London Bridge station reopened yesterday.
Specifically a large part of it reopened yesterday.
Specifically a large part of it partially reopened yesterday.
Whatever, it's a damned impressive achievement all the same.
Redevelopment kicked off in 2013, following a previous upgrade to revamp the western end of the station around the foot of the Shard. Various sets of platforms were closed off sequentially, and trains to various destinations ran through without stopping. Commuters had a hell of a time battling with congestion, diversions and reduced services. Businesses which had operated beneath the platforms were turfed out and the internal space remodelled. A large portion of the new concourse opened in August 2016, and if you've visited since then you'll have a very good idea of what the extended chunk looks like. But compare the new London Bridge to how it looked ten years ago and the place is virtually unrecognisable.
Previously London Bridge had 6 through platforms and 9 terminating platforms. It now has 9 through and 6 terminating, which has been one of the key drivers of the project. The Thameslink Programme requires up to 18 trains an hour to run through here to Blackfriars, St Pancras and beyond, a target due to be delivered in December next year. But the other key driver has been passenger numbers, and the new spacious layout will allow a lot more people to get to a lot more trains a lot more efficiently.
New London Bridge has a distinct upstairs and downstairs, intriguingly connected. Platforms 10 to 15 are best accessed from the existing ticket barriers upstairs, by the bus station, whereas platforms 1 to 9 can only be accessed from down below. Most of the interesting new stuff is down below, and it may take a while to get your bearings.
An enormous concourse now threads beneath all fifteen platforms, right the way through from Tooley Street to St Thomas Street. The largest part is inside the ticket barriers, creating a huge circulation space where you can wait for your train to be called, but alas not a great number of seats. Coffee shops and eateries are provided on both sides of the barriers, which is unusual, a bit more like how an airport is laid out.
The platforms are supported on concrete prongs and covered underneath by copious timber stripes. Whopping long escalators then rise up to the platform of your choice, but not always in the direction you want and you might be nudged to climb the stairs instead. Rest assured there are also lifts if required, freestanding in the gaps between the platform supports.
Departures are no longer announced over the loudspeaker system, there'd be too many of them, so be sure to keep an eye on the destination boards because you don't want to end up on the wrong platform. While I was present yesterday a change of platform was announced with three minutes to spare, and the only way across was all the way down and all the way back up again, which was quite a hike for those affected. If in doubt ask one of the platform dispatchers - there seemed to be a heck of a lot of them - but not one of the security staff - there seemed to be a lot of them too.
It's hard to reconcile the new streamlinedplatforms with what was here before. They wiggle off into the far distance, the Shard looming overhead, generally featureless to allow for swift boarding. If you walk right to the end there are emergency stairs descending deep into inaccessible parts of the station, which hopefully you'll never need to use. Platform 1 didn't actually exist previously, which just goes to show that a heck of a lot of reshaping has been going on.
If you arrive via the tube station you'll probably end up walking through the new Western Arcade - essentially the vaults underneath the old station now fully opened up for public use. Tim assures us they're triple-arched quadripartite vaults, which explains why they're so attractive, although the foot of each brick pier has been covered by a modern protective bulwark so they're not quite as attractive as they could have been.
Network Rail are very proud of their new progeny, and have high hopes you'll come visiting. In particular they're keen to create a "destination station", so are cramming in as many shopping and dining opportunities as possible. 82 separate retail units are shown on the official map, most of them not yet open, a goodly proportion of which line the Western Arcade. Alas somebody appears to have handed the marketing team a thesaurus to explain what's coming, and their alliterative overexcitability suggests the final collection won't quite match St Pancras.
It's not just the shops that aren't finished. Stainer Street, which used to run underneath the station in an oppressivearchedtunnel, is being reimagined as a pedestrian walkway. By the summer you'll be able to walk through again without entering the station, which'll be novel. Platforms 4 and 5 are also due to be opened in May to serve Thameslink services, and will remain taped up until then. But once everything's up and running, and all those extra trains are calling, London Bridge will be a phenomenal improvement on what came before. If you want to buy a pastie and hop on a train to Hastings, there'll be nowhere better.