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Euston station at 50

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Transport transforms – socially, economically, topographically. It also evolves, reflecting our changing needs. Crossrail – though mostly underground – has made its mark on the capital’s landscape with ten unique stations, each conceived by different architects. And soon HS2 will act as a catalyst for regeneration around Euston as the station embarks on its third life.

London’s first railway terminus has been at the heart of our transport system since passengers walked through the doors on 20 July 1837. But it’s the station’s second incarnation we’ll focus on here, marking the 50th anniversary of the Queen officially opening it on 14 October 1968. Costing £15 million, ‘New Euston’ was designed to cater for 20 million passengers annually; in 2016/17, 44 million used it. Few would have predicted such demand at a time when rail was in decline.

Back in the 1980s, Tony Freschini led the team credited with saving Ribblehead Viaduct on the majestic Settle-Carlisle line. His railway career had taken him to Euston in 1966, serving as the project’s resident engineer from 1968-1970. Whilst there, he undertook an extramural course in Transport Studies at the University of London, which, in 1971, culminated in the preparation of a thesis entitled Euston Station: its function and method of operation.

What follows is a very condensed version of that paper, examining principal areas of the station. As you’ll observe, it sometimes reflects a very different time.

Resident engineer Tony Freschini – then and now.

The parcels depot

Heavy parcels traffic has been a feature of Euston from its earliest days. The latest figures show that, during each four-weekly period in 1969/1970, an average of 2,160,000 packages were handled, although the depot has sufficient flexibility to handle almost double this number.

Outbound, all BR ordinary parcels and Red Star traffic is handled within the depot, together with South-North transfers and a considerable proportion of the periodical traffic. Newspapers are handled directly from the platforms. Post Office (PO) parcels post is delivered to, and handled within, the depot before being transhipped to the trains.

Virtually all of the inbound traffic passes through the depot, apart from the PO parcels post and letter mail which is taken through the main building basement area for direct transhipment by road to external PO sorting depots. Complete PO parcels trains are unloaded on the long bay – Platform 18 – permitting road vehicles to access both sides.

Red Star traffic normally consists of small consignments brought to the depot by the consignor for forwarding on a nominated train. This has proved a very successful service, with the number of parcels forwarded from Euston having risen from 2,886 parcels in 1967 – the first week of the service – to about 8,500 per week average last year.

Construction of the station's west wing and underground car park. Photo: Tony Freschini.
Construction of the station’s west wing and underground car park. Photo: Tony Freschini Collection.

Organisation and routing

The parcels depot is situated on a concrete deck about nine acres in area and constructed some 30 feet above the platform and track areas. Its southern side is approximately 350 feet north of the main station buildings and spans the 15 passenger platforms, the parcels platforms and two sidings roads. The depot itself consists of a central raised area – roughly rectangular in shape – with a wide roadway traversing the perimeter and a loading/unloading dock for handling the various traffics.

There are two main ramps from the depot to platform level which are designed to facilitate the bulk transfer of parcels using wheeled trolleys – known as BRUTEs (British Rail Utilitarian Trolley Equipment) – coupled together to form trains hauled by tractor units.

The principal ramp serves Platforms 18-20, but access is also possible to the basement area of the main building, from which all of the platforms can be reached. The second ramp gives direct access to Platforms 1-3, which can also be reached directly by road vehicles from Eversholt Street. Lifts are provided to serve individual pairs of platforms, suitable for carrying staff or a single trolley.

During the day, Platforms 1-3 are generally dedicated for passenger use; however at night considerable parcels traffic movements take place with Platform 1 being used extensively for outbound newspaper trains and inbound periodical traffic. PO parcels trains use Platforms 2/3.

Outgoing parcels are delivered to the northeast side of the depot, where they are offloaded manually, placed directly onto a ground-based conveyor system for transportation to the sorting area, then loaded onto the BRUTEs for despatch. Incoming parcels are taken to the south side of the depot for sorting before going by road to their destinations.

A model of New Euston. Photo: Tony Freschini Collection.
A model of New Euston. Photo: Tony Freschini Collection.

Passenger traffic and facilities

New Euston’s main building spans the area between Eversholt Street and Cardington Street – a distance of about 600 feet. The nature of the station site allowed the planners to adopt a functional layout and the building is divided into the East wing, concourse, West wing, basement service area and underground car park.

To avoid the severe congestion between passenger and parcels traffics from which the old station suffered, the designers were commissioned to provide a layout that, as far as possible, enabled the two traffics to be segregated. To accomplish this, they raised the main passenger concourse 10 feet above the platforms; its chosen level being determined by the roof level of the London Transport (LT) Underground station and the need to provide sufficient headroom within the basement area.

Passengers arriving on foot approach the station from Eversholt Street and Melton Street respectively and enter via the eastern or western colonnades. Access from the south is across the paved forecourt area situated above the car park. From the Underground, the concourse is reached by means of a large escalator situated centrally on the southern side.

The station is able to handle 50,000-60,000 passengers per day, of which some 20,000-22,000 arrivals and departures are by main line and semi-fast services, and about 8,500 by commuter services. Both traffics have increased by around 50 per cent since electrification.

On the north face of the concourse, a large electro-mechanical train indicator gives full details of train arrivals and departures.

Access to the platforms is gained directly from the north side of this area, the section between the concourse and the passenger ramps being termed the Passenger Dispersal area. This forms a corridor about 30 feet wide, running East-West through the main buildings.

Road vehicle access to the basement from Eversholt Street. Tony Freschini Collection.

Platform layout

Prior to the reconstruction, the track layout often impaired the station’s operational flexibility due to the lack of platform space and suitable points and crossings. It was decided therefore to increase the number of platforms from 12 to 15 and remodel the permanent way for a distance of about one mile north of the platforms. Combined with the new signalling scheme, this has allowed the operators to path trains into the station more easily.

  • Platforms 1, 2 and 3 cater generally for main line arrivals, with passengers entering the concourse via the narrow ramp from Platform 3.
  • Platforms 4, 5, 6 and 7 cater for main line and semi-fast services, access to the concourse being via a wide ramp.
  • Platforms 8, 9, 10 and 11 cater mainly for the outer suburban services, with tracks 9 and 10 also being fitted with DC rails for use by the local Watford service.
  • Platforms 12-15 serve main line and semi fast services, with access provided by a ramp towards the northwest side of the concourse (Platforms 13-15 also cater for sleeping car services).
  • Tracks 16 and 17 are normally used as stabling sidings.
  • Platforms 18, 19 and 20 are used for parcel train services.

East and West wings

The East wing building is a three-story block containing the main catering facilities which presently consist of a restaurant, bar and small cafeteria/waiting room, with a self-service tea bar in the eastern dispersal area. At first floor level is a more exclusive restaurant and small bar, as well as the Superloo area comprising superior toilet accommodation with baths and showers.

Currently, 220 catering staff are employed in the building and, on an average day, some 1,500 meals are served at concourse level and 400 at first floor level. A further 40 work in the basement, preparing food for the train restaurant services.

The West wing houses the general station facilities, the principal feature being the Travel Centre. This is a new concept, the main purpose of which is to offer passengers tickets, reservations and enquiries within one centrally located office. During an average week, 45,000 tickets are issued to main line destinations. All the ticket machines are mechanised using the Westinghouse multi-printer model.

The basement

The basement service roadway runs the full length of the main buildings and is a minimum of 24 feet in width, although headroom restricts use to vehicles up to 13 feet 6 inches in height. A loading dock – which forms the roof of the LT Underground ticket office – is raised three feet above the roadway with 22 vehicle bays, two for newspapers and 20 for PO traffic.

All traffic movement outside the service roadway is by BRUTE trolley train and a dedicated route traverses the perimeter of the main building, passing beneath the service roadway, allowing all platforms to be served without interfering with road traffic.

The car park

The station car park is beneath the forecourt at the southern side of the main building and is accessed via a ramp from Melton Street. Parking is controlled by National Car Parks on concession from BR.

The old station had no provision for private parking and the designers were faced with the problem of how many cars to accommodate. A figure of 240 was initially agreed upon, with a view to expanding this in future if justified on economic grounds.

Parking charges provide a short waiting period of two hours for 2/- per hour, rising steeply to 30/- for the whole day. A concession is made for passengers, amounting to a 50 per cent reduction. The parking area was opened in December 1968 and initially was not fully utilised; however, it has since gained steadily in popularity and is now frequently full.

Signal box

The new power signal box is located to the north of Platform 20 and plays an important part in the operational efficiency of the new terminal. It was built in conjunction with the station reconstruction scheme and was completed in 1965 at a cost of about £2 million. The box controls 2.5 miles of line from Euston-South Hampstead, a distance of 18 single-track miles comprising 488 signal routes.

Two signalmen are employed on each shift and use a push-button system located in a 25 feet long signalling console. the area controller supervises the operation, assisted by a train recorder, and each is provided with a telephone keyboard to enable them to contact all signal boxes, stations and depots, as well as train control.

Preparatory works for the concourse roof's insitu concrete support beams. Photo: Tony Freschini Collection.
Preparatory works for the concourse roof’s insitu concrete support beams. Photo: Tony Freschini Collection.

An appraisal of the facilities

In general, I consider that the new station functions well, allowing the various traffics to be handled efficiently. However certain parts could have been better designed and several working practices should be improved.

Having examined the handling of the parcels traffics, the main fault I observed arises from the provision of insufficient direct supervision of the operatives. The effect of this often gives rise to careless or occasionally very rough handling of the traffic. On many occasions, I observed parcels lying in the roadways having fallen from overloaded trolleys. Steps should be taken to ensure that the BRUTE drivers observe the specified 5mph speed limit and that the trains are limited to the recommended 12 trolleys.

In respect of passenger handling, it is my view that despite the great improvements made following the reconstruction work, Euston still requires additional works to enable it to fulfil its function as a major interchange terminal to assist the flow of passengers between the various transport modes. However I consider the interchange facilities between rail and Underground services to be excellent and it is unlikely these could be improved.

The considerable east-west flow of passengers through the dispersal area to the toilets, left luggage lockers and the catering premises conflicts with the flows using the ramp to Platforms 1-3. The fact that the ramp is only about a sixth of the width of the others adds to the congestion.

A further problem arises from the lack of seating on the concourse, although belatedly some has been provided – totalling about 90 – with a further 24 being placed near the central columns. The main objection to providing more seating arises from the probability that they would be used by undesirables.

The postal facilities are poor, although a central postal suite has been provided within the concourse with two letterboxes and stamp machines. Telephone facilities are plentiful and well located.

A labour force of around 1,900 persons (including 142 train drivers, 42 guards and 53 conductor guards) is employed to run the normal activities of the terminal, with a three-shift system to cover the full working day. The direction and control of the labour force is undertaken by a team of four managers. It should be noted that the salary of the station manager does not exceed £3,000 pa, and those of the principal assistants are less than £2,500.

Future developments

The numbers of passengers using the Outer Suburban services are sure to expand quickly as the towns between Watford and Northampton grow and the expansion of Northampton takes place, together with construction of the new city of Milton Keynes. Long-distance traffic is also expected to expand with the electrification of the line between Weaver Junction and Glasgow.

As a consequence, I believe that a further extension of many of the station facilities will be required during the next decade, although current platform capacity seems adequate to cope with foreseeable traffic growth.

Following completion of the reconstruction, BR has decided to retain the interdepartmental committee originally set up to plan and coordinate the development of the new station. At present, it is considering the pressing need to develop the two vacant sites south of the main building – currently utilised as temporary car parks – into an office block and hotel.

It is desirable that future commercial development should seek to compliment this, retaining the broad area at concourse level for the outward expansion of the passenger facilities if and when these are required.

Tony’s final two paragraphs allude to Euston’s greatest failing, one that has thankfully been recognised and rectified in subsequent station redevelopments: the need to fully exploit a site’s commercial potential to ensure maximum return on the investment.

On its official opening day, Michael Baily, The Times’ transport correspondent, remarked: “As a piece of urban planning, [New Euston] stands as a monument to ignorance and bureaucratic bungling.”

The problem stemmed from central and local government’s thwarting of British Railways’ plan to include shops and offices which would have soon paid for the station. Instead a financial blow was imparted costing BR – and the taxpayer – an estimated £4 million every year. And this squandered opportunity brought a social loss, too, as thousands of commuters were compelled to embark on secondary journeys to their places of work.

Baily went on: “With growing understanding and skills in transport/land planning in bodies such as the Greater London Council, one would hope eventually at Euston, not for just a crude office-block-on-station such as British Railways originally proposed, but for a properly engineered transport centre with travelators, minibuses and the like running through, and a development complex incorporating the massive office, hotel, shopping and leisure facilities such a key site in the urban fabric justifies.”

Let’s hope we get it right next time. Enter HS2.

Read more: New platforms at London Waterloo


Graeme Bickerdike
Graeme Bickerdikehttp://therailengineer.com
SPECIALIST AREAS Tunnels and bridges, historic structures and construction techniques, railway safety Graeme Bickerdike's association with the railway industry goes back to the mid-nineties when he was contracted to produce safety awareness videos and printed materials aimed at the on-track community. This led to him heading a stream of work to improve the way safety rules are communicated and understood - ultimately simplifying them - for which he received the IRSE’s Wing Award for Safety in 2007. In 2005, Graeme launched a website to catalogue and celebrate some of the more notable disused railway structures which still grace Britain’s landscape. Several hundred have since had their history researched and a photographic record captured. A particular focus has been the construction methods adopted by Victorian engineers and contractors; as a result, the site has become a useful resource for those with asset management responsibilities. Graeme has been writing for Rail Engineer for the past ten years, generally looking at civil engineering projects and associated issues. He has a deep appreciation of the difficulties involved in building tunnels and viaducts through the 19th Century, a trait which is often reflected in his stories.


  1. A very interesting subject. I have been researching the 1961-1971 Euston station rebuilding for some considerable time now. There are still certain aspects of this that I need to know more about. Primarily, when were the temporary entrances/exits for the Northern line closed/abolished? When did ‘the wood’ entrance/exit for the Underground opened? Any photos/plans of these would be greatly appreciated. Also, when did the innovative Travel Centre open for booking facilities? I do have numerous photos of the old station, but would love to see more relating to what I have just mentioned, and also from the 1967-1971 period. Although the new station was officially completed and opened in October 1968, I am aware that its substantial old western block buildings were still standing in January 1969! When were they eventually demolished? Naturally I would be most grateful if you could offer any further information about this fascinating period in the stations history. Kind regards, Colin Wardrop.


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