Since construction started back in 2009, much of Blackfriars railway station has been shrouded in builders hoardings protecting the public from the dirt (usually) and noise (occasionally) generated by the rebuilding work to make the station ready for Thameslink.
As it nears the completion of the works, there was a chance to see some of the completed works, and the rest of the station that is nearing the moment that it can be handed over to the train company.
Like many conversion jobs involving Victorian shells, it is the structural works, that are largely hidden from view that cause the greatest headaches. With the plans to stretch the platforms across the Thames over the Bridge, they had to widen the bridge on each side, but despite looking like it is made from five identical spans, each is very slightly different. This meant that everything they had to build around the core chassis has had to be custom designed.
There has also been a lot of reinforcing of the existing structure to bring it up to modern standards. The yellow steelwork here being the additional reinforcement for the foundation. The spans also had steel plates bolted on to strengthen them.
Going up from what was, and will be again eventually, the road under the bridge, into a steel-clad box sitting next to the station. This was originally going to be for escalators, and although plans changed, it is still called the escalator box. That’ll confuse historians in 100 years time!
However, here is where the ticket hall will also sit, with escalators up to the new platforms. The photo below is the box where two escalators will be installed shortly. Each will be carried in via the current passenger routes and will be installed in three parts. Another escalator nearby was lifted into place as a single unit, but here, the space is too tight for that.
The ticket sales room box is ready, and just waiting for fitting out. This is the view from the staff side.
The area is still covered in scaffolding and exposed works waiting to be covered up, although the floor tiling is already in place and occasionally visible under the wooden protecting sheets. Being right next to corridors where the public hurry past each day, and builders sometimes using a language which is less drawing room than cafe, this regularly repeated sign made me smile.
Up by steel builders stairs to the main show for this station though – the platforms and the huge solar roof. Running across the Thames, and with an angled glass wall, people arriving at Platforms 1 and 4 should get a fairly impressive view. Sorry to people on platforms 2&3!
Likewise, when finished the wide flat roof, which in concept seems to remind me of factory roof with slanted sides and glass louvres to let in light, will look a lot more stylish than this unfinished span.
Although platforms 1&2 are now in use, the building work continues on the other half of the bridge, with the platforms being installed right now. There is a core steel base, on which preformed concrete wall units are sited, and then the platform is lain on that with cabling running in ducts underneath.
Mentioning that the bridge has been widened, on the western side, they were able to reuse the abandoned piles from a previous railway to support the expansion works. You can probably see below how three piles are now two, and the third is now entombed in the live station.
The builders had to dismantle the third iron-clad pile, and it was known to be infilled with brick for weight. Expecting basically, compressed rubble, they actually found a carefully lain spiral brickwork and very solidly mortared in place. Not easy to remove.
The station is notable not just for having platforms running across the bridge, but also now for having a second entrance on the south side of the river. Although not completely finished, they have opened it to the public, who are probably more interested in the convenience than in whether the last bit of cladding was put in place yet.
A usage count carried out the other week found that 40% of the station users during the rush hour are using the south exit. Which is not bad for an exit I personally thought would be predominantly used by visitors to the local tourist attractions. The percentage will shrink when the northern tube station opens next month, but the volumes of people using the southern exit will continue to justify the decision to build it.
Due to the construction method for the platforms above, the south-side station was built in two halves, the eastern first, and now the western side is being finished.
On the western side, there is the remains of a stone structure that carried an older long vanished railway. This has to be retained, but will contain the staircase up to the platforms.
Those with modest memories may recall two huge crests that stood on that stone platform – and will probably be delighted to learn that they will be returning. Not quite in the same place, but pretty close.
On the eastern side, the staircase is hanging out in the open, and the view is actually rather stunning from the staircase. If it wasn’t seriously dangerous to suggest it, I’d suggest the landing in the staircase would be a fantastic location to watch the Jubilee Pageant later this year.
As we are talking about getting from ticket hall to platforms, if you feel in the mood, do take the lift at least once. Although not unique, it has a fairly rare alignment that will probably make you do a little “ohh” when you use it for the first time.
Back up to the platform level though, and a chance to get a better look at the soon to be probably quite famous roof. Unlike the vast curved spans that dominate Victorian stations, this is a wide flat span, but with some good detailing to make it less oppressive.
There is a slight curve to the large otherwise flat sloping surface that does seem to make it seem more appealing. This flat slope on the other side though will host the solar cells that should be able to provide up to half the electricity the station needs. As London’s largest solar array, it works in this location mainly as being a bridge over a river does mean there are fewer buildings around casting shadows over your solar guzzling panels.
You might also notice in the photo above that there is a blue covered wide strip running across the photo – that is a ceiling walkway that gives maintenance access to the roof. You might see through the glass, a steel wall with two portholes – that is the exterior of the walkway.
And the view from above.
It’s not just the public getting a new station. The staff get new facilities as well. There is a brand new control room to keep an eye on things which will replace a temporary box built downstairs. This in turn replaced what was frankly, a shed in the old station. A shed that leaked, so they had to put plastic bags over the computer screens when it rained.
I wonder how many signalling faults were due to the wrong sort of plastic bag on the computer monitor?
And then down to the areas currently being used by the public to negotiate their way around the builders (who are certainly not using ripe language on the other side of the hoardings).
Thanks to Network Rail for the look around a bit of the station while still in its naked state before all the shiny surfaces are added to hide all the interesting bits.
More photos in my gallery as usual here.
Do notice the blue tube inside the station just to the right of centre – its a ventilation shaft for the Underground.