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.

A 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 covered via platform videos 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 at least twice 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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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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British Rail 411 Unit (4 Cep) and variants “Slam Door”

I make no apologies for this blog.  These are the trains from my area of the country (North Kent) when I was growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  The familiar sound of these “Slam Door” trains were the soundtrack to the rush hour, with the sound of said doors ringing through the major London Termini of Charing Cross and Victoria.  So here is a short history of these workhorses of the North Kent and Chatham Main Line.

The 411 unit, also known as the 4Cep, were built for British Rail between 1956 and 1963, mainly ran on the Chatham/North Kent lines.  A total of 133 units were made, mainly just passenger based, although around 22 had buffet cars installed, these were re-categorised as 4 Bep units.  The 4 referred to the 4 car formation, two driving cars which also had standard seating, the middle two cars having a mix of 1st class corridor and standard class corridor coaches.  They had a maximum speed of 90 Mph.

Each area of seating contained a door, which was inherently dangerous as it could be opened at any time.  This lead to many doors being opened way before the stopping, and people would literally jump from a moving train onto the platform.  You really had to stand away from the platform edge when a slam door was coming in, otherwise you may had had a door in the head!

If you had ever ridden in one, or heard one you would not forget it.  They were dangerous, accidents such as the Clapham Rail Crash of 1988 with Vep and Rep variants would prove to be catastrophic.  Replacements such as the Networker and Electrostar would follow, with their automatic doors and safer designs.  But they never quite recaptured the feel and seating comfort of these trains.


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Railway Stations Near Me – 2 – Higham

In the second of this series, I look at Higham Railway Station on the North Kent Line.  The station was 28 miles Down from its previous terminus at Charing Cross, however the Thameslink service no longer goes to Charing Cross, instead stopping at London Bridge before going though the London Core on its way to the its new end at Luton.

The first thing of note here is Higham Tunnel, at 1531 yards in length.  It originally was constructed in 1801 to serve the Thames and Medway canal, which acted as a passage for military traffic from Woolwich through Gravesend and Higham to the dockside at Chatham.  When traffic on the canal didn’t reach expected levels, the newly formed Gravesend and Rochester railway company acquired the canal and tunnel, putting a single track rail line alongside the canal.  This lead to the opening of Higham Station in 1845.

There are actually 2 tunnels, separated by what is locally known as ” the bomb hole”.  This was an area for the barges to cross.  The second tunnel is the “Strood” tunnel and at 2329 yards in length is the longest of the two.  The tunnels received extensive refurbishment in 2004 due to rock falls, and are now strengthened by steel and concrete.

A year later, the Gravesend and Rochester railway company was itself absorbed into the South Eastern Railway.  It is at this point the canal was drained fully, and a second rail line put in.  At this time the railway did not divert to the Medway towns, instead carrying on to Maidstone via the Medway Valley.  It was not until 1939 that a spur from Strood would carry trains onto the Chatham Main Line to Gillingham.

Higham would have a couple of sidings, both on the Up and Down lines, although both had been removed by the mid 1960s.  The most unusual piece freight unloaded by the station was a Swiss chalet in 1864 as a gift for Charles Dickens, who lived at nearby Gad’s Hill.

Although initially accessed by a foot crossing, platforms are reached via a lattice footbridge, a common sight throughout the Southern Region in the 20th Century.  The station building still survives, and was still heated by the original fireplace as late at the 1980’s.

The ticket office is open for only part of the day, at other times a permit to travel ticket must be purchased from a PERTIS machine, located by the bridge on the Up side. The station was served by SouthEastern until May 2018, when the new Thameslink Class 700 service to Luton/Rainham commenced and took over the 2 tph (each way) Stopping service.  Class 395 SouthEastern “Javelin” trains pass though, as well as various freight though the day, some heading for the nearby “Hoo Junction” Yard, around 2 miles further on the Up line.

Two pictures follow.  The first by me, shows a Class 66 hauling stone wagons exiting the Higham Tunnel on the Up line.  A train can also be seen passing through “The Bomb Hole” on the Down line heading towards Gillingham.

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The second is a view towards the station building, taken from the Down platform.  This photo by Nigel Thompson (credit under photo)

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Higham railway station, Kent
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Nigel Thompson – geograph.org.uk/p/3614705


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Railway Acronyms, Words and Sayings

Many acronyms words and sayings are used on the railway, they provide ease of communication when passing important messages, or just as a concise non cluttered way of getting across a meaning without ambiguity.  I use some of these in my blog, and provide this list (though not exhaustive) in a way to explain some of these terminologies.  Some do not require much explanation, some a little more so!

  • 3rd Rail – Electrification of the railway by means of a 3rd rail, usually beside one of the running rails.  Common in the UK in the South East of the country
  • AHBC – Automatic Half Barrier Crossing – a crossing which doesn’t go the full length of the roadway.
  • AOCL – Automatic Open Crossing – a crossing with no barrier, which is controlled by the train crew before they proceed.
  • AWS – Automatic Warning System – An in cab warning system for use in Block Signalling operations.  A disc inside the cab either shows black, which means the signal approaching is green, or is yellow/black (in the style of a sunflower) which indicates the next signal is at caution (yellow/double yellow) or stop (red).  A horn will sound inside the cab to indicate the next signal is not green, and the diver will have to push  an acknowledgement button within 2.75 seconds, otherwise emergency brakes will be applied. The indicator will then change from black to “sunflower”, and remain like this until a green signal is approached, where it will change to black again.
  • Catenary –  Overhead wires which power a train, via a Pantograph on the train.
  • DEMU – Diesel Electric Multiple Unit – a train which can use both diesel and electric power.  An example of which is the British Rail class 205 unit which worked in the South East of the UK between 1957 and 2004, and which were part of the British Rail “slam-door” stock.
  • DLR – Docklands Light Railway – a railway system in London which uses driverless trains.
  • DMU – Diesel Multiple Unit – a diesel only train, many in use today such as the 153 unit seen on many rural lines in the UK.
  • DOWN – Typically the railway line moving away from London.
  • DSD – Drivers Safety Device – a switch on the floor which the driver must keep depressed in order to enable the train to move.  Think of it as a dead mans switch, if it is not depressed then the train cannot take power.
  • EMU – Electric Multiple Unit – a train solely powered by electricity.
  • ERTMS – Part of The Digital Railway , Signalling within the cab, not trackside.
  • ETCS – Again, part of  The Digital Railway , a European signalling system.
  • HS (1,2 etc) – UK High speed lines.
  • Pantograph – Located on the roof of a train or locomotive, connects to a Catenary to provide power.
  • PERTIS – Permit to travel – usually in relation to machines at unmanned stations, these PERTIS machines would give you a ticket to enable you to start your journey.  You would then show this on the train to the guard to obtain a real ticket.  These are being superseded by self service ticket machines.
  • RAKE –  more than 1 coach or wagon coupled together will form what is known as a RAKE.
  • SPAD –  Signal Passed At Danger. When a train or locomotive passes a red signal, emergency brakes will be applied.  This generates a SPAD, which is reported to the relevant authorities.
  • TPWS – Train Protection and Warning System, advance system of the AWS.
  • UP – typically the railway line moving Towards London.

As previously said, this list is not exhaustive, I will update this blog page as and when new acronyms are used in my blog.


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Medway Stations 4 – Cuxton

Continuing my look at stations in the Medway area, this time I shall look at a small station on the Medway Valley line – Cuxton.

Cuxton Station was opened in 1856, and from the outset had two lines.  Two platforms served by an level crossing at the south end of the station allowed passengers to travel to Maidstone to the south, and Strood to the North.  In 1862, a signal box was erected adjacent to this level crossing, and is still there today (2018)

In 1931 a small siding was opened to the south of the station, trailing off the “down” line, which served a national business (Besto Co.) making fruit baskets. This was followed in 1939 with a goods loop installed to the north of the station.  Unfortunately, none of these sidings survive today, both having been removed by the end of 1990.

A footbridge was installed at the south end of the station in 1961, adjacent to the level crossing and the Signal box.  A note about the level crossing, as it is still manually closed  by the signalman at the time of this Blog (2018).  A really rare sight, and (unfortunately) I will assume this will become automated at some time in the future.

Two views from Cuxton in 2016 follow.  The first shows a light engine class 66, travelling on the “down” line towards Maidstone.  This view is to the north, and the bridges across the M2 can be seen, the nearest one being the HS1 line.

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The second view is to the south, showing the signal box, overbridge and level crossing, as well as a stone train travelling on the “up” towards Strood.

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Currently at Cuxton, there is only a PERTIS (permit to travel) machine installed here, the majority of the station buildings being disused for many years.  The station is served at this time by Southeastern, with 2 trains per hour (northbound “up” to Strood, southbound “down” to Maidstone (1 Tph continues to Paddock Wood, the other to Tonbridge). (correct as of June 2018)

A few freight trains run though the day, to or via Hoo Junction (to the north) or to the south, some of which come from or go to ARC sidings just outside Allington in Maidstone.  Freight is mainly hauled by class 66 locomotives, although some class 70’s have also been seen on the line.


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