The massive job to totally rebuild London Bridge station reaches a major stage over the forthcoming August bank holiday weekend. The work so far has progressed from south to north, starting with the terminating platforms, these being reduced from nine to six in total, with the new Platforms 10 to 15 being brought into service on a staged basis.
Part of this work involved taking down the large overall roof that covered this area (the main elements of which are now stored at the Vale of Rheidol Railway in Wales where it may be rebuilt at a later date) and replacing it with conventional platform canopies, plus demolition of the old terminus concourse and opening up the area towards the Shard and the bus station.
All this has been relatively straightforward, but now comes the Big One. A lot will change over the forthcoming August Bank Holiday weekend, and Andrew Hutton, the London Bridge development manager who has been in post since 2008 and intends to see the project through to completion, took the opportunity to show Rail Engineer around the site and explain what will happen.
The through lines from London Bridge to Cannon Street and Charing Cross have long been a problem. The notorious Borough Market Junction, just to the north of the station, has been a significant constriction for decades, there being only two lines available for Charing Cross services over the Borough viaduct.
With the coming of Thameslink services through London Bridge and onwards to Blackfriars and Kings Cross St Pancras, the situation was made much worse. Many trains had to cross flat junctions to get into and out of the station, making day-to-day operations one of the most challenging in the country.
Additional capacity both through and to the north of the station, plus a remodelling of the lines south of London Bridge (including a grade separated junction to get the Thameslink trains into the middle platforms), was seen as essential to solve the problem. The work, when completed, will allow Charing Cross, Thameslink and Cannon Street services to have an unimpeded path through the station, thus enabling a greater throughput of trains, especially at peak hours.
Rebuilding the platforms for these routes has been a vital part of the project.
The new station layout
The through higher level lines originally had six platforms built on brick arches. The current work will create nine new platforms on a footprint that uses some of the area previously taken up by the terminating platforms. To achieve this, the arches through the central section of the station have had to be demolished and the work involved has meant closing a significant part of the station and restricting the number of train movements.
Since mid-2014, trains to and from Charing Cross have not stopped at London Bridge and the Thameslink services have been diverted to another route. This has enabled old Platforms 4, 5 and 6 to be demolished, with a minimum of two tracks being provided in different positions as work has progressed so as to retain a route into Charing Cross.
Between then and now, huge columns, cross heads and filler deck bridge spans have been built, extending across to where Platforms 7 and 8 were on the terminus side of the station, upon which the new platforms are being constructed.
During this period Cannon Street trains have continued to stop at the station using old Platforms 1, 2 and 3.
In addition to this platform work, and in recognition of the ever-growing number of people using the station with the associated need to improve passenger flows and minimise congestion, a new street level concourse is being constructed underneath both the terminus and higher level through lines. This will provide easy interchange between Southern, South Eastern and Thameslink services.
This concourse, when complete, will stretch from Tooley Street in the north to St Thomas Street in the south, and will be the biggest passenger circulating area in the country. The station building facia to both streets is being modernised in keeping with the ambience of the surrounding area.
Interchange and access
Part of the design challenge has been the provision of a walking route between the two streets for people not intending to travel by train, hence the concept of ‘paid’ and ‘unpaid’ areas. The ‘unpaid’ will be a corridor to provide the cross-station route with the ‘paid’ area being accessed by rows of ticket barriers leading to the escalators up to platform level. Thus interchange can take place without having to go through barriers.
Facilitating passenger flow is important and the escalators are located in the centre of the platforms to give travellers easy access to the concourse when alighting from a train.
On the terminus side of the station, the present exit route is via barriers at the buffer stop end and this will be retained. However, access to the new street-level concourse is also required for interchange purposes and therefore, in addition to the Shard entrance barrier line, one escalator and one set of stairs per platform are being provided, the escalators being switched from running up or down according to the peak period flows.
Complementing the concourse will be an extension of the passenger information displays, which will use a destination-orientated style rather than showing actual train services. Thus, people wanting to travel must look for their destination station, which should then tell them the next suitable train and the platform number. Anyone who uses Manchester Piccadilly station will be accustomed to the concept.
The display boards are being arranged so that passengers congregating around them will not block the walking route for others. A new ticket office in the unpaid area is being provided with lots of ticket machines to ‘self help’ the process as much as possible.
Accessing London Underground’s Northern and Jubilee lines is all-important. The escalators from the terminus concourse have recently been taken out of use and replaced with new ones near to the Shard building.
The former escalators are being demolished and the passageway extended into the street level concourse to give access to the new platforms.
The route of the passageway will be changed periodically as work to complete the concourse takes place over the next two years. The slopes from the ends of platforms 1-3 leading to the present Tooley Street entrance and the LU ticket hall are to be closed after August once these platforms are taken out of use.
In line with disability requirements, all of London Bridge station will have step free access with lifts supplementing the escalators and stairs to achieve this.
August Bank Holiday 2016
From Saturday 27 August until Thursday 1 September, new Platforms 7 to 9 will be brought into use to serve Charing Cross trains. At the same time, approximately two thirds of the new concourse will be commissioned with access from both the terminal and new higher-level platforms. This will include the escalators to platform level, customer information displays, the new ticket office, the introduction of the paid and unpaid areas, plus various retail / food outlets.
Throughout this period, Southern trains will run as normal into the terminus platforms. On the 27/28 August, there will be no trains to Charing Cross, Cannon Street or the London Bridge through lines, services being diverted to other London stations, principally Victoria. From 29 August until 1 September, a service will resume to Charing Cross. Cannon Street will remain closed until the end of the week.
Part of the bank holiday work will be to provide two through tracks on the site where the eventual Thameslink platforms will be, to enable access to Cannon Street station. These are needed as the existing London Bridge east side Platforms 1-3 to Cannon Street will be closed whilst rebuilding takes place over the next two years.
Once the bank holiday period is over, the restoration of a train service from London Bridge to Charing Cross will have limitations as only three tracks (Platforms 7, 8, 9) will be available. To obtain the optimum throughput, a type of contra flow system will be introduced in the peak hours. In the morning, trains coming out of Charing Cross to the South East will not stop at London Bridge; in the evening the situation will be reversed with trains going into Charing Cross not stopping at London Bridge. This will facilitate the best means of achieving the necessary empty stock movements.
Work will then start in earnest to demolish the arches that support Platforms 1-3 and extend the new street level concourse northwards towards Tooley Street. By mid-2017, Platform 6 will be opened, thus creating two Down and two Up lines to Charing Cross and enabling the contra flow restriction to be lifted. In 2018, Platforms 1-5 will be ready, whence a service from London Bridge to Cannon Street will resume as well as restoring the Thameslink route through to Blackfriars.
Controlling the station
One task already completed is the provision of a new control room, sited to overlook the new street level concourse. Network Rail has overall responsibility for the station operation, and all areas will be monitored using 600 cameras, these being viewed on a bank of screens that scroll round the various images in sequence. Should any alert or emergency occur, the nearest camera(s) will zoom in on the particular zone.
PA announcements will be largely automated, but with Southeastern staff being responsible for broadcasting any special messages to anywhere on the station. Duty managers from Network Rail, Southeastern, and Southern (including Thameslink) will sit alongside each other in the control room. New shared staff accommodation and messing facilities are in place, catering for some 280 people who will work the station shifts.
When all is complete in terms of both station and track remodelling, Thameslink trains will pass through at two to three minute intervals, 16 an hour in each direction. Automatic Train Operation (ATO) will commence in the London Bridge area to achieve the 24 trains per hour when combining all the routes through the Central London core. Charing Cross and Cannon Street services will obtain a much easier flow resulting in faster journey times.
The cost of the station rebuild is around £1 billion which, when considering the work being carried out, is good value for money. The principal contractor for the station rebuild is Costain, with a multitude of sub-contractors working beneath them. The associated track work is contracted to Balfour Beatty.
Written by Clive Kessell
Thanks to Chris Denham and Alexandra Swann of Network Rail for facilitating Rail Engineer’s visit to a busy worksite.