The New London Bridge Station: First Impressions

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It will probably not have escaped most readers attention that the main portion of the new London Bridge station concourse opened on August Bank Holiday Monday. Impressions are invariably subjective and so London Reconnections breaks its rule about being objective to give you a report on the development.

Space, Minimalism and Integration

Lofty

Much has been said about how spacious the new station looks. On arriving from the Southern platforms it does look open and impressive, but at first it appears that the hype was perhaps a little bit overblown. So, marginally disappointed, one has a look at the detail and admires the minimalistic and functionally integrated design. It is only when entering further one realises that it is indeed big – and lofty. The space between platforms 10 and 9 has been put to good use to extend upwards in a cathedral-like way.

The station might not be to everyone’s taste, but for those who like this sort of architecture it must rank as one of the best in its class. It seems to be even better than what was achieved at King’s Cross. It also feels like it will work well as a station with no bottlenecks and the very open layout – and good quality signage – makes it easy to find one’s way around.

The station is uncannily similar to the computer generated images created years ago, so in that sense there are no great surprises other than how close it is to what was promised. It has to be said that no photo, 360° view or computer image can give you the same feeling as actually being there.

Reality of classic computer generated image

This photo looks amazingly similar to one of the computer generated images publicised a few years ago

Day one is always a bit special

There are some good previews of the station and doubtless its day-to-day usage will be well recorded. Day one of the opening of projects such as this is, if possible, a quiet day for staff to familiarise themselves with the station and to enable minor problems to come to light and be fixed before dealing with the surge of weekday passengers.

The people to help you

Notable in the early hours of opening was a small army of people employed to help the first passengers in case of need. This is not unusual, as staff need to learn about the station too. It will doubtless be a different story on day 2 when commuters return to work.

Construction workers examining the final result carefully

Also conspicuous were the construction staff looking for things to add to the snagging list. Few in number, they appeared to be colour coded with red jackets – to distinguish them from the assistance staff in blue jackets.

Finally, everything had to be spotless and Costain, the contractor, had a roadsweeper cleaning the already immaculate St Thomas Street outside the station. More interesting than the spotless road is the restored facade at the eastern end of St Thomas Street. The reduced width of the roadway is undoubtedly going to make this street much more pedestrian friendly. This looks like part of the big plan which will enable retail outlets to feature underneath the restored arches.

Roadsweeper and restored arches

Entrances

St Thomas Street main entrance

Primary St Thomas Street entrance

Exit to St Thomas Street

Primary St Thomas Street entrance viewed from inside the station

Apart from the wide main entrance on St Thomas Street there is a secondary entrance further along. Passengers needing to purchase tickets at the ticket office will be directed from here along the street to the main entrance.

The picture showing the improvised coffee selling stall has a small sign to the left indicating the way to Tooley Street (the street to the north of London Bridge station). This is presumed to be the morning peak-only exit to Tooley Street. This was added at a late stage to the plan, as the numbers of passengers on SouthEastern were increasing despite the disruption of the Thameslink Programme works. As a result, it was felt prudent to provide a limited-hours direct exit to the north despite the inconvenience that this would create for the contractors who are still working on completing the north side of the station. They will presumably be limited in what they can do in the morning peak whilst the entrance is open.

Still a bit temporary

The ticket gates at both ends of the former Cannon Street platforms have been removed. This provides an extra unpaid area route from Tooley Street to platforms 10 to 15 (Southern terminating platforms).

Former Cannon St platform entrance

Former ramps to Cannon Street platforms have been blocked off

Finally, there is a long, wide and deep staircase flanked with escalators leading from the existing terminating platforms concourse to the new street level one.

Way to new concourse from existing one

Ticketing

Ticket office with no-one being served

Ticketing arrangements at the new station were already known to be problematic. There is a story, possibly apocryphal, that a meeting was set up to determine how big the ticket office should be. Those present had different opinions. Some thought it should be larger than the existing one to allow for growth. Others thought it should be larger to enable a more personal service to be given for those passengers who wanted it. A different view was that, with the advancement of technology, the number of paper tickets sold would diminish and so the ticket office should be smaller. In the end they admitted they didn’t have the slightest idea how big it should be, so agreed to have it the same size as the one that then existed. As a result the new ticket office has seven customer service windows – the same as the old one.

A paucity of ticket machines

What is more surprising is the lack of ticket machines. Putting only four ticket machines at the main entrance of a busy London station may be considered a brave decision. In the Oyster (and post-Oyster) era though, it may be the correct one. It also avoids concourse clutter. Certainly the lack of use of the few ticket machines at Blackfriars (both NR and LU) indicates that some stations tend to have regular travellers who don’t need to purchase physical tickets.

Old Southeastern ticket machines still being used

SouthEastern ticket machines still in use

Moving the ticket office down to the main lower concourse introduces a problem:- It is difficult for passengers approaching via the Shard to purchase a ticket without a long journey between floors. Time will tell if the right decision has been made here, but it appears bets are being hedged:- The existing SouthEastern ticket machines remain in use and a big sign outside the former temporary ticket office directs passengers to these machines.

Oddities

Despite the ubiquity of mobile phones, it was thought necessary to have a couple of pay-phones. The temporary-looking linear loudspeaker next to the phones was one of the very few items on the station that felt as if it was not part of the permanent long term design, but a temporary expedient.

A couple of payphones

More curious are a number of covered signs at the top of various staircases. These could be clocks, as the station currently lacks standalone timepieces. It is possible, however, that they are simply yet-to-be-implemented signs.

Mysterious sign covered over

A nice touch is that the World War memorials to fallen railwaymen of predecessor railway companies have been added to the station in a way that doesn’t make it feel like an afterthought.

Clarity of information

Escalator display in detail

Where the new station scores highly is with the clarity of information. This has clearly been very well thought out. Particularly impressive are the next train indicators embedded into the structure of the building rather than being tacked on as an afterthought, like a solar panel sitting on a roof. The graphic displays for the escalators are lovely and clear, and are also very bright.

Clear and unobtrusive signage

Perhaps best of all are the customer information displays on the platforms. At last there is a design that displays the next three trains and, for all three services, where they are calling at.

Superb platform signage

Platform 6

West end of platforms 6 and 5

West end of platforms 6 and 5

One aspect of the opening of the station that has not been remarked upon in the previews is the near completeness of platform 6. In fact it is currently used for engineering trains. Whilst part of the platform is fully fenced off (but not without small gaps) the rest merely has chains hanging from vertical poles to tell passengers to go no further. As a result one can see the construction progress.

Track 5 and track 6 will be needed by Friday 2nd September when services resume to Cannon Street, as the Cannon Street tracks will be diverted to use these and free up the rest of the original station for updating. Track 5 is in position, but neither track 5 nor 6 appear to have functioning signalling. Both are also lacking a third rail at present. Although track 5 exists, platform 5 doesn’t yet. Clearly there is a lot of work still to be done in the next week.

Ballast train in platform 6

Ballast train in platform 6

Surprisingly, given that it will not be used by stopping passenger trains until August 2017, platform 6 appears to be fully functional – complete with working passenger information display.

Platform 6 operational signage

And finally …

Easily missed, but clearly with a promise of what is to come, on the entrance to the stairs and escalators to platforms 6 (not yet open) and 7 is a picture of how the concourse will look from that position when fully open. By relating what is in the picture to what is on the ground now one gets a good idea of what the finished station will look like.

Now and the future

In the next few days we hope to have a look at all the associated activity and changes made in the London Bridge area over August Bank Holiday.

Written by Pedantic of Purley