Kings Cross Station refurbishment – long term retrospective

So Network Rail has almost finished the refurbishment of the station and is merrily PR-ing it.   I was pleased that Tom Edwards at the BBC picked up on our long term work here exposing the cost over runs and the divisive nature of a project that cut a community in half.  Tom’s blog picks up more details.  It was good a to get a bit of balance into what has otherwise been hagiographic coverage across the media.

As I said in a recent article, I won’t stint in my praise of the trades that built the extension but you have to question the management.  I’ve been back through my videos and I have Ian Fry a Director of Network Rail in questioning by Sophie Talbot at a public meeting in July 2008 confirming that the budget was £400 million then – it is now expected to turn out at £514 million according to the regulator – 25% over budget a mere £100 million.

It’s also worth taking an historical perspective – in 1852 The Morning Chronicle reported the northern railway Director being jeered by shareholders as he reported

‘the extravagant sums that were laid out in Kings-cross’

Of course, it remains to be seen if the new design works.  One thing worth watching on Monday, or more so on the evening of Friday week is the footbridge.  To get on the long distance trains everyone has to go over a footbridge.   When several trains all leave at once or with very short notice of platform allocation will the access footbridge over the tracks and the down escalators be big enough to cope with thousands of people and their wheelie luggage as they stampede to get from the West to platforms 1-4.   Indeed it’s worth working out whether the new bridge is substantially bigger or not than the old Handyside bridge of Harry Potter fame that was removed.

About William Perrin

Active in Kings Cross London and South Oxfordshire, founder of Talk About Local, helping people find a voice online and a trustee of The Indigo Trust , Good Things Foundation and ThreeSixtyGiving as well as Connect8.
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15 Responses to Kings Cross Station refurbishment – long term retrospective

  1. Matthew says:

    “To get on the long distance trains everyone has to go over a footbridge”

    This is incorrect – main access to platforms 0-8 is at the southern end of the new concourse via a wide gateline, whereas passengers using the pub, restaurants and first class lounge on the balcony level will use the footbridge.

  2. Thanks matthew let’s see what happens in operation. What you describe sounds equally problematic with a strong left-right flow hitting a north south flow in a broadside.

  3. Cllr Rupert Perry says:

    Just been to the launch of the new Western Concourse. Transport minister Justine Greening said the word “Amazing” seven times in her short speech. Is it her first time she has visited a station.

  4. Sophie Talbot says:

    The local community has continually pointed out that having such a controlled passenger flow leaves the station vulnerable to terrorist attacks. We’ve called for permeability for years, a means of designing in safety recommended by all the experts in this field, but Network Rail refused to even look at it as a design option. The majority of passengers are likely to gain entry to the platforms via the main gates at the southern point of the new concourse, with passengers exiting right next to them via the gates at the southern end. That makes the south end of the station an easy target with massive numbers of people moving in and out throughout the day.

    The station is less an improvement for passengers and the local community and more a temple to consumerism and property related profit for what’s supposed to be our public railway system. The passenger flows force people past high rental retail and leisure facilities putting them at greater risk because of lower than optimum security.

    Yes it does look pretty, yes it is a wonderful engineering and construction achievement, I will enjoy eating at the new local Lebanese restaurant. But, was that the point to begin with?

    • Matthew says:

      Wasn’t the point tripling the size of the concourse and tube station, improving access to the new KXC development, replacing a ‘temporary’ ageing structure, opening up a new public space at the front of the station? Perhaps we shouldn’t look at a great deal of investment in the local area as a bad thing.

    • Tom says:

      Wow, where to begin? As an elected official (I’m guessing you’re one because of your apparent mandate to put across the views of “the local community”), I’d expect you to be better informed.

      If this expert advice you allude to on a link between permeability, crowd distribution and person-borne attack carries water, then it would unstitch the security credentials of Heathrow T5, the Jubilee line extension and St Pancras, among countless others. As Arkady says below, you should publish this because it would be material to your argument. Should we also be concerned about every other public building Arup has recently designed?

      Slightly tangential, but I understand the structural design was amended mid-build in response to the Glasgow Airport ‘ram-raid’ in 2007. Late change like this is expensive, and probably contributed to the alleged cost increases that seem to preoccupy this website.

      Your arguments about retail on stations, while I recognise the cod-socialist Dave Spart instinct, don’t make sense. Even if the railways operated with supreme efficiency, they would still need a lot of public money. Retail and leisure are big markets and sources of ready cash (even now), and NR owns a lot of valuable property, which it should exploit to place the burden of funding more on those that use trains, or *choose* to visit stations. I say this as a taxpayer and a fare payer. Your favoured Lebanese eatery will in large part be there because the landlord (NR) can offer a good retail mix likely to attract the right clientele for them – people like you, as it happens.

      As for the point of it all, Matthew’s done a good list. Huge public infrastructure projects should make a point out of world-class ‘place-making’, to use a horrible term. An excavated concourse under the platforms may have been better in pure, isolated crowd distribution terms, but it would’ve failed to bring several of the built scheme’s benefits – projects like this are too intricately nuanced for their conception to be based on one factor alone. Plus, although ‘anything’s possible’, you could’ve kissed goodbye to the £500m you’re animated about – try a billion.
      I’m only guessing, but this all feels like the output of someone who’s spent too many years ploughing the same furrow, and is now too close to the arguments to think objectively.

      • Arkady says:

        An excellent post from Tom. This is an excellent forum, and it is unusual and disappointing to see a series of poorly evidenced, misleading and frankly factually incorrect posts on the station development. The one decent post on the subject has even led to some off-colour editorial sniping.

        I’ve been following the wider KX development for some time, and it is very clear to me that certain ‘community leaders’ lost a misguided war some time ago over the project and are now determined not to acknowledge any of the benefits but to snipe about ‘might have beens’ that weren’t feasible or even desirable in the first place. I’ve witnessed meetings between such people and Argent, and the attitude of the former seemed poisonous to me frankly.

        On the subject of the one-way system: I hung around for an hour at rush-hour this evening and there didn’t seem to be a problem at all. The increased space in front of the platforms helps, and there are only so many trains arriving and departing within a given period. Also, lots of people are using the new bridge, which helps too. I didn’t see a single clash of crowds the whole time. Just lots of awestruck passengers.

  5. Sophie Talbot says:

    Totally agree. A great deal of investment here is something I welcome, but not unproblematically. More space in the concourse is vital, revealing to original front of the station is wonderful. However there are elements of this project that are very worrying indeed and lessons that could very, very usefully be learned by all involved for future projects.

  6. Arkady says:

    Some odd hyperbole here. Passengers will be much more widely distributed throughout the station area before, and the area directly in front of the busiest platforms has been increased to reduce congestion.

    Any chance of a link to the expert testimony concerning how passenger flows would have been better directed? These decisions are now the result of lengthy modelling sessions, I don’t see why Network Rail wopuld have chosen to make the station one-way if they thought they could get away with not doing so.

  7. Andrew says:

    Well, if I was a station owner, I would want to make sure as many people are forced past shops, to make the shops more attractive to retailers, and rents could be higher. Whether one way results in more people being forced past shops, I don’t know (arguably two way would have resulted in people in and out going past shops to the side…..but what to do with traffic out the front, no shops out there….)

  8. Arkady says:

    Most people entering the station will go past zero (if they come in through the southern entrance) or 1-2 shops if entering by tube. And as you say, if it was two-way then many more people would go past the new shops. The whole premise of this corporate conspiracy is utterly baseless.

    I don’t get the problem anyway. Quality catering and newsagents are essential to a concourse, particularly in an inter-city station like Kings Cross. The unusual retail offer was one of the things that people were commenting on the most on Sunday.

    As for the ‘dividing the community in half’ business – nonsense. So a few thousand people have to walk 60-90 seconds more. Compare that to the 48 million people who use the station every year. I just can’t take the criticism seriously – and I’m one of the people affected.

    Best to focus your effort on the prospects of a bridge over the station tracks, which would be of considerable benefit to everyone.

  9. Andrew says:

    Arkady – see previous question on the bridge, do you have any news on this? Locals campaigned on this a couple of years ago and didn’t get anywhere….would be great if they are reconsidering!

  10. Hello Tom and Arkady who i don’t think we’ve seen on here before. Thank you Arkady for your comments about this forum which are appreciated and I am sorry we don’t agree this time.

    Yes we’ve been campaigning on the refurbishment of the station for about five years and i don’t apologise for that. The sad nature of the British planning system is that it only grants you influence if you are adversarial. Network Rail in had completely forgotten the community around the station when i met with them and my elected representatives in February 2007 – this may be ancient history but that’s when the plans we see now were hammered out. We then fought a campaign, in part using this website which received broad support (though maybe not every single person agreed with it, Arkady for instance) for a bridge over the tracks at the rear of the station. NR said at £20m that this was too expensive and paid £1m in a community-orientated S106 agreement as a result of the campaign a couple of days before the final planning meeting. I had a friendly word with with Ian Fry and Roger Madelin after the planing meeting. Normally that would have been the end of things.

    My google search for Kings Cross one day turned up a construction trade press article about NR’s overspend on the Eastern Range. More digging revealed that NR overspent by huge sums on its own offices (tens of millions) and the main station development (possibly over £100million). By far more than the cost of the bridge. This was very annoying, especially so given the quasi-public nature of NR so i carried on plugging away at the extent of NR’s overspending, which is appalling, sourcing new information from the regulator and using FOI.

    Yes it’s a striking piece of architecture, possibly a new arcadia for people as they wait for their trains that are delayed by clapped out overhead lines or a narrow viaduct at Welwyn. But that is by and large all you hear in the mainstream media. It’s fine to have a dissenting view.

    You can never have an entirely 100% representative view of a community – even elected representatives can only claim to speak for a small fraction of people. My occasional posts on this site are tiny gnat on the huge leathery ass of NR. You can see though that we have a range of views on the station itself both in article authors and in the comments and i am happy with that.

    If you would like to write some pieces about Kings Cross in general drop me a line with some ideas.

    • Arkady says:

      Thanks for your thoughful response William. I agree that the overspend is a serious issue, though I understood that some of it was due to ‘redesign on the job’ following the Glasgow terrorist attack?

      I would like to write for you when time allows. I have an article in mind on the impact of the Argent development on the canal?

  11. Andrew says:

    I don’t think there is a “corporate conspiracy”, I just made a remark that if I owned a station, that is what I would do. Thinking about it, I hope that is what NR do as well, so they aren’t so reliant on public funding 🙂

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