Earlier this morning, Whitechapel tube station transformed from an ugly duckling into a swan, albeit one that’s still shedding a few feathers in places.
Where there had been narrow platforms, a temporary entrance and lots of wooden hoardings covering up a building site is now a station with a huge new entrance concourse, massive platforms for the District/H&C lines and lots of lifts. It also offers a new entrance at the back that wasn’t there before.
This is the belated opening of the refurbished station in preparation for the Elizabeth line.
It’s not finished yet, as there’s still the Elizabeth line to open, and the London Overground platforms are still waiting to have some work done to them, but the scale of the transformation to the old sub-surface platforms is astonishing compared to what was there before.
The visible changes started back in January 2016 when a temporary entrance opened at the far end of the station, but that entrance has today closed, and where a tall tube station sign once stood on Whitechapel Road telling people where to go, there’s just a small metal plate in the ground.
This morning the original entrance reopened, and it has a new tube station totem outside, with the Elizabeth line on the list of services it supports.
The old station entrance was a bit of a mess and far too small for the existing customer use, let alone able to cope when the Elizabeth line opened, so behind the Victorian frontage, the entire back of the station has been rebuilt. Where before you had to go down a few steps into the station, then through a narrow set of very few ticket barriers, up another set of steps – then either head downstairs to the Overground, or around a corner and then over a bridge to the Underground platforms.
What had been a narrow passage to the platforms has now been swept away with a long and wide passage that sits directly on top of the London Overground tracks below. A curvacious roof leaps over the tracks, and on top has been covered with planting, although you can’t see that from inside the station.
A twisting maze of shabby passages that, shall we politely say, had character has been replaced with much more usable space.
The station also now has step-free access to all platforms with new lifts – which it never had before.
In a way, what’s been done is a huge change, and yet also it’s surprisingly similar to what was there before — the same entrance as before, and you walk forwards to an overbridge to get to the platforms. It’s just that rather than narrow winding passages around the side of the Overground, they’ve gone right over the top and opened up vastly more space to use.
Not just the entrance, but also the old station platforms have been rebuilt.
The station has a north-south oriented London Overground platforms, and sitting above them, are the east-west oriented London Underground platforms.
During the works, what had been a four-platform Underground station has been reduced to two platforms with a very large concourse between them. The reason for the width is to allow space for new wide staircase up to the overbridge, which could not have been fitted into the previous narrow platforms.
The London Overground platforms, which are famously underneath the Underground were also revamped. They used to be open to the air but now sit underneath a long corridor that runs above them, and the full length of the platform giving people above a much easier connection from the reopened entrance to the rest of the platforms.
The station has however come in vastly over budget. It was due to cost an in hindsight very optimistic £110 million, but is now estimated to be costing around £659 million. A National Audit Office report in 2019 noted that “Whitechapel in particular has seen larger spend than anticipated as a result of difficulties building around existing London Underground and overground lines and station architecture.”
The works aren’t finished yet, as they still need to add the Elizabeth line platforms to the station, which is currently due to open in the first half of next year. The London Overground needs work to raise the height of the rails by about 5cm to improve step-free access, and to remove the last of the builder’s hoardings.
Now that the old/new entrance has opened, the temporary entrance has been closed and will be demolished. There had been some low-level suggestions that it might be retained to see if it’s of use, but in the end that came to nothing. That would in theory mean that people coming to the station from the northern side would have to go all the way around to the front entrance again, but the new station includes a new entrance on the northern side of the long walkway as well – barely 20 yards from where the temporary entrance stood. So that’s not a problem.
There is also public access through the station, linking the north and south sides via a corridor that is outside the ticket barrier.
So while this is a radically revamped entrance, when it opens people using the Elizabeth line will also be reusing the entrance to one of London’s oldest railway stations.