St Pancras International
The Barlow Shed at St Pancras
Not Just Another Rail Station...
Over 33 million people have travelled through St Pancras International in 2008, making its first full year a huge success. It has come a long way since June 2007, when frantic efforts were being made to get it ready in time for the grand opening...
Sipping bubbly at Europe's longest champagne bar; fresh produce from the farmers' market; high street retail therapy or dining in the brasserie. St Pancras International is going to be much more than just a place to catch a train.
Six years after work started in 2001, St Pancras has been restored and modernised at a cost of £800m – in the process becoming not just a hub for arrivals and departures, but a destination in itself.
As well as the fancy shops, markets and bars, St Pancras International, as it will become officially known, is also the new home of Eurostar train services. Modernising the station was more than just about making it look pretty or providing prime retail space. It was part of a much larger project – High Speed 1.
St Pancras retail arcade
High Speed Rail
At £5.8bn, High Speed 1 is the UK's largest construction project in history and the first major railway project for 100 years. 100 km of track has been laid from the Channel Tunnel to St Pancras station and at 186mph the trains along this route will be the fastest in the UK.
It is the first time that Britain has been connected to Europe's high speed rail network and will slash journey times to the continent by more than 20 minutes. The Eurostar service to Paris will take just two hours and 15 minutes.
The finishing touches to the station will be carried out right up to the opening date on the 14th November. However, it does not require a great leap in imagination to realise that this will become a major London landmark - a station to rival New York's Grand Central in both size, scale and beauty.
From up high, perched on some rather precarious scaffolding, the vastness of the Barlow Shed reveals itself. Even with the building work going on below, it is a monumental space and triumphant piece of engineering. Indeed, contemporary architects and engineers still marvel at how this iron-work span could ever have been built nearly 150 years ago.
While the Barlow Shed is the obvious centre-piece, the developers of St Pancras International hope that the station itself will become a genuine destination of choice for Londoners and tourists alike. It will feature a farmers' market, big name retailers and a myriad of eating and drinking options.
The Midland Grand Hotel
Plans are also in place to convert Sir Gilbert Scott's Grade I-listed Midland Grand Hotel, which stands at the front of the station, into a 5-star hotel. Its red-brick exterior is being faithfully restored and will remain one of the most impressive examples of Victorian gothic architecture.
Unlike other high-profile construction projects in the UK, St Pancras International will be delivered on time. As Ben Ruse of London & Continental Railways, the company behind the High Speed 1 project, explains to BBC London:
"We set ourselves this challenging timetable of opening in late 2007 over ten years ago. It's an astonishing achievement that we have managed to stick to that. Everybody has been working on the same page and co-operating with each other."
"It's a minefield to get through all the jobs that still need doing. But we will do it. And we will open on the morning of November 14th with every brass plaque polished and every glass cleaned."
If the future for St Pancras is all rosy, then its history is equally dazzling.
Designed by London-born William Henry-Barlow, work on the station started in 1864 and took 6,000 men, 1,000 horses and 100 steam cranes some four years to fully complete. The Barlow train shed – 698ft in length, 240ft wide and over 100 feet high at its apex - was the largest enclosed space in the world at the time.
What would Barlow make of the current re-development?
"We've tried to be sympathetic and guided by the existing structure," says Ben Ruse, "Hopefully, we are making Barlow proud of what he started."
last updated: 23/12/2008 at 11:30