King’s Cross and St Pancras International: Keeping up with the flow

St Pancras International Station is a hub for high speed national and international travel, and for a wide range of domestic rail services. Below ground, two resited Thameslink platforms supply the busy Bedford-Brighton corridor while the adjacent King’s Cross main line station serves the East Coast and its associated routes. Together these transport hubs now manage a vastly increased passenger flow.

Less obvious from the surface but equally important has been the development of King’s Cross St Pancras Underground Station. Work has been ongoing here since the tragic fire in 1987, with the last decade seeing a massive expansion of the ticket halls and walkways. Today it is the largest underground complex in Europe – the original station of 2,000m2 having been expanded by a factor of four.

Complex passenger flows
King’s Cross St Pancras serves five tube lines at four different depths below street level, with platforms distributed beneath the surface buildings and nearby roads. Not surprisingly, this has resulted in an extensive array of interconnecting walkways, escalators and stairs that channel the many possible passenger flows – all greatly increasing – through the station. These bring with them the challenge of managing the station effectively. New technology has been required to help keep things running reliably, 20 hours a day and 364 days per year.

It was clear from the outset that the station management would need to be as sophisticated as the civil construction to deliver the necessary levels of safety and efficiency. Without new systems, the potential would have existed for inefficient management, a poor passenger service and a degraded response to emergencies.

Today’s station has an intricate three-dimensional structure. Prior to the most-recent expansion phases, all passenger traffic was channelled via the Tube Ticket Hall (TTH). This is under the forecourt of King’s Cross main line station and was originally a significant bottleneck. Redevelopment work was undertaken in two main phases to coincide with the surface redevelopments at St Pancras International.

During Phase 1 completed in May 2006, the whole St Pancras access was transformed by the construction of the Western Ticket Hall (WTH). Spacious and airy, this sits on two levels under the forecourt of St Pancras International and Euston Road, seamlessly linking with the St Pancras undercroft through the arches of the original Victorian station. Instead of the previous cramped stairwells, there are now multiple wide-access walkways, escalators and a lift into the body of the ticket hall. A new access to the Circle and Metropolitan lines is complemented with a much larger and straighter walkway to the remodelled Tube Ticket Hall.

The recently opened second phase has seen the creation of the Northern Ticket Hall (NTH), allowing passengers for the Northern, Victoria and Piccadilly lines to bypass the Tube Ticket Hall. It also provides additional ticketing facilities and alternative access to the deeper lines.

Safety the priority
Passenger safety is always the primary concern for station managers particularly through the rush-hour conditions of heavy footfall. Incidents may need to be rapidly appraised and responded to, possibly including overcrowding, fire, crime or a medical emergency. To meet this need, Siemens worked with London Underground and the project’s many other partners to deliver an integrated station management (ISM) computer system that permits the whole station to be managed by one or two operators, with visibility of all parts of the station halls, walkways and platforms provided by a simple interface.

The ISM monitors all of the main station systems. It keeps track of ten lifts, 19 escalators, 52 ticket gates, over 350 CCTV cameras, public address, help points, passenger information signs, fire alarm systems, ventilation fans, power supplies and intruder access systems. To monitor and manage so many items – including 900 fire detectors and 1,400 public address speakers in 55 zones – there is a clear need for integration.

Easy operation
Siemens has used its Railcom Manager technology to implement the ISM. This computer system is linked to each piece of equipment, with a unified database of each item’s status at its heart.

The clean lines of the operators’ workstations feature overhead and desk-mounted CCTV monitors, providing an instant appraisal of passenger flows and congestions, while the remaining computer monitors offer views of the many other station systems. Two workstations are in-use in the control room while others are also provided for backup and training.

The main function of the ISM is to give the operators a common and consistent operating interface for all these systems. This has been achieved by constructing ‘mimic’ diagrams of the station areas that contain readily-understood, colour-coded icons representing the cameras, help points and ticket gates etc. By touching or clicking on the icons, operators can interact with the equipment – for example, answering help point calls or selecting particular camera sequences for display.

The system is based on a ‘three-click’ philosophy, ensuring the user interface is kept simple and easy to use. Big, easily understood icons help minimise operator training costs and ensure they can appraise and respond quickly and accurately to events when under pressure. The system provides an on-screen keypad and display as well as a conventional desk phone to handle the frequent help point calls that occur during the day. It can also be used to manage manual and automated announcements over the station public address.

Any alarms or faults detected by the ISM system are immediately brought to the operator’s attention, coded according to a graded level of priority. This allows the appropriate response to be made by the station management team to everything from a minor camera fault up to a major fire alarm. For more complex incidents, the ISM provides a clear overview of the situation so that the best response can be made.

Smooth operator
In normal station operation, the system is used to monitor passenger flows for possible overcrowding or other incidents, and to answer the frequent information requests from the help points. The PA and passenger information signs are also in steady use to update travellers on the current status of the Underground services.

The design of the operator screens and workstations for Phase 1 was carried out in collaboration with representatives of the operators to ensure that the system met their requirements. During Phase 2, lessons learned from the Phase 1 operation were incorporated to improve the user interface, and there is an ongoing process of improvement.

The ISM gives operators one view of the whole station, both visually and technically. The human-machine interface is easy to learn and use, thus reducing the training burden. It does not impact on essential infrastructure such as the fire system, ensuring that regulatory compliance is maintained. Its modular design means that updates of station systems are straightforward to implement. The system was delivered on time and within budget, throughout both phases.

King’s Cross St Pancras Underground Station now has one of the most sophisticated and effective ISMs in the railway world. With over 130,000 passenger transits per hour in busy periods, it’s a vital part of the station infrastructure, meaning that any response to emergencies can be coordinated effectively and that all station services are well-supported.

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4 Responses to "King’s Cross and St Pancras International: Keeping up with the flow"

  1. Rail Earthing says:

    I really love the new St Pancras station. It’s one of the best stations I have used in Europe. Can’t wait for the upgrade to Kings Cross.

  2. Sidmouth says:

    A bit of advice if returning to KX via the Picadily or Victoria tube; ignore the signs for KX mainline as you step off the tube, but rather follow the signs initially for the circle or metropolitan line. Otherwise you will end up walking miles as you double back on yourself as shown on the above plan. I suspect the signs are designed for when the KX works are fully complete, when it appears there might be then direct access between the NTH and KX.

  3. Dick White says:

    The belated opening of the new underground Northern Ticket Hall is, no doubt, an improvement to St.Pancras but is too little, too late and still leaves St.Pancras as one of the worst in terms of passenger movement and safety.
    We Midland main line passengers were always going to get a raw deal when the new MML platforms were built more than a whole train-length north of their original location thereby adding several minutes walking time to our journeys. But then the walking route to the Tube Ticket Hall, necessary for most Midland passengers, was subject to a very constricted bottle-neck in the two very narrow entrances to the TTH which became, in my view dangerously, congested at peak times. And just to make matters worse, most of the, already narrow, walking route was turned into a corridor of “retail opportunities” filled with international passengers and their luggage.
    And now that the Northern Ticket Hall is open have matters improved? No. Because the escalators down from the Midland Main Line concourse are badly sited (and inadequate, btw) such that it would be necessary to take a ridiculously long route to access it.
    Whoever designed the new St.Pancras had about as much appreciation of safe and efficient passenger flows as a brick has of the works of Shakespeare.
    And while I’m on the subject, does anybody else agree with me that the Eurostar waiting areas at St.Pancras are even more squalid and claustrophobia-inducing than their predecessors at Waterloo?

  4. Merton Man says:

    The worst aspect of all tube and train stations are the barriers . In most European countries there are simple posts to validate tickets and and the concourses are open and barrier free. Random ticket checks on train are frequently carried out . The decision to install barriers was a big mistake and must cost a fortune in maintenance alone . Backup and frustration occurs when there are not enough barriers open to cope and large numbers of staff are seen monitoring the barriers as a result . In short a pigs breakfast.

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