The long running debate about reopening disused tube stations has reared its head again with a renewed focus on York Road just to the north of the revamped King’s Cross station.
York Road disused station is located between King’s Cross St. Pancras and Caledonian Road stations on the Piccadilly line. It was closed in 1932 owing to low usage and the need to speed up journeys following the extensions at both ends of the line.
Much of the infrastructure, including the street level building, still survives intact. Now that the area is less railway wasteland and more offices and students, is it time to rethink an old decision to close a little-used tube station?
Unsurprisingly, London Underground has already looked at this — commissioning outside consultants, Halcrow for a pre-feasibility study to review the business case in 2005.
In summary, not viable.
In more detail…
A “do-minimum” option was looked at which would reuse the existing shafts to provide two lifts and an emergency staircase, with a capacity of 4,200 passengers per hour. This would not have met modern standards for tube stations, but was felt acceptable for public use if the reopening went ahead. Escalators were ruled out as far too expensive.
Based on 2005 prices, the cost of renovating the old station to modern standards, and replacing the lifts, was reported at £21 million, but TfL estimated that the real cost when works started would end up being in the region of £30-£40 million as there were some costs not included — deliberately — in the report, plus the usual unexpected problems that all projects of this nature throw up.
Once open, there would be an additional roughly £1 million per year in running costs to factor in.
To bring the station up to fully modern standards would be considerably more expensive, so the analysis worked on the principle that the do-minimum option could be accommodated.
A number of standards would need to be deferred, such as platform and tunnel widths, but the report noted that some existing stations on the Piccadilly line already have such derogation agreements, so it wasn’t thought to be an issue for reopening York Road station.
The station building would also need to be expanded to include modern standards for ticket halls, and space for the ticket barriers. Even back in 2005, they were already talking about not having any space for an office to sell tickets from.
The proposal — which was just a concept — was to put a glass canopy in front of the building to create the necessary additional space. Due to the compact site, the report suggested demolishing most of the back of the surface building, but preserving the original Leslie Green frontage, which still retains its very distinctive ox-blood red tiling.
Down at the platforms, the cross-passages between platforms would need to be modified to include fire doors, and as this station was closed before their introduction on the Underground, an anti-suicide pit would need to be dug under the tracks.
Those works would almost certainly have seen the Piccadilly line suspended for a number of weekends.
The analysis indicates that around.9,200 customers could be expected to use York Road Station during the morning three-hour peak period, with a roughly even split between those arriving and departing reflecting the mixed nature of the King’s Cross Central (KCC) development. 85% of the latter are predicted to have a destination within the KCC development.
While the report accepted that this would be very good for people using the King’s Cross development, it had the knock on effect of slowing journeys for everyone else using the Piccadilly line, due to the extra station being stopped at.
It was also found that people would be inclined to start using the tube to get from King’s Cross to York Road rather than walk the journey, which would increase congestion at King’s Cross tube station.
In summary, “The high capital and operating costs combined with low net quantified benefits gives an extremely poor overall business case” – in technical jargon, a benefit to cost ratio of 0.03:1 Essentially a loss of £34 million.. Although cost-benefit ratios are allowed to run at a loss if there are wider society benefits, spending £40 million, in order to lose another £34 million would not be acceptable.
Accepting that the report was commissioned in 2005, while the cost-benefit ratio might have improved slightly over the years, the downside to the other Piccadilly line passengers having their train trips slowed down by an additional stop won’t have changed. It’s also an issue that the longer a train takes to complete a trip along the line, the fewer trips it can make per day, and that has a knock-on effect on overall capacity for the entire line.
Reopening the York Road tube station translates into more crowded trains, and that is to be avoided at all costs, at least until the New Tube for London is ready in 2022.
The report did accept that political pressure may overrule a strict cost-benefit argument, and London Underground should be prepared for the possibility of political pressure being applied to proceed because of the regenerational benefits that may be incurred as a result, especially if a substantial contribution towards the costs could be found from the private sector.
However, that’s not to say something else might not be possible — as there’s another disused station nearby, or at least, space where it used to be, at Maiden Lane.
A rebuilt Maiden Lane station on the Overground would be much cheaper to build, at around £8 million, and have much lower running costs. The site for the Overground station would be around 100 yards further to the north of York Road Station, roughly where a Camden Council maintains a bus garage.
Replacing that with the usual generic block of flats may generate the cash to fund a rebuilt Maiden Lane station.
However, York Road tube station is unlikely to ever reopen to the public again.