London Termini – King’s Cross

Signage in the underground station

King’s Cross; for a lot of people the station symbolises two very different train services. One steeped in history – The Flying Scotsman – the other pure fantasy – The Hogwarts Express. Whilst one is real and the other fictitious, it is fair to say that if you mention Kings Cross to many of the public, they will utter either or both of them.

A brief history

A practical station for a practical railway. That is how the Great Northern Railway saw it when they opened it in 1852. A station with a modest frontage, made from yellow London bricks and a wooden roof, complimented with two 100ft roof spans over the platforms. These roofs being supported by brick pillars, today in the centre of island platform 4 and 5.

Trains enter and leave the station via the Gas Works tunnel, which passes under the Regent’s Canal. A major goods yard for coal was also contained within the station, although this does not remain.

It looked totally at odds with St Pancras next door; that station when opened 16 years later was oozing with grandeur. A clock adorned the front of the building, and quirkily was rumoured to never have the same time showing as that of its neighbour at St Pancras. King’s Cross as a railway station, however, would for the majority of the next 150 years be the more successful of the two.

For all the footfall though, the station remained unloved for a long time. Indeed in the 1960’s, the square out front was partially covered with a new travel centre for British Rail. This however obscured the lower half of the original frontage, and looked at odds with it.

The quick view of the current station

In 2007, work started on a new concourse, and what a unique structure it is. A single rising 150ft “Diagrid” roof, underpinned at its base down 50ft. It spreads out like a metal web, encapsulating the new concourse with its shops and bars. The feeling of space even during the busy periods is amazing, and differing colours are sometimes projected upon it.

The travel centre was removed, enabling the square to be reinstated and the full frontage to again be seen. To the left side of said frontage, an entrance to the new concourse can be seen. Going through this, the superb new roof opens up in all its splendour. Immediately to your right are entrance gates to the platforms, to your left are escalators up to a mezzanine level This contains a seating area and eating and drinking places.

Going back down to floor level via the escalators on the other side of the mezzanine, if you turn right, you will see arrivals and departure boards, and underneath the new travel centre. To the left of the travel centre is the Harry Potter shop, with a photo opportunity platform 9 3/4 area.

Going under the mezzanine, more shops on both sides as you are then greeted with a glazed front, from which you can see St Pancras International. Stairs down to the Underground are also here, one of many access points to the labyrinth of tunnels which form King’s Cross St Pancras underground Station.

Pictures below were taken on 22nd January 2019, and thanks goes to the station manager and Network Rail for enabling me to photograph extensively on that date:

A view to the train sheds from the end of platform 10
The view from island platform 4 and 5, showing the train shed, the centre brick column being obscured by the light fixture.
The gasworks tunnels.
A view down roads 1 and 2, notice platform 0 to the left.
Clock situated on platform 1
A view down to platform 6
The fantastic canopy over the new concourse
The canopy. Note original station building behind.
The Harry Potter shop – the photo opportunity “Platform 9 3/4” is immediately right of this, and is always busy
The fantastic exterior, with the square in the foreground

Here is a video, also taken on the day, from my YouTube site :


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Planned 2019 Posts

Well, as 2018 comes to a close, just a quick blog on where I see myself going next year.

My main project, which may span over into 2020, is a comprehensive overview of all London Termini.  As you can imagine, this will be a major undertaking as I need to fit it in with other personal and work life, but I am willing to put in the effort to make this overview as good as possible.  My First two should be St Pancras International and Kings Cross.  This series will also be over on my YouTube Channel .

Other blogs to include more on the SouthEastern rolling stock history, and more in the series of stations I have visited – both local and far.  Plus Mistydale model railway is getting a new section!

I also aim to blog as stated on the 1st and 15th of every month, and will set up schedules to try to meet these deadlines more accurately.

I may blog before the end of the year, but if not, expect a new post around 1st Jan 2019.

Many thanks for reading this short blog


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395 “Javelin” High Speed Unit

The advent of High Speed 1 to link London with the Channel Tunnel would not only mean faster services for the Eurostar, but also could enable the population of Kent to enjoy a new faster way of travel.  As early as 2003, formal approval was given to allow domestic High Speed services on High Speed 1.  The award in 2006 of the 2012 Olympics to London further enhanced the need for such a service to exist.

Hitachi won the right to supply the new High Speed stock to SouthEastern Railway, their first rail contract in Britain.  In total 29 were built.  The service to be provided meant that the trains had to be “duel electric”, to accommodate both 750 DC third rail and 25 kV AC overhead lines.  The third rail extends from Ashford to Folkestone, then onwards through the Medway Towns and finally Ebbsfleet International, where the 3rd Rail shoe is retracted and the Pantograph raised (or visa-versa).

The train is based on the 400 series “Mini Shinkansen”, and comprises of 6 carriages, which can be driven from either end. The front nose of the train can be retracted to allow automatic coupling to another 6 car unit. Power is through the middle four cars, powered by pantographs/shoes on the outer two cars. Each 6 car train has 340 seats and two toilets, one of which is disabled accessible.

Additional training had to be given to train crews, to enable them to understand the TVM 430 signalling display system which was in use on the High Speed portion of the line.  This is a lot different from the UK rail signalling, mostly as it is “In Cab”.

Services started fully in December 2009. During the 2012 Olympic Games, many services were run in 12 car formations, and a regular shuttle service was established from Ebbsfleet International to Stratford International, the home of the Olympic Park.  In 2015, a circular route from St Pancras to St Pancras was introduced.

The trains are designed to travel at 140 mph on the High Speed section, but are limited to 70-90 mph on the old mainline from Ashford through Margate, Medway then to Ebbsfleet.  They are exceptionally comfortable, and have benefitted from being fitted with dampers to reduce the effect of excessive wobble in the High Speed tunnel sections.

The train was given the designation of class 395, but due to the Olympics quickly gathered the nickname of Javelin, which was then established across the fleet.  Initially, 11 of the Javelins were named after British Olympic medalists by public vote.  This increased to 23 after the 2012 Olympics, with some named after Paralympians.  Other noted named Javelins were 395014 “The Victoria Cross” (later 015) and 395016 “Somme 100”.

In 2018 to commemorate the 100 anniversary of the end of World War One, 395018 had special vinyl’s applied.  These can be seen below on 11/11/18, a day after a special railtour had taken place through the south and east of the UK.

As of 2018, they continue to be the flagship of the SouthEastern railway network, and are very heavily used, even if they have a small premium applied to the ticket price.


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Didcot Parkway Railway Station

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In September 2018, I visited Didcot Parkway Railway Station, on the Great Western Main Line.  A two fold visit actually, as I also visited Didcot Railway Centre on the same day.  I had wanted to come to this Station for a while, as I had seen on videos that the views were fantastic, and I must say I was not disappointed.

Opened in 1844, just named Didcot, the station was a major hub for the Great Western, with connections available to Oxford (the main reason for the station at time of opening).  There was also a line from here to Newbury and Southampton, however this was closed fully in 1967, passenger services being withdrawn some 5 years earlier.  The oxford line (known as “The Cherwell Valley Line”) still operates, and is accessed by the station as well as the “East loop” for through trains.

The imposing Didcot Power Station is seen looking to the west.  A loop for coal trains used to be in regular use, however after the closure of Didcot A, these ceased in 2013.  Much of the track for this loop has now been lifted, to facilitate construction of new warehouses.

The station was given a new station building in 1985, as well as a 600 space car park.  The station was renamed “Didcot Parkway” at this time.

A major redevelopment occurred in 2012, giving better access for disabled passengers, new CCTV and lighting plus better drainage on site.

Facilities here are the usual toilets, as well as lifts and a small “Pumpkin” Café which although well stocked, lacks a big seating area.

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Services are plentiful.  Trains “down” to the West country stop on Platform 1, whilst fast services “up” to Paddington leave from Platform 2. Platform 3 carries primarily trains to Oxford, and Platform 4 carries the trains from Oxford to London Paddington, on a stopping service.  Platform 5 is used if Platform 4 is blocked for any reason, or for terminating trains from Paddington.

To the East of the station, extensive views can be had.  The “East Junction” is also visible here.

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A view to the west from platform 4 shows the covered area housing the café on platform 2-3.  The construction work here is to lengthen the station platforms to accommodate the longer class 800 trains, which are replacing the HST’s on the routes to the west.  Didcot Power Station is seen to the right in the distance.

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Passenger traffic is served by the new Class 800 “IET”, HST, 387’s and 165’s.  Vintage locos may also be seen leaving and entering Didcot Railway Centre , although these will most probably not be timetabled movements.

 

Freight is a regular sight at Didcot Parkway.  Intermodal services run regularly through the station, as well as other freight heading to and from Oxford using the “east” Junction.  These operations are mainly class 66, although the occasional class 70 or even 59 may be seen.  Some freight may pass though or be temporarily stabled at Foxhall Junction.

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All in all it was a great visit.  Lots of different traction, the only downside was the weather, which was overcast, windy and eventually drizzly.  However, the station is a fantastic place for photography and videography. I will return within the next couple of years, hopefully this time in the sunshine.  Below is a video taken on the day.

 


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Didcot Railway Centre

In September 2018, I visitied the Didcot Railway Centre, located adjacent to Didcot Parkway Railway Station.  Access is via the railway station, just tell the barrier personnel if you are visiting the centre and they will let you through.  A wristband will be provided by the museum enabling you to get out.  However if you arrive by train, you can just walk down the stairs from the platform, turn right and the entrance is at the end of the passageway.

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There is a very reasonably priced entrance fee (£6.50 per adult on a non running day, rising to £11 – £15 on running days (September 2018)), which has a family ticket option as well as the usual reductions for senior citizens. One thing of note that on non running days, admission is paid inside the museum.

didcot railway centre

The walk down to the first set of buildings takes you past an old coal stage, an impressive sight at track level.  Then you arrive at a collection of buildings, comprising a shop, cafe and a G Gauge model railway.  Next to the cafe is a museum, this contains many GWR artifacts, and although it seems small, quite a lot is packed in here.  Here are a few photos on some of the items on display.  Note that this is just a fraction of what is here, it is quite an impressive collection.

Next to here is the new signalling centre exhibit.  Its main attraction is the Swindon Panel, and was still being worked on when I visited.  It was still fascinating to see the exhibits in here, and nice to see preservation of a different kind for a change, not just with locomovtives and rolling stock.

Moving further up towards the Carriage display, views of the mainline to Oxford can be seen on the right.  There is also a running track which is used on running days, with two stations at either end.  A picnic area and play park is also here.  The carriage display is very comprehensive, and includes a Traverser.

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Various wagons and a signal box are at this location too, all very well cared for.  Further up still is a section which has some broad gauge engines, an unusual sight.

I decided to end my day at the engine shed, which is opposide the cafe.  I good array of Great Western steam locomotives are found in here, and I would imagine would be a great sight on a running day.  A quick trip into the shop and then I left.

 

Overall I was very impressed and will try to get back here on a running day.  I spent a good 2 and a half hours here, which included a very nice lunch in the cafe!  I highly recommend a visit, especially if you are an enthusiast who plans to stay a while at the main station, which I did (more on that in a later blog).

I have made a short video of the centre, uploaded to my YouTube channel, which you can view below :


 

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Crossrail (Elizabeth Line) – Delayed – my view

On 31st August 2018, the announcement was made by TFL (Transport For London) that the long awaited “Elizabeth Line” (aka Crossrail) would now not be opening through London in December.  The new date has been pencilled in as “summer/autumn” 2019.  This has been rumoured for the last few months, as stations really didn’t look that ready during the summer “open” days.

Most business’ in London affected by the building work were hoping for the December 2018 opening, in order for them to reap the benefits of the new line to their Christmas trade.  Many are understandably upset, this news coming only 3 months away.  Moreover, TFL themselves were hoping for the cash injection which the new line would bring, and the loss of revenue here may affect their profit projection, although actual figures are very hard to track down.  The widely reported £600 million overspend on the project is unfortunate, but Crossrail is certainly not the first major construction project to be over budget.

It is regrettable that there is to be a delay in opening the core part of the line.  As well as the obvious cosmetic delays at the stations, signalling is also being highlighted as a problem area.  It is also quite possible that the problems encountered by Thameslink and Northern in May of this year have ‘spooked’ the rail industry so much, that another potential embarrassing moment was to be keenly avoided.

I do have a lot of sympathy with the businesses, particularly the small ones, along the route which will be affected by this decision.  Hopefully they will be able to continue trading until the line fully opens next year, when they should begin to see the benefits of a world class transit system.

Crossrail (Elizabeth line) is a necessary line for London and the surrounding areas.  The current underground system, although significantly upgraded, will not be able to expand to the levels required by an ever expanding London.  Speedy, direct trains from Heathrow to the Canary Wharf district via major inner London destinations will be crucial to allow London to continue to be a draw for major investors.

So in conclusion, as annoying and disruptive as this is, the Crossrail project is going to be late.  It is coming with an overspend, and possible financial hardship along its route.  But when it does eventually open, London will have a transit system fit for the 21st century, and hopefully London residents and business’ (big and small) will reap the benefits from it.


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Class 33 – ‘ Crompton ‘ – The Southern Diesel

As far as freight operations go in the South of England, there was only really one workhorse during the 1960’s 70’s and 80’s – the Class 33 “Crompton”.  The nickname came from the electrical equipment manufacturer used in the loco – “Crompton Parkinson”.  Very similar in looks to the class 26, the only difference being the inclusion of a 2 digit headcode indicator between the cab windows.

Originally for sole use in the South East of the region, Kent and Sussex, they rapidly became used throughout the southern region.  They were even used as passenger locos, most memorably on the Weymouth Harbour line.

These passenger services to Weymouth would be in a “push pull” configuration, starting at Bournemouth going down to Weymouth through the streets to the harbour.

The Class 33 has a top speed of 85 Mph, and frequently would work in pairs as “Double Headers” to facilitate longer freight trains.  In Kent, its speciality was primarily hauling freight, although it occasionally rescued failed passenger units.  Because of this, a few were stationed at some locations in the region.  Indeed, when the siding was still at Rainham (Kent), a ’33 could be seen stabled there during the 1970’s.  The loco’s would also provide freight runs further afield, notably cement trains from Cliffe in North Kent, up to Lanarkshire.

In this photo, taken by RMWeb member “eastwestdivide”, two 33’s are seen approaching Strood from the south with a Rake of empty stone carriers from ARC at Allington :

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 (c) eastwestdivide – link Here

These locomotives, along with the British Rail 411 Unit (4 Cep) and variants “Slam Door” were the first trains I saw as a youngster, and the sight of a Class 33 would be extra special.  The noise and smell of these locomotives would fuel my passion for the railway, and as such I have a great fondness for them. They were superseded by the Class 66 in the late 1990’s.

Currently a few remain at Heritage centres around England, and three are owned by the West Coast Railway Company , who provide railtours in the UK.


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