugby quickly became commonplace as services expanded.

A new London line was proposed around 1845, towards the end of the period of speculation later dubbed “Railway Mania”. The Great Northern line was approved by Parliament in 1846 and a Midland Railway spur from Leicester to Hitchin was agreed in 1847. While the Great Northern line was constructed, the Midland spur was quietly abandoned in 1850 due to financial problems. Pressure from businesses in Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire (notably from William Whitbread, who owned roughly 12% of the land over which the line would run) revived the spur scheme. The line was re-presented to Parliament and approved in 1853. Building began quickly but did not proceed at any great pace: the line was opened in mid-1857. The Midland Railway secured initial running power for seven years at a minimum of £20,000 a year. The Midland Company now had two routes into London, through Euston and King’s Cross, and traffic quickly expanded to take advantage, especially with the coal trade, with the Midland Railway transporting around a fifth of the total coal to London by 1852.

In mid-1862, due to the enormous traffic for the second International Exhibition, the Great Northern and the Midland companies clashed over the restricted capacity of the line. This was regarded as the stimulus for the Midland Company to build its own line and surveying for a 49.75 mile (80 km) line from Bedford to London began in October 1862. However, the Midland Company had been buying large portions of land in the parish of St Pancras since 1861.

St Pancras was an unprepossessing district, with notorious slums. The area’s other landmarks were the covered Fleet River, Regent’s Canal, a gas-works, and an old church with a large graveyard. For the terminus the Midland Railway chose a site backing onto New Road (later Euston Road) bounded by what are now Midland Road and Pancras Road, a few hundred yards to the east of Euston and immediately to the west of King’s Cross station. The initial plan was to take the station’s approach tracks under the canal in a tunnel, although the churchyard and the gas-works were added problems. The site was occupied by housing, the estates of Somers Town and the slums of Agar Town. The landlords sold up for £19,500 and cleared out the residents, without compensation, for a further £200. The church was demolished and a replacement built for £12,000 in 1868–69 in Kentish Town. The demolished church, St Luke”s, was re-erected piece by piece in 1867 as a Congregational church in Wanstead, and still exists (now a United Reformed church).

The company intended to connect from the site through a tunnel (the St Pancras Branch) to the new Metropolitan Line, opened in 1863 running from Paddington to Farringdon Street below the Euston Road, providing for a through route to Kent.

Design and Construction

The sloping and irregular form of the site posed certain problems and the Midland Railway directors were determined to impress London with their new station. They could see the ornateness of Euston, with its famous arch; the functional success of Lewis Cubitt’s King’s Cross; the design innovations in iron, glass and layout by Brunel at Paddington; and, significantly, the single span roof designs of John Hawkshaw being built at Charing Cross and Cannon Street.

The initial plan of the station was laid out by William Henry Barlow, the Midland’s consulting engineer. Barlow persuaded the company to modify its original plans, raising the station 6m (20ft) on iron columns, thus providing a usable undercroft space and also allowing the approach tracks to cross the Regent’s Canal on a bridge rather than a tunnel. The single span roof of 74 m (243 ft) was a collaboration between Barlow and Rowland Mason Ordish and was the greatest built up to that time. It allowed the station to make maximum use of the space beneath without obstructions. A space for a fronting transverse hotel was included in the plan and the overall plan was accepted in early 1865.

A competition was held for the actual design of the station buildings and hotel in May 1865. Eleven architects were invited to compete, submitting their designs in August. In January 1866 the brick Gothic revival designs of the prominent George Gilbert Scott were chosen. There was some disquiet at the choice, in part because Scott’s designs, at £315,000, were by far the most expensive. The sheer grandeur of Scott”s frontage impressed the Midland Railway directors, achieving their objective of outclassing all the other stations in the capital. A subsequent financial squeeze trimmed several floors from the frontage and certain ornateness but the impressive design largely remained.

Construction of the station, minus the roof which was a separate tender, was budgeted at £310,000, and after a few problems Waring Brothers’ tender of £320,000 was accepted. The roof tender went to the Butterley Company for £117,000. Work began in the autumn of 1864 with a temporary bridge over the canal and the demolition of Somers Town and Agar Town. Construction of the station foundations did not start until July 1866 and delays through technical problems, especially in the roof construction, were commonplace.

The graveyard posed the initial problems – the main line was to pass over it on a girder bridge and the branch to the Metropolitan under it in a tunnel. Disturbance of the remains was expected but was, initially, carelessly handled. The tunnelling was especially delayed by the presence of decomposing human remains, the many coffins encountered, and a London-wide outbreak of cholera leading to the requirement to enclose the River Fleet entirely in iron. Despite this the connection was completed in January 1867.

The company was hoping to complete most essential building by January 1868. The goods station in Agar Town received its first train in September 1867, but passenger services through to the Metropolitan line did not begin until July 1868. However, the station was not finished when it opened, to little ceremony, on 1 October. The final rib for the trainshed roof had been fitted only in mid-September and the station was a mass of temporary structures for the passengers. The first train, an express for Manchester, ran non-stop from Kentish Town to Leicester – the longest non-stop run in the world at 97 miles (156 km).

The undercroft of the station was used to store beer barrels brought by train from Burton-upon-Trent, a major brewing town served by the Midland Railway.

Work on the Midland Grand Hotel did not begin until mid-1868. Designed by architect George Gilbert Scott and with construction in a number of stages, the hotel did not open to customers until 5 May 1873. The process of adding fixtures and fittings was contentious as the Midland Railway cut Scott”s perceived extravagances and only in late 1876 was Scott finally paid off. The total costs for the building were £438,000. The hotel building initially appears to be in a polychromatic Italian Gothic style – inspired by John Ruskin”s Stones of Venice – but on a closer viewing, it incorporates features from a variety of periods and countries. From such an eclectic approach, Scott anticipated that a new genre would emerge.

Following construction services were provided by the Midland Railway. This was a period of expansion as the major routes to Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield and Carlisle opened.

Grouping, nationalisation and privatisation

The 20th century did not, on the whole, serve St Pancras station well. The Railways Act of 1921 forced the merger of the Midland with the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS), and the LMS adopted the LNWR”s Euston station as its principal London terminus. The Midland Grand Hotel was closed in 1935, and the building was subsequently used as offices. During the Second World War, bombing inflicted damage on the train shed, which was only partially reglazed after the war.

At the creation of British Railways in 1948, the previous LMS services continued to run. Destinations included the London area services to North Woolwich, St Albans and Bedford. Long distance services reached Glasgow, Leeds, Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester, with famous named trains including:

  • The Palatine to Manchester
  • The Thames-Clyde Express to Glasgow
  • The Master Cutler to Sheffield (following the withdrawal of long distance services from Marylebone in 1966).

The 1960s electrification of the WCML between London and Manchester saw the Manchester Pullman running from St Pancras via Derby and Matlock. These trains and those to Glasgow were withdrawn following the completion of the rebuilding of Euston and the consolidation of these services.

By the 1960s, St Pancras station came to be seen as redundant, and several attempts were made to close the station and demolish the hotel (by now known as St Pancras Chambers). These attempts provoked strong and successful opposition, with the campaign led by the then Poet Laureate, John Betjeman.

During the sectorisation of British Rail in 1986, mainline services were provided to the East Midlands by the InterCity sector (Midland Division), with London suburban services to St Albans, Luton and Bedford being provided by Network SouthEast. It was during this period (in 1988) that the Snow Hill tunnel re-opened resulting in the creation of the Thameslink route and the resultant diversion of the majority of suburban trains onto the new route. However the station continued to be served by trains running on the old Midland main line to Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield, together with a few suburban services to Bedford and Luton. This constituted only a few trains an hour and left the station underused and empty.

Following the privatisation of British Rail, the long distance services from St Pancras were franchised to the Midland Mainline, a train operating company owned by the National Express Group, with a franchise start date of 28 April 1996. The few remaining suburban trains still operating into St Pancras were operated by the Thameslink train operating company, owned by Govia, from 2 March 1997.

Midland Mainline had initial plans for regular trains from St Pancras to Newcastle and Manchester but these were quickly and quietly dropped. A handful of trains to and from Leeds were introduced, mainly because the High Speed Train sets were maintained there and were already running the route but empty from Sheffield. During the 2000s major rebuild of the WCML history repeated itself with St Pancras hosting trains to Manchester, this time via the Hope Valley route, under the title of Project Rio.

A new role is planned

The original plan for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) involved a tunnel from somewhere to the south-east of London, and an underground terminus in the vicinity of Kings Cross station. However a late change in the plans, principally driven by the then deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine”s desire for urban regeneration in East London, led to a change of route, with the new line approaching London from the east. This opened the possibility of reusing the largely redundant St Pancras station as the terminus, with access via the North London Line that crosses the throat of the station.

The idea of using the North London line proved illusory, and it was rejected in 1994 by the then transport secretary, John MacGregor, as difficult to construct and environmentally damaging. However the idea of using the underused St Pancras station as the core of the new terminus was retained, albeit now linked by 20 km of specially built tunnels to Dagenham via Stratford.

London and Continental Railways (LCR), which was created at the time of British rail privatisation, was selected by the UK government in 1996 to undertake the reconstruction of St Pancras, the construction of the CTRL and the takeover of the British share of the Eurostar operation, Eurostar (UK). LCR has had ownership of St Pancras station since the privatisation of British Rail in order to allow for the station”s redevelopment to take place. Financial difficulties in 1998, and the collapse of Railtrack in 2001, caused some revision of this plan, but LCR retain ownership of St Pancras station.

The design and project management of reconstruction was undertaken, on behalf of LCR, by Rail Link Engineering (RLE), a consortium of Bechtel, Arup, Systra and Halcrow. The original reference design for the station was by Nick Derbyshire, the former head of British Rail”s in-house architecture team. The master plan of the complex was by Foster and Partners, whilst the lead architect of the reconstruction was Alistair Lansley, a former colleague of Nick Derbyshire recruited by RLE.

In order to accommodate the unusually long Eurostar trains, and to provide capacity for the existing domestic trains to the midlands and the proposed domestic services on the high speed rail link, the existing station train shed was extended a considerable distance northwards, by a new flat roofed shed. As extended the station was planned to feature 13 platforms under this extended train shed. Services to the East Midlands would use the western platforms, Eurostar services would use the middle platforms, and domestic high-speed services to Kent would occupy the eastern platforms. The Eurostar and one of the Midland platforms would extend back into the Barlow train shed. Access to the Eurostar platforms for departing passengers would be via a departure suite on the west side of the station, and then to the platforms by a bridge above the tracks within the historic train shed. Arriving Eurostar passengers would leave the station by a new concourse at the north end of the station.

This original design was later modified, with access to the Eurostar platforms from below, utilising the station undercroft and allowing the deletion of the visually intrusive access bridge. By dropping the extension of any of the Midland platforms into the Barlow train shed, space was freed up to allow wells to be constructed in the station floor, which provided natural daylight and access to the undercroft.

The station is rebuilt

Shortly before the station rebuild commenced, the overhead wiring used by the electric suburban trains was removed, in order to allow construction to start on the eastern side of the train shed extension. As a consequence, all suburban trains from Bedford and Luton were diverted to Kings Cross Thameslink and beyond, and the Thameslink train operating company ceased to serve St Pancras for a period. (In fact these trains only used St Pancras if there was engineering work further south on the Thameslink line.)

By early 2004, the eastern side of the extended train shed was complete, and the Barlow train shed was closed to trains. From 12 April 2004, Midland Mainline trains terminated at an interim station occupying the eastern part of the extension immediately adjacent to the entrance.

As part of the construction of the western side of the train shed extension, which now began, a new underground ”box” was constructed on the Thameslink route, which at this point ran partially under the extended station. This box was intended to eventually house new platforms for the Thameslink service. In order for this to happen, the existing Thameslink tunnels between Kentish Town and King”s Cross Thameslink had to be closed between 11 September 2004 and 15 May 2005 while the works were carried out. As a result, Thameslink services from the north terminated in the same platforms as the Midland Mainline trains, while services from the south terminated at King”s Cross Thameslink.

After the blockade of the route was finished, the new station box was still only a bare concrete shell, and could not take passengers. Thameslink trains reverted to their previous route, but ran through the station box without stopping. The budget for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link works did not include work on the fitting-out of the station, as these works had originally been part of the separate Thameslink 2000 works programme. Despite lobbying by rail operators who wished to see the station open at the same time as St Pancras International, the Government failed to provide additional funding to allow the fit out works to be completed immediately following the line blockade. Eventually, on 8 February 2006, Alistair Darling, the then Secretary of State for Transport, announced £50 million worth of funding for the fit-out of the station, plus another £10-15 million for the installation of associated signalling and other lineside works in the area.

In 2005 planning consent was granted for a refurbishment of the former Midland Grand Hotel building, which will be refurbished and extended as a hotel and apartment block.

By the middle of 2006, the western side of the train shed extension was complete, and on 14 July 2006 the Midland Mainline trains moved from their interim home on the east side to their ultimate home on the west side of the station.

According to a BBC 2 series broadcasted in December 2007, the rebuilding cost was a total of £800 million, up from an initial estimate of £310 million.

The international station opens

From 30 October to early November 2007 Eurostar conducted a testing program in which some 6000 members of the public were involved in passenger check-in, immigration control and departure trials, during which the ”passengers” each made three return journeys out of St Pancras to the entrance to the London tunnel. On 4 September 2007, the first test train ran from Paris Gare du Nord to St Pancras.

St Pancras station was officially re-opened as St Pancras International, and the High Speed 1 launched, on Tuesday 6 November 2007, by HM The Queen accompanied by her consort, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.

It gives me great pleasure to officially launch High Speed 1, Britain”s first High Speed Railway and to re-open this magnificent station, St. Pancras International.

During an elaborate opening ceremony, Henry Barlow, played by actor Timothy West, addressed the audience, who were also entertained by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the singers Lemar and Katherine Jenkins. In a carefully staged piece of railway theatre, the first Javelin train set and two Eurostar train sets arrived through a cloud of dry ice in adjacent platforms within seconds of each other.

Public service by Eurostar train via the completed High Speed 1 route started on 14 November 2007. In a small ceremony, station staff cut a ribbon leading to the Eurostar platforms.

The layout of the station is essentially as designed, although the platforms for the high speed link to Kent will remain unoccupied until that service starts in 2009. In the same month that the station opened, the station”s traditional services to the East Midlands were transferred to a new franchisee, East Midlands Trains.

The low level platforms for the Thameslink services opened on 9 December 2007, and at the same time the former King”s Cross Thameslink station closed. Since Thameslink trains last used St Pancras station, the franchise had changed hands (on 1 April 2006) and services were now operated by First Capital Connect.

Future Developments

In 2008, as part of the new timetable, East Midlands Trains will cut journey times from London to Sheffield (2 hours 10 minutes) and Leicester (1 hour 7 minutes) and increase service from St Pancras International to five trains an hour. New services will run direct from St Pancras to Lincoln and a new station at East Midlands Parkway will be served by existing trains from St Pancras.

From 2009, Southeastern services to Kent over High Speed 1 will occupy the eastern platforms (numbered 11–13), previously used by the Midland Mainline and Thameslink services during the construction phase.

Also in 2009, the new hotel and apartments occupying the original Midland Grand Hotel building will open. A five-star hotel, owned by Marriott International, will occupy parts of the original hotel, including the main public rooms, together with a new bedroom wing on the western side of the Barlow trainshed. The apartments, which are being developed by the Manhattan Loft Corporation, will occupy the majority of the upper floors of the main block of the original hotel.

Eurostar is only considering calling at Stratford International as the first stop from St Pancras International, once the Docklands Light Railway extension is completed. Presently there is no fixed connection between the International and domestic (Regional) stations at Stratford. The DLR extension is due to be completed in 2010.

In 2011, the subway under Pancras Road from the eastern entrance of the St Pancras”s domestic concourse, built as part of the station extension, will be opened. This will connect St Pancras International station to the new northern ticket hall of the King”s Cross St. Pancras tube station and the new concourse of King”s Cross railway station, both of which are currently under construction and due to open in that year.

During the 2012 Olympic Games, St Pancras International will be the terminus for the Olympic Javelin, a seven minute shuttle service designed to ferry spectators between the Olympic Park in Stratford and Central London.

There are proposals to extend East Midlands Trains service to a reopened Corby railway station, but no firm date has been set for this.

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