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Unlocking the potential of a national asset, St Pancras International

As the number of train passengers grows, we must ensure the London transport hub is up to the challenge.

By Richard Thorp

Demand for rail travel continues to grow as passengers increasingly look for more sustainable modes of transport. The environment is at the forefront of many consumers’ minds, and with the impact of flying now well understood, many see high-speed rail as the future of travel.

The numbers back up this trend. A recent survey from the market research company Savanta ComRes and Hitachi Rail found that 38 per cent of Londoners expect to travel more by train in the next five years, far outstripping cars at 18 per cent and planes at just 3 per cent. The growing number of passengers favouring rail has also been reflected in international travel with Eurostar passenger numbers jumping a record 22 per cent last year.

To meet this increasing demand, HS1 has ambitious plans to grow. Enabling greater competition on the HS1 line is a key part of our plans given the existing capacity for more services on the line, meaning more trains and more options for passengers. To realise this vision in full, we also have to ensure that St Pancras is fit for the future. 

St Pancras Station is a national asset, loved by many and one of the best examples of the UK’s proud railway history. For many passengers, travelling through the station is a highlight of their journey, with an extensive retail offering and a unique atmosphere. Our priority as we grow passenger numbers and offer more services is to keep the journey through the station a seamless and wonderful experience.

Upgrading a 150-year-old grade-I listed building presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities, from protecting its unique heritage to minimising pinch points. We also face new EU border rules coming into force later this year, which means a change to the way we process international passengers within the station. Bearing these factors in mind, we need an innovative approach to ensure the station continues to be efficient and effective as passenger numbers grow.

As we deliver upgrades, we’ll first and foremost protect the history of the station while not shying away from embracing modern approaches and technological solutions. Higher flows of passengers through international departures can be managed via simple yet effective technology. Currently, we’re able to efficiently process 2,000 international passengers an hour – with planned upgrades and reconfiguration works, that number could rise to as many as 3,600.

While equipping the station for future passengers, we’re also mindful of ensuring that, throughout the works, those using the station continue to enjoy the full St Pancras experience. We’re putting a plan in place to ensure that this major project causes minimal disruption to both train services and the customer experience, and maintain our track record of 99.7 per cent of services arriving on time.

As demand grows on the high-speed green gateway to Europe, HS1 is dedicated to ensuring that St Pancras Station is ready for the next 150 years. The UK’s first and only high-speed line has already brought significant benefits from boosting the local economy, to helping millions travel sustainably every year. Upgrading St Pancras to enable greater use of HS1’s capacity will help to unlock even more benefits for our economy and our environment.