Light and Breezy London Bridge
Although we have had a lot to say about the Thameslink Programme over the past few months news on the construction front has gone very quiet. There is a small amount of residual work at Blackfriars station that seems to be taking forever but is rumoured to be due to be completed by this June. Apart from that there has been an apparent lack of activity. In truth an awful lot has been going on at London Bridge but, because it is not yet at the stage where it is significantly disrupting travel journeys, it hasn’t received much publicity.
In fact since January London Bridge has been a hive of construction activity. Until now travellers who pass through the high level platforms may have confined their observations to some demolition at the front of the station. From this week onward they can hardly fail to notice that the demolition of wall between the high level and low level platforms has commenced. Passengers using the low level terminal platforms will be well aware of a temporary transformation and when it is raining or snowing may well yearn to have the station back as it was.
What is probably quite difficult to appreciate is the sheer scale of the works undertaken so far. The glass roof was taken down and that was a major task in itself, involving quite a lot of temporary construction just to provide a deck below it so that it could be taken down safely. Much of this went unseen because the bulk of the work, including removal of the old unwanted roof and walls, took place at night. Concurrent with this there is an awful lot of unseen work going on in the arches below the station. Thameslink may not match the scale of Crossrail but in its own way is very challenging because, more so than Crossrail, the major sites have to be kept operational during the work.
By far the most dramatic change so far is that with the roof gone one can see the outside world from the low level platforms. This dramatic view of the Shard towering over London Bridge station is a complete contrast to what could be seen before.
One thing that really stands out is just how much temporary work is being done. Because the roof has been demolished it is necessary to provide temporary awnings, draining, lighting and PA systems on the platforms. These will for the most part be in use for less than two years and are far more substantial than the permanent facilities at many stations. The horizontal drainage pipes even have the anti-pigeon spikes installed on them.
A curiosity of platforms 12 and 13 is the set of points at the end of the platforms. As is clear from the rust present these have not been used for years, maybe decades. Yet apparently these are checked each week to ensure that they are in working condition. Somehow one cannot see this arrangement surviving rebuilding of the station.
In the above picture the yellow destination boards (centre right) have not been moved and provide a frame of reference. Until recently the ticket office would have been here with offices above. All these were in the way for the new viaduct that will be an extension of the one recently built over Borough Market.
With the demolition of the former ticket office a temporary office has been provided. Like the platform facilities this is far superior to the permanent facilities provided at many stations. The people moving very fast in the foreground are probably not only in a hurry but anxious to keep moving to keep warm now that the forecourt to London Bridge station is very exposed.
Most people would agree that the bus station has changed for the better. Space in this area is obviously at a great premium with competing demands from railways, buses, taxis and developers. Best use of space available is made by allowing an office development over part of the bus station. In doing so it also provides a limited amount of protection for passengers. The space is also used for the taxi feeder queue and is an improvement on the old arrangement.
The taxi arrangement is probably the best that can be provided but is not ideal. Taxis are probably not as important as they are at a place like Paddington. This is partly because London Bridge is primarily a commuter station and potential users are more likely to get the underground or, if going to the city, just walk across the bridge. Reaching the pick up point involves crossing the road. There is a controlled crossing (not yet in use) to the left of the picture with dropped kerbs. In all probability a confused traveller arriving here for the first time will not notice it and attempt the direct route. The drop off point in the foreground of the picture is ideal and does not involve crossing any road.
Until now the work has not significantly disrupted train services. With the roof removed it was time to take down the supporting walls. This would be an easy job if the station was not in use but one cannot just bring in a wrecking ball to a busy station. For this job it was necessary to close platforms 8 and 9 for a week. With the services already thinned out since December in anticipation of station reconstruction, this was achieved without cancelling or diverting trains other than to a different platform.
Sadly, only now with much more light available can the full beauty of the brickwork be appreciated. The moment, however, is all too fleeting because in a few days the wall will be gone. The metal ironmongery attached to the wall is a temporary attachment to support the rails for the enormous cradle that was used to assist removing the roof.
The above picture gives a good overview from platform 6 of the work being done. This is already much changed from three months ago. Note the temporary roof that has had to be built over the footbridge roof (centre left) to keep the rain off. The footbridge used to be entirely within the trainshed beyond the wall being demolished. Until now it would not have mattered that it was not watertight.
The picture shows some of the ornate structure that used to support the roof. Various people campaigned for this to be saved. Network Rail rejected this stating that it would complicate demolition too much. Without a crane it is difficult to see how the part remaining can be removed in one piece or indeed at all.
The wall being demolished is substantial and requires a lot of labour to demolish it. This is just one location where demolition is in progress. The rubble is dropped into a large temporary holding area for removal at night.
Despite the magnitude of the current work this is just preliminary works prior to station reconstruction. Reconstruction proper starts in May when platforms 14-16 will be taken out of use to enable the commencement of building the new station starting from the southern side. We we hope will be in a position to give you regular progress reports.
Many thanks to Simon for his images.