In about a decade, the first HS2 train will arrive at London Euston station, and right now a huge construction site is preparing for that moment, with a chance last week to go and see what is happening.

Peering down from the HS2 offices into the basement of a former Euston station office block, this is a taster of what the rest of the site looks like today. This current site clearance is to make space for the new London Underground station that will be needed to handle the huge numbers of people arriving at Euston in a decade’s time.

However the main site is around the side and back of Euston station where a huge new underground box is being built to house 10 additional platforms for HS2 trains, along with all the support facilities, and further north, another construction site is building the approach tracks and tunnels.

A lot of land had to be cleared first, so that’s been a lot of old offices, some residential flats, and more famously, a huge graveyard, and all this is just one stage of the preparation works before the station construction can even start.

An entire road bridge got in the way at Granby Terrace that had to be demolished and rebuilt later in a more suitable height. However, it’s not easy to demolish a bridge that also happens to carry an awful lot of utility piles under the surface, all of which had to be diverted into either permanent new homes or given a temporary diversion while works are underway.

This is the difficulty of building in an urban site, someone else has already built something there before you, and it has to be dealt with.

When it opens, the station will offer trains every six minutes when it opens, rising to nearly one every four minutes when the full line is completed and will be expected to handle 166,000 passengers per day. To handle all those trains needs a lot more platforms if now it seems one fewer than originally desired. The HS2 platforms will be around 8 metres (26 feet) below ground level and will sit in a box that’s about 90 metres wide and 500 metres long.

The construction method is interesting.

A standard top-down construction will remove the soil down to just below platform level, piles are driven down, then the main supporting concrete slab will be poured. While they then start building upwards from the platform level, another team will dig underneath the concrete slab to create the basements needed for the train support facilities and station utilities.

The piles are also innovative.

Normally, piles are built by drilling a deep hole in the ground, dropping in a pre-assembled metal structure then filling up with concrete. So far the same, but the innovation is how they handle the top of the pile.

Normally, it’s pretty difficult to get the exact amount of concrete into the pile as some will settle so they overpour, then when it has all hardened, a team comes into manually clean off the top of the pile, breaking out the unwanted concrete. Not just a really unpleasant task for the workers, but noisy for neighbours and a waste of otherwise perfectly good concrete.

A technique developed here at Euston station by Lee Piper, working for HS2 contractor Skanska Costain STRABAG joint venture (SCS) and colleague Deon Louw from Cementation Skanska removes all the surplus concrete while it’s still curing using a giant vacuum machine that sucks it away.

That gives them a “zero trim” pile that is perfectly level with the ground and no need for extra manual labour to trim away the unwanted concrete. Whilst vacuum excavation technology is not new, using it in this way in the construction sector marks a step change, and it’s now being looked at for other HS2 sites where a lot of piles need to be driven into the ground.

The new piling technique is one step towards reducing the quite considerable disruption that a construction site of this scale can’t avoid causing. Apart from the several thousand residential neighbours who understandably would like there to be a lot less noise and dirt, they also have a number of institutions, including the Royal College of General Practitioners. That’s the building where budding GPs come to pass exams, and HS2 has an agreement to avoid construction work next to their building on GP exam days.

At the moment though, the site is still in the clearance and preparation stage before the main construction can even start. Apart from moving utilities out of the way – including soon a major water pipe running right along the side of the site, they have to start installing the thick concrete walls around the edges that will support the ground as they dig down to where the platforms will be.

Considering how vast and open the site is, one project that’s advancing is hidden from view underneath an acoustic shield is currently constructing a replacement ventilation and electricity supply for the London Underground to replace a small red-tiled building that had served that purpose. That former tube station building will be demolished, but not until its replacement is ready, and TfL’s heritage team have been over it taking all the good bits for their museum.

Over the next few years, the station will be dug down and built up to create the new HS2 station, but what happens afterwards is going to be of equal importance to the people who live and work in the area – the oversite development.

At the moment, even before the HS2 building site sealed off a large chunk of land, the Euston station and railway cutting was a rather unwelcoming area for residents and the lack of east-west travel added to journey times.

A major redevelopment is being planned, with offices to the front of the site closest to the busy main roads, and loads of housing to the rear closer to the existing residential estates.

When the Oakervee Review was published, one of the things it called for was a joined-up organisation to bring together all the parties involved at Euston to ensure there’s a single vision for the whole development. That’s the Euston Partnership, and apart from delivering a new railway station, arguably the biggest impact will be what the area looks like afterwards.

Looking at the recent redevelopment at King’s Cross where they had 67 acres to develop, Euston is slightly smaller at 60 acres, but aims to fit three times more development than was added at King’s Cross.

Part of the difference is that King’s Cross had a lot of surviving heritage, so it wasn’t possible to build lots of tall towers on much of the site, which gives Euston the capacity that King’s Cross lacked. However, that’s a mixed blessing, as Euston is almost a blank canvas and needs to be developed carefully to avoid becoming acre after acre of uniform blocks of buildings.

A lot of pre-planning work is going into liaising with locals to learn what is good, and what went wrong at King’s Cross. For example, the pedestrian link between King’s Cross and St Pancras station is great for taxis, but frankly, a bit of a mess for pedestrians. There’s a lot of thinking going into how to link Euston with St Pancras, mainly by creating a pleasant walking route away from the main Euston Road. At the same time, they need to ensure the route, though residential areas are pleasant for everyone, and that includes not annoying residents with the sounds of a thousand wheeled suitcases rumbling over pavements.

The eventual aim is for an estate built above a replacement Euston station that’s also a lot more permeable for people living around it rather than a “fortress Euston”, which is a bit how the station feels at the back today.

So above as below, Euston is being transformed.

Former office building now site for the London Underground construction box

About half-way along the future HS2 platforms looking towards Euston Road

Retaining walls being built around the station box

Retaining walls being built around the station box

The white box is the shed covering the replacement London Underground substation and the red building is the old substation

Looking towards the where the tunnel portal will be built

What’s left of Granby Terrace road bridge

Diging deep to instal the piles for the platforms

The tools of the job

Temporary sheet piling and the new innovative permanent piles

Zero trim piles waiting for a retaining wall to be poured on top.

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19 comments
  1. Brian Butterworth says:

    “There’s a lot of thinking going into how to link Euston with St Pancras, mainly by creating a pleasant walking route away from the main Euston Road.”

    I found yesterday that you can now walk on the south side of the Crick Institute along Dangoor Walk, down Ossultranon Street a very little and though Somers Town House courtyard onto Chalton Street, down the Churchway alley onto Doric Way and then you’re at the Evershop Street entrance to Euston.

    Just 550 meters compared to the signposted Brill Place/Phoenix Road route of 750 meters.

    (There’s a Story Garden for your list of pocket parks, on Ossultranon Street).

    • Ramon Prasad says:

      Bunkum! A family of 10 have just completed a 3 hour journey on a HIGH SPEED2 TRAIN FROM MANCHESTER (shall we say) and they are going to get another HIGH SPEED1 TRAIN FROM ST PANCRAS GOING TO MARSEILLE (shall we say) another 3 hour journey.

      And, you say that this family of 10 are going to spend half a hour getting lost in the streets, that haven’t been demolished, between Euston and St Pancras.

      So what kind of travel do you call do you call this interregnum walking the streets of London? “LOW SPEED 23”.

    • ChrisC says:

      Ramon

      I love a good rant but please keep them within the bounds of reality and facts.

      The HS2 MAN-EUS will take just over 60 minutes not 3 Hours (the current time is 2 hrs 15 minutes)

      STP to Marseille is around 6 1/2 hours not 3.

      Both facts easily verifiable.

      The street route between EUS and STP is well signposted and takes 10-15 minutes to walk at most. If people get lost then they haven’t been paying attention to where they are going.

      You can also do it by tube, bus or taxi if you so choose.

  2. James says:

    Euston is and will remain a carbuncle until the dark 1960s monstrosity of the main station is completely demolished

    • Chris Rogers says:

      Architecturally it’s actually a lovely station save the ugly new mezzanine. What few today realise is that it was designed with multiple layers to separate different types of user and traffic, including a massive freight and mail terminal on the roof and numerous rooms to support 1960s train travel – there were new spaces for train crews and station, staff, engineers and caterers, police officers and clerks, as well as
      linen stores, freezers and a medical centre. Download my pdf at http://www.chrismrogers.net/design-white-heat-london/4594791201

    • Heather Parry says:

      I completely agree. I use it principally to travel between Watford and London. Standing on the concourse waiting to find out from which platform the next train will leave followed by a stampede down the ramp so those most in need of a seat are least likely to get one is dangerous and poor care of passengers. I am not interested in the retail and fast food opportunities; I just want to get home safely.

  3. Peter says:

    Very interesting article Ian. For the first time I now understand that the new Euston is to be on different levels. Deepest are the tube station platforms, then 8 metres below the existing platform level will be the HS2 platforms, then of course, the existing platforms.
    It would be useful to see a cut-through diagram of how all these levels are to be linked.
    Then on top of the new station it sounds like a whole new housing and office development will arise, which makes sense as presumably that can help off-set the cost of the new station.

  4. Mike A says:

    Great article, but quick correction – the white shed is not the location of the new substation; this is down on Stephenson Way (google HS2 sugar cube). The shed is to facilitate the associated tunnelling.

  5. Rob says:

    Chris C – clearly its stupid not having direct route from HS2 bypassing London direct to continent, you miss the point !No one will swap aeroplane for split journey involving a walk in all weather.

  6. Ramon Prasad says:

    I chose 3 hours as a sample time for both HS2 in Angleterre and HS1 in France. (See letter from ChrisC above). As it happens I do not keep either HS2 or HS1 timetables handy for bedtime reading.

    The point, as I suspect he knows all too well, is that it is a nonsense to drag anyone out of an HS train arriving at Euston,and plonk them into another HS train departing from St Pancras only 1/2 mile away.

    The original plans provided a link between HS2 and HS1 but this was scrapped because of government costcutting.

    I will make a prediction which ChrisC, or anyone else, can chase me down the annals of time with:-

    Both HS2 and HS1 projects will be dogged by endless criticism until a government appears with the guts and gumption to fund and build a proper rail link between the two. ( That means you do not have to get off the train to transfer between HS1 and HS2 or vice versa).

    • Heather Parry says:

      You’re confident the link to Manchester will be built, are you?

    • ChrisC says:

      I don’t keep the timetables either but a quick google search would have put you right.

      If you are going to make critisism (which is absolutly fine to make) then at least be accurate in your criticism. The journey times were very, very easy to find.

      But I think you over estimate the number of people who will be transferring from HS2 to Eurostar services.

      And that is why any sort of link between the two was dropped because the cost benefit was adverse.

  7. Vv D says:

    Recently deceased Architect Nicholas Wood shared plans at open consultations and in The Camden Journal which would have linked H2S with St Pancras and Euro trains. His plans reduced the large areas of demolition as well as including cycleways, greenery and new housing .
    It could have been much more pleasant and kind

  8. SteveC says:

    All these comments about coming down into Euston and going on a great trek through Somers Town (not a particularly salubrious area btw !) and getting lost on the way to St Pancras.
    You can always just jump on the tube for one stop to Kings Cross and walk across to the interconnected St P station.

  9. SteveP says:

    Apologies if this is well-known to others, but does Euston Square (or at least the east-west Underground lines it serves) finally get an actual direct connection within the new Euston Station?

    It always seemed odd to be so close yet so far – and that no one ever thought to at least cover part of the pavement walkway between the two (you know, every now and then it rains…)

  10. Ramon Prasad says:

    You cannot use the Circle line,or the Piccadilly line, between King’s Cross/St Pancras and Euston because it would make a nonsense of using “High Speed” 1 and 2 trains to get from England to France or vice versa.

    I am spending all this money on the latest in train technology to take my family at “High Speed” between England and France, but we decided to have half an hour having a cup of tea and cakes with Aunt Victoriana who lives half way between the two stations.

    • Colin Brown says:

      Why not? Euston Square underground station will be intergrated into the new complex. The northern and victoria lines will have step free access, and already link Euston and Kings Cross. Now there is legitimate argument for building a direct link between HS/1 and HS/2. But as most us who are interested in transport related issues know, it’s more of a question as to what you can get the government to pay for, as opposed to what you like to have!

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