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.

The old ticket hall in 2008

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.

Whitechapel station – Google satellite view 2008

Whitechapel station – Google satellite view 2020

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.

London Overground platforms 2008

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.

The temporary entrance – now closed

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.

Some photos from the opening:

The old ticket hall entrance

Loads of lifts

The view from inside to the ticket barriers

The new side passage to the streets behind the station

Down to the London Overground and Elizabeth line

Looking down to the London Overground

The Elizabeth line

The new concourse above the London Overground

Looking towards the Elizabeth line

The new concourse – as seen from the London Overground platforms

The walkway to the northbound London Overground platforms

Large new staircase on the subsurface platforms

The westbound District line platform

Possibly the widest platform on the London Underground

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13 comments
  1. Aleks says:

    Surprising that the brickwork on the Overground has not been cleaned now that it is ‘inside’.

  2. Uche Mick Chinonso says:

    A sight to behold. It may be over budget, but it is beautiful to behold.

  3. Melvyn says:

    I remember using the old station which entailed ducking and diving as passengers constantly changed levels depending on which route they were undertaking.

    As for the widest platform it’s worth remembering how this used to be four platforms making crowding on individual platforms even worse.

    Whitechapel Station will also become a major Crossrail interchange at platform level once the full service begins as passengers from say south east London change to trains towards north east London and vice versa …

  4. cathy haines says:

    considering the amount of footfall to the hospital and the local amenities there are still a lot of stairs and the lifts arnt that big.Disappointed there are more escalators families and travellers

    • ianVisits says:

      The lifts are pretty large, and even this morning just hours after the station opened, I was really pleased to see how much use was being made of them by people obviously heading to the hospital.

  5. Md kawsar says:

    Great news

  6. Melvyn says:

    You say “ loads of lifts” yet looking at the lift plan it looks like there isonky one lift from street level at the main entrance and equally only one lift down to Crossrail / Elizabeth Line level.

    Surely Whitechapel Station should have had two lifts from street level and two down to Crossrail / Elizabeth Line ensuring a back up lift at what will become An important interchange once everything is fully operational and passenger usage returns to what will be far more than before.

    • Andrew says:

      actually there is two lifts going to elizabeth line as i had looked at photos – lift F is main lift BUT its runs along with other lift just across from Lift F in shared lobby also overground has Two lifts each platform from street
      Southbound Overground has 3 lifts (lift G and F and unknown number (emergency lift)
      while Northbound served by Lifts C and E
      while London underground has two – Lift B and C
      also way out – main entrance only has 1 lift but i believe if lift is broken disabled people could go around to other side of station to enter via ramped entrance but i think they should added other lift to main entrance to help flows and traffic

  7. David McLean says:

    I love it that you go upstairs to the Underground and downstairs to the Overground! The new station looks super.

  8. Tony says:

    Nice article, thanks.

  9. Chris Rogers says:

    Half a bilion pounds for one station. Wow. I know it’s progress an’ all that but quite a lot else has been “swept away” by Crossrail. Dozens of buildings in many parts of central London, entire blocks more or less even in Mayfair etc of Georgian and Vicwardian buildings. Only yesterday I was interested in a mysterious gateway that had appeared near Liverpool St; back home a bit of googling identified it as the ventilation and access shaft called Blomfield Box, which meant a nice C19 office block got demolished 10 years ago. Shame.

  10. Nicholas Bennett says:

    So different from my commuting days as a student at the East London College from 1966-68. The East London Line from New Cross Gate to Whitechapel operated with trains dating from the 1920s, water running down the walls and a rush hour extension to Shoredirch.

  11. Tony Harvey says:

    Thanks for the great website and commentary. I worked directly for TfL- (LUL, engineering)- for 12 years, enjoyed much of it and learned a lot there but was glad and very lucky to leave it and the commercial world in 2000.
    I agree with some commenters the new station is extravagant and higly costly even though beautiful and very functional. I explored it (excl Crossrail) physically today. This enormous station is of course all about promoting more and more economic growth which is leading inexorably and obviously to climate breakdown and will have to stop and very soon. But that means a collapse of the hopeless debt based monetary and speculation based economic system which needs to and is coming soon.

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