To the west of King’s Cross (as in, if you sprint, it will take you all of thirty seconds, if that, to get there) is another major London terminal, yet operationally, St Pancras is virtually completely separate from its neighbour. St Pancras has a storied history, and it is a survivor.
The station opened on the 1st of October 1868, to serve as the London terminus of the Midland Railway. Designer William Henry Barlow took a very different approach to the designer of King’s Cross, going for a spectacular gothic look. It was not unusual for the railway companies of the era to try and outdo one another with grandiose projects, so it would not surprise me if St Pancras was deliberately built to outshine King’s Cross, and nearby Euston.
Along with passenger services, St Pancras was quite the goods hub during its early life. Cargo such as coal, milk, and beer got hauled around, via a goods yard called Somers Town Goods Yard, adjacent to the station. This operated from 1887, through to the 1960s, though by this point, St Pancras was in decline. Passenger traffic into the poorly maintained station had fallen, and it seemed British Rail (the owners at the time) desired to do away with the tired, gloomy facility.
Rail enthusiasts had seen one station undergo an horrific refit (more on that in the Euston section), and the prospect of losing another piece of iconic rail history to bureaucratic nonsense rallied them into action. Instead of shifting services to King’s Cross and Euston, a campaign led by the Victorian Society saved St Pancras, and the station would go on to have a much greater role in UK rail network. Much of this would relate to the development of High Speed 1, and the Channel Tunnel. The advent of the Tunnel and the desire to run European-style high speed rail services through it, necessitated a terminus in London, and whilst Waterloo had served that purpose (prior to High Speed 1’s completion), the opportunity to develop a new terminus, with strong links to other parts of the country, led to St Pancras getting a huge makeover.
Today, St Pancras serves domestic locations such as Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield, via the Midland Mainline. Local services make use of the underground Thameslink platforms, serving Bedford and Luton to the north, and Gatwick Airport and Brighton to the south. Thameslink services also link St Pancras to the East Coast Mainline (which, due to the close proximity of St Pancras and King’s Cross, was relatively easy to link to). High Speed 1 carries domestic services to, among others, the southern cities of Dover and Margate, and of course, High Speed 1 also carries services to Paris, the south of France, and Brussells and Amsterdam.
Because St Pancras is so close to King’s Cross (they share an Underground station), interchange for passengers from Europe is very easy. Anyone wanting to go from London to say, Leeds, York or Edinburgh, need only cross the road. If someone desires to journey to Birmingham, Manchester or Liverpool, Euston is only a ten minute walk away (and they can still catch the Underground).
So, from being rundown, and threatened with closure, St Pancras has become one of Britain’s key transport hubs. Talk about a redemption story!