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Transport & Logistics

Mastermind behind St Pancras International reconstruction determined to put rail travel ”back into fashion”

6 Mar 2012, by Informa Insights

Urban Rail 2012 held on the 8th & 9th May 2012 at the InterContinental Melbourne The Rialto will examine the short and long term challenges facing urban rail operators as demand increases, as well as explore practical and inventive ways to build better relationships with passengers and improve the customer experience.

The Australasian Railway Association is pleased to welcome leading British architect Alastair Lansley to the speaking faculty of Urban Rail 2012. Lansley is best known for his work as chief architect on the acclaimed reconstruction of St Pancras Railway Station in London. This major construction included the creation of an extended 13 platform deck and roof to accommodate Eurostar trains, plus a new sub-surface station for connections to the London Underground.We had the opportunity to talk to the man behind this iconic project before he heads our way.

You were the lead architect behind the highly regarded reconstruction of St Pancras International Rail Station which included the design of a new 13 platform extension deck. Can you tell us a bit about the work involved in a transformation of this magnitude and the secrets behind its success?
After some 12 years associated with the project, I can honestly say that it was down to outstanding team work, from client to contractors and designers which have turned a tired Grade I Listed Victorian master- piece into a “21st Century Rail Gateway to Europe”.

The team has successfully worked with a vast array of stake holders including Local Authorities, English Heritage, HMRI , train operating companies and Network Rail to realize this project in the heart of the capital, while thousands of daily commuters used the station daily.

What were the main challenges involved in the design of the restored and extended station?

Union Railways had established initial proposals in an outline or “reference design” which formed the basis for the PFI tender won by London and Continental Railways and for the passage of the CTRL bill through parliament.

An early challenge was to assist LCR in formulating a client brief to satisfy the project objectives and permit improvements and more cost-effective solutions. The reference design tried to include as many platforms as possible into the existing (Barlow’s Trainshed) and made no clear provision for the future development of St Pancras Chambers (Hotel fronting St Pancras).

The upshot was to fundamentally re-order the track layout into the station (normally within the domain of the engineer). Here at St Pancras the architect and engineer collaborated and we have aligned both International and Domestic trains at the country end, leaving a void in the raised track bed at platform deck, south of the Midland Railway Services.

The cutting of a giant rectangular hole in what was once the main station floor was both challenging in engineering terms and showed immense bravery within English Heritage and London Borough of Camden in agreeing to such a radical intervention.

St Pancras Station has thus become the only major 19th Century Terminus with an open ground level concourse running below and parallel to the tracks inside its historic roof, this I believe, is the “Coup de Gra” of the station’s drama and pays several dividends. The restored trainshed with its awe- inspiring vault is experienced axially from the most spectacular oblique angle.

Coupled to this, is now a unique 2 tiered concourse, like a street. Unlike equivalent spaces at Paddington and Kings Cross, retail is politely designed along both sides, with Eurostar and domestic facilities becoming events along the way. There are also 2 new east-west cross routes, the one to the north creating a new heart for the new station, which is sensibly at the junction between the old and new. And one to the south, connecting the eastern taxi drop-off and western taxi pick-up zones via the Eurostar check in areas. In creating these spaces, the volume of the existing trainshed has been further exploited with views from the former undercroft of the station (where beer barrels historically were stored). Up into one of the most beautiful and daring examples of 19th Century engineering.

The project has been credited for reinvigorated rail travel in Britain. How, in your opinion, can the design and functionality of a train station add to or detract from the passenger experience of rail?
To answer this question, we have to go back in history, when St Pancras was built at a time of supreme national self-confidence. Britain had created a new world order, with an empire upon which the sun was never to set. London was the commercial capital of the world. The design and presence of St Pancras was to assert the Midland Railway’s supremacy over its rivals. It was to be the most splendid of all London Termini and it did it admirably.

The hotel fronting St Pancras by Sir George Gilbert Scott was also a triumph. Railways were the only way to travel in style. Sadly, in the 60s railway travel became less attractive. Today however, you may argue, that railways are very much again in fashion with the very quality of High Speed 1, and most particularly, the jewel in the crown, St Pancras International.

The Chief Executive of SNCF Guillaume Pepy has said, in his opinion, “St Pancras International is the finest station in the world, bar none.

I ask myself, “are we getting it right at long last?

Within my career, I have devoted myself to designing railway stations, determined to put railways back into fashion, into the 21century and change people’s perceptions of railway travel. Perhaps, after all, we really have rediscovered the self-confidence of our Victorian founding fathers. Not only to conceive these “grande projects” but the ability to carry them off with panache.

You will be delivering an international case study at ARA Urban Rail 2012 in Melbourne, on May 8th and 9th. What can delegates expect from your presentation?
Clearly, 25 minutes with 5 minutes for questions is not a lot of time to go into the intricacies of 12 years work. My talk will therefore attempt to cover the magnitude and scale of the overall CTRL project and will home in on the successes of St Pancras International.

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