St Pancras International currently has three different railway anniversaries. These are the opening of the Eurostar terminal on 11 November 2007 followed by the new Thameslink station on 9 December of that year (both 10 years ago) and the station itself has entered its 150th year of public service.
With regards to that big 150th anniversary celebrations have already begun and there’s a souvenir stall and website dedicated to the whole SPI 150 celebrations. However as today is the 9th December, this post specifically focuses on that aspect of St Pancras International station known as Thameslink.
St Pancras 150 stall on lower level, 27 November (it opened 4 days earlier)
Its ten years since the Thameslink platforms were opened. This replaced the old station (originally known as King’s Cross Metropolitan, then King’s Cross Midland, and latterly King’s Cross Thameslink.) Services were moved over from the old station in 2007.
The entrance to the new St Pancras Thameslink station, opened 9 December 2007
Whilst many will view the Thameslink station as being brand new, the rails have been here since about 1867! In a lot of ways we are also celebrating the 150th anniversary of Thameslink’s route (although I suspect many wont see it that way because the service is in no way that old!)
Nevertheless Thameslink’s tunnels are as old as St Pancras station itself. The links at King’s Cross had already been built and were in use by about 1862. Just a few years after the opening of the Metropolitan Railway in 1863 new tunnels were built under St Pancras to link the Metropolitan to the Midland Railway. Here’s a photograph from the Science Museum showing part of the ‘Thameslink’ tunnels in 1867, a time when the main station was still under construction.
Unlike the Great Northern Railway out of King’s Cross, who were faced with enormous expense by the need to build a huge aqueduct (a structure so few know about) to permit sufficient clearance for its trains to pass beneath the Regent’s Canal, the Metropolitan/Midland/Thameslink builders had a much simpler task. The traverse under the Regent’s Canal is further north and the canal itself is six feet higher in elevation. These factors alone meant construction of the 1867/2007 routes were more straightforward as the canal wasn’t even in the way.
The Thameslink tunnels as originally built in 1867 were simply a brick lined tunnel located underneath William Barlow’s famous station buildings before curving sharply to run beneath Midland Road, then a gentle ascent to meet the Midland Railway’s tracks about half a mile or so further north.
The tunnels that are now part of Thameslink were not used by passenger trains between 1916 and 1988. The only reason they survived is because they were used by freight trains heading for Smithfield or the Southern region. It must be remembered even the section from Farringdon to Blackfriars was shut in 1970 so no through route existed for 18 years. Its fortuitous the much-maligned British Rail had the vision to develop these new cross-London services running between Bedford and Brighton at a time when railway closures were still being practised.
Midland Road. Underneath is Thameslink’s station. I’m standing where the tunnel straightens out
Certainly if St Pancras had never been upgraded to an international terminal the Thameslink tunnels would have remained as they were and the old station in Pentonville Road viewed as being quite suitable for most needs.
St Pancras Thameslink was first mooted in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act of 1996. It specifies a two platform station which was all that could be attained. Actually considering the importance of the site to be served, the preference was for a station with three platforms but that was not possible.
The Network Rail (Thameslink 2000) Order 2006 made provision for the actual authorisation of the construction of the station itself starting with the station’s box. In deciding to build this new station, the first problem was the line’s older brick lined tunnels are actually in a very tight location, which wasnt too greatly helped by having the new British Library built just a few feet away from the tunnels. And there was St Pancras station’s foundations to contend with too. These alone made the construction of the new Thameslink platforms a huge engineering challenge, even for a two platform station.
Today its easy to stand in awe of the new Thameslink station at St Pancras, unaware of the great difficulties that were encountered in order to enable it to be built.
The far end of Thameslink platforms. A few minutes before I was standing on the road right above!
The British Library was very fortiously built in terms of accommodating the old brick lined tunnels so that gave some leeway when it came to building the new Thameslink station! Actually it was the re-use of the tunnels for the new Bed-Pan electric services in 1978 that secured their future and the new library had to be built with these in mind.
Some alteration to the services linked to the British Library had to be made to create some extra space needed under Midland Road however the library building itself was left intact. The biggest task however was the need to move the library’s service access road at the rear further west. The British Library had to make do with temporary arrangements until about late 2008 when new arrangements were finally established for service access vehicles off Midland Road.
There’s a good reason why the new Francis Crick building is set somewhat back from the frontage of Midland Road. That of course is the Thameslink station. Nothing can be built on top of the station box.
Having mentioned Midland Road several times, it may be prudent to add at this point that the original name of the new station was going to be – yes you guessed right – St Pancras Midland Road! This was at a time when even the new international station’s name had not been decided – other suggestions included London Central and London International but Midland Road seemed to be the preferred option.
The Thameslink development reports, planning documents (Thameslink, Railtrack, Camden Council, the UK Government etc) they all had agreed the new station would be without a doubt known as Midland Road. It seems the name was first used about 2000 and is officially acknowledged at the time as the chosen name. Its not apparent when the name change occurred, possibly it may have been sometime in 2006 as news reports from 2005 were still using that name.
St. Pancras Midland Road station shown in 2004 report with full list of ‘Thameslink 2000’ stations
The difficult task of building St Pancras Thameslink meant weekend possessions were necessary to prepare the site prior to the main construction. These posessions were introduced in 2004 and from September that year the through line was closed completely. Trains terminated either upstairs at St Pancras station itself or round the corner at Kings Cross Thameslink for a considerable period of time. The through route was not re-opened until 15 May 2005.
The photograph below clearly shows the point just about north of where the ticket barriers and escalators are down to the Thameslink platforms. At this point the tunnels pass underneath the main St Pancras station site. The rest of the station southwards is underneath Midland Road itself.
Thameslink station box under construction. Source: BBC
It was originally envisaged the station would be opened in 2009 but plans were accelerated and extra funding granted so as save the embarrassment of passengers bound for the new Eurostar having to traipse through the streets of King’s Cross with their luggage in tow for a whole two years!
That eventuality did indeed happen but only for a month. The reason for that was the new Thameslink station opened a month later than new Eurostar terminus.
Descending the escalators, which are in line with St Pancras International itself. The alignment of the Thameslink platforms underneath the road itself is quite evident
A lot of sources do not mention the fact Midland Road itself also had to be closed for much of the time the work was undertaken to build the new station. Having previously explained how the station is aligned beneath it there’s a reason for the need to close that road. Midland Road was closed from 2004 until May 2005 and major road diversions were in place for this time. This too affected the many bus routes using the area. This required considerable re-planning of the services that terminated at King’s Cross and/or needed to use Midland Road (eg 45, 63, 214, 274.)
The road itself had to be dug up and a trench built in order that contractors could properly build the new Thameslink station box. Then a raft was put on top and the road replaced. The remaining work then took place within the newly constructed station box.
The House of Commons tabled an early day motion on 5 December 2007 to congratulate the Government on its positive response to passengers needs by bringing forward the opening of the new station at least two years. The motion noted thankfully that “that passengers will no longer have to endure King’s Cross Thameslink.”
Looking north along Thameslink’s platforms with a new Class 700 bound for Bedford. The fixed OHLE conductor rail is a fairly new innovation in this country
The work here was not just about building a new station for Thameslink. It was also built with the future expansion of Thameslink in mind (eg Thameslink 2000) and that meant extra tunnels too. The Canal Tunnels, as they are known, were built as part of this expansion in mind. They are so called because they pass under the nearby Regent’s Canal. The tunnels lead off the north east side at the end of the St Pancras Thameslink platforms, and then head towards both the East Coast main line and the North London line.
The work wasnt just about building these new additional tunnels but also the necessary alignments beyond the tunnels to bring the tracks to their new junctions with both East Coast and North London Lines. These junctions have recently been built. The need for these new connections have not been necessary until now – but the tunnels had to be built in advance, or they wouldn’t have been built – and that explains the delay.
The tracks diverging from the East Coast to the Canal Tunnels lines to St Pancras Thameslink
These new tunnels and junctions will facilitate the new Siemens Desiro Class 700 trains. A new depot in Hornsey has been built for these and the Canal Tunnels will allow the depot trains direct access to Thameslink. Ultimately in 2018 passenger services through the tunnels will commence. Mention of this work has been made for example on Thameslink’s own site.
Like the old Thameslink station further down the road, the Canal Tunnels are not actually a connection that’s new to the area. This availability had previously been available under the old arrangement of railway tunnels at King’s Cross and these older tunnels were actually built in 1862! I have a post on these older tunnels which were closed in the late 1970s. The Canal Tunnels are far superior in terms of infrastructure and can accommodate intensive train pathways – necessary for the expansion of Thameslink’s services.
One victim of the original plans was a travelator from the tube station directly to the Thameslink platforms. Passengers have to walk instead and in some minor respects the new Thameslink station is still somewhat inconvenient to reach than the old one. This inconvenience stretches to the fact the transition is not a seamless one with passengers having to go through gates/touch in out twice although the new walking route is far more convivial.
The need to interchange between tube and Thameslink can be minimised by doing this at Farringdon, although again its not an ideal transition point because the narrow platforms there get terribly crowded in rush hours.
The original (1990s actually) Thameslink station in Pentonville Road, King’s Cross
What has become of the old station? Well its still there. The platforms are not in use but are there if the need arises. There was a proposal to keep both stations operational so passengers had the best of both worlds. But it was ultimately thought to be impractical. The station building however still doubles as an alternative access point from Pentonville Road to the Victoria and Piccadilly Lines on Monday to Fridays only.
Despite the Thameslink station being closed, its ticket booths are still in evidence by the barriers
As the buildings are still in use one can at least see parts of the old station, especially the now defunct ticket booths, and use the stairs or escalators en route to the ‘Smile’ subterranean passageway leading to the tube platforms.
Way Out. No longer any mention of Thameslink which is an oversight
People make mention of the fact this station was actually opened for the first time in 1863. That is true in a way, but its not the same buildings or platforms to be honest! The original station was on the other side of the road. It was too small and eventually moved to Pentonville Road, and the platforms extended beyond this point. The current buildings are actually the fourth or so rebuild on that site.
The Smile passageway. Its steep descent is due to the Fleet storm relief sewer
At the time of writing (December 8th 2017) the newer ticket hall built at the original Metropolitan Railway station of 1863 still exists in part as the picture below shows. It wont be there much longer. The surface buildings were part of London Transport and TfL’s cleaning department hence the access point was retained for emergencies. The redevelopment here is well underway and the buildings at this location have gradually been demolished leaving just this small bit with its stairs directly down to the Circle/Hammersmith/Metropolitan platforms. I have been taking photographic records of this work so there may be an article on this in the future.
Just this bit of the old King’s Cross Metropolitan station remains on site
When that small bit of history goes there will still be emergency access to the platforms and running lines via new stairs in nearby St Chad’s Place. These were in fact built several years ago in anticipation of the day the old access point would be demolished.
Class 700 heading through the old Thameslink (aka King’s Cross Midland) station. The tube is on the right. Note the fixed OHLE conductor rail in lieu of the usual wire.