Stations are no longer just a place to start or finish a journey, or to transfer to another mode. In many parts of the world, they have become extension of both business and leisure activity. As cities grow rapidly and residents move further out in search of living space, meeting colleagues, family and friends at a central location has been the norm for some time. But now this central location is not the usual a café or a restaurant but a swanky transport hub. In London, meeting at St. Pancras International,  the new arrival point for Eurostar, has been considered trendy for quite some time. Its newly redeveloped neighbour across the road, Kings Cross Station, will just boost it further.

King’s Cross Station, named after a huge monument of King George IV, was designed by architect Lewis Cubitt and opened in 1852 . Once a busy industrial district, it went into economic decline following the 2nd World War. Here is a photo of the station, probably from the 1970s.

With the new high speed rail connection in early 2000 and the relocation of the Eurostar terminal from London Waterloo to St. Pancras, regeneration plans for Kings cross gained a new impetus.

The newly upgraded Kings Cross station has recently become open to public. Redeveloped at a cost of nearly £ 500 Million and over 5 years, the outcome is a space that has a snazzy airport terminal-like feel to it. Here are some photos I took recently:

The stunning roof of course catches one’s attention the moment you step in. Described as a ‘Diagrid’ roof it extends 150 metres from a support structure on the side, without any supporting columns in the centre. It has been described as the ‘head of the matchstick by The Guardian. There is still a small bit of ongoing work that could continue into 2015 by some estimates. And of course a 67-acre area around the station is being redeveloped to offer offices, homes and a university

The Good Things:

  • Information Screens: There are two sets at either end and seem easy to read. There is also a helpdesk area and other signange to guide travellers to the Underground, St. Pancras International, Taxis etc.
  • Tactile flooring: The flooring has the appearance of hard tiles but has a soft rubbery feel on stepping. It’s been designed to provide a non-slip surface for travellers coming in from the wet- something that could happen a lot this coming May if weather forecasts are to be believed.
  • Retail space: Coffee shops and quick bites for the busy traveller are on the ground floor, while on the ‘mezzanine’ level are proper sit-down restaurants including Prezzo and the family-friendly Giraffe.

And Other things:

  • Announcements are loud (or the space inside makes them a bit echo-eprone on the mezzanine/ top levels). Good for the traveller, not so good for those trying to read a book or have conversation in the cafes/ restaurants.
  • One can’t help noticing that free seating is quite sparse and café/ restaurant seating abounds. Yes, the plan is to get people spending money, and I suppose the loud announcements ensure that you don’t have to stand in front of the info screens when you could be helping KX Inc making some moolah!
  • Apparently the station is also home to the biggest pub in a British Rail Station, or perhaps any rail station.Knowing the British penchant for ‘one for the road’  I can say without hesitation this will not stay empty. Whether it will offer the same ambience as the Champagne Bar across the road at St Pancras International or pull the crowds like the Betjeman Arms does, remains to be seen !

A photo of KX’s Swanky neighbour- St Pancras International.

An interesting fact to end the post: Apparently the British Railways were responsible for creating the concept of a ‘bar area’ in a pub where you had to go up and order your drink/ food. Before that you would get served at tables. It all began at Swindon station in 1840. And it was all part of a revenue-maximising strategy to recover capital investment by making sure all trains stopped at Swindon and customers could get ‘fast-food’ and drinks on the go. Hmm…. that does sound familiar somehow!

Place: UK,    Year: 2012

This is the rough chronology of the Easter Fuel Strike that never happened

28th March: Cabinet Minister Francis Maude says that ‘fuel tankers drivers strike’ possible. People should not panic but might want to take sensible precautions like filling their jerrycans to store petrol in their garage.

28th March, evening: Long queues at petrol stations, many stations run out of fuel. As someone says – ‘When a minister tells you not to panic, you panic’.

29th March: Mixed messages from the government. Fill your car only upto half-tank. Fill your car 2/3rd. Cycle to work.

[No strike notice yet]

29th March: Sale of Jerry Cans go up.

29th March: Fire Services dismayed at advice doled out as storing petrol at home can be hazardous. Across UK, various fire departments warn car users to take precautions.

“It is already against the law to store more than 10 litres of petrol in two five-litre plastic containers in the home..”

29th March, 6 PM: Woman suffers severe burns as she tries to decant petrol in her kitchen forgetting that her gas hob is on.

29th March, evening: Conservative MP on Question time- the reason we wanted to give this advice was so that we could prevent long queues and a fuel crisis if the strike does go ahead.

30th March: Unite union says that Fuel Strike will not happen over Easter as they need to give 7 days notice.

30th March: Many petrol stations run out of fuel as people stock up anyway. Tanker drivers given permission to work extra hours to help re-fuel the empty petrol stations.

Well if that wasn’t shambolic then I don’t know what is ! The government, ostensibly, wanted to prevent unnecessary queuing and discomfort. But in the end it ended up creating a serious shortage of fuel across the country and gave out potentially irresponsible advice to car-owners asking them to stock up on petrol in a ‘sensible’ way. It may go down as first in the ‘developed’ world – a self-inflicted fuel crisis.

Someone gave a great idea- if only we could get the fuel  tanker drivers to strike during the Olympics, we could also prevent the road traffic chaos expected in Central London at least!

Commuting, especially in cities, is at best a dreary, monotonous task and at worst a fight against delays and congestion. So what better way than art and music to liven it up. Airport terminals and public transport hubs like metro and train stations probably made the first efforts to be something more than just functional buildings.

While I’ve found pleasure in posters, painting and artwork at many transport hubs around the world, I was particularly excited by what I saw in Delhi. I am probably prejudiced in talking about the city of my birth. But anyone who has been to Delhi in the last decade will agree it is a tough city, its residents often considered less cultured than our cousins in coastal and southern India. But Delhi has a long history of feeding the soul in the periods of prosperity between 3 millenia of invasions. The murals at Delhi Metro stations as well as the sculptures at Delhi’s shining new international airport help to bridge the gap felt in the last few decades. Here’s a photo of Shastri Nagar Station courtesy artslant.com .

And here are some photos I took in 2010 – the new International Airport in Delhi being operated by GMR group.

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For the real metro geeks, art on a whole range of metro stations around the world can be found here http://mic-ro.com/metro/metroart.html  and here is a whacky example of what you might see elsewhere in the world!

Moscow metro:

NY Subway:

Stockholm Centrale:

I must mention music here again. Journeys on the London Underground usually consist of dodging passengers hurtling themselves into the train or running up escalators, or sometimes joining them in both. But the strains of music I hear while dashing through the tunnels never fails to cheer me up. So here’s a formal thank you to the talented buskers on transport systems- I hope they keep entertaining us.

Is moving people effectively from one point to another really an art or is it a science, or a bit of both? Nothing better than to start with a question that will, I hope, lead to a lively debate.

Much of my professional circle of friends and colleagues consists of those who have studied town planning, geography, transport planning and engineering in university. They have developed and operated complex transport models and used advanced statistical analysis to understand past trends and predict future trends in transport demand. They might well argue that the science behind infrastructure solutions cannot be ignored.

Yet some of the best solutions of transporting people and goods effciently seem to be based on common sense and a bit of intuition. Do we then over-rate the science or feel more comfortable using it as a crutch to support ideas based on gut instinct and experience?

My view is that transport is about people, whether it’s ensuring children reach schools, families travel across continents or our food and goods can be sent from farmlands and industrial estates to cities. Yet if we did not take the help of science-based technology to record such movements, we would have no idea how to plan for them in the future or even meet current requirements. In an increasingly resource-hungry world we also need to be certain that funds are directed to the right transport solution at the right time, and here again something more than just intuition is required.

This blog is, to some extent, about discussing and debating these ideas with both laymen and professionals. Here is a discipline that affects all of us, right from birth where some of us have been fortunate to be carted around in prams till old age where some of us may be in wheel chairs. Transport is also a subject where everyone I know has an opinion, so come and share yours !

But I also hope the blog becomes a fun place to share whacky new ideas and original opinions about how humans will be transported or indeed how they will transport themselves in the future. So, all aboard and here we go !