Sunday, April 06, 2008

Kings Cross revisited

In the wake of the much-publicised problems at Heathrow ("No one does cock-ups quite like the British", as Denis Norden once remarked), I have been given cause to reflect once more on the changes wrought by three long years of construction, tons of heavy machinery, legions of hard-working builders in bright orange puffer jackets, and doubtless large sums of investment, on Europe's newest and most exciting travel hub, Kings Cross St Pancras. Not to the well-documented Eurostar terminal, which is of course fabulous to behold, whatever one thinks of the big statue, but the concurrent reconstruction of the Tube station. I know I've mentioned this before, but now the dust has settled on the new access arrangements, you do have to wonder whether they've actually achieved anything.

When the rickety old staircase that led down into the subway and under Euston Road was initaially widened, it was a revelation (I even posted my admiration on here). Where before Rush Hour at Kings Cross had been something like the attack on Helm's Deep, with two opposing hordes of commuters trying to trample over each other to get up or down (unlike Helm's Deep, there was never a clear winner - but then Gandalf never showed up), for a brief period after the new, improved portal was unveiled it was wonderfully spacious, and suddenly those same hordes were happily trotting back and forth in harmonious, mechanical efficiency, with nary a delay or traffic problem in sight. Now though, the old kitchen bin theory has once again been borne out (ie. just as if you had another bin in your kitchen it would be full too, so if you add a lane to the M25 it will get gridlocked the same as the other twenty-seven).

The Powers That Be have now decided to reinstate the rule that people can't go down the stairs during peak periods, just as they can't descend the steps within the station itself. I'm a bit confused as to where you can go, to be honest - it seems to change on a daily basis. Certainly if one wants to cross Euston Road to get a bus, one had to walk halfway across London to find a safe pedestrian crossing, then double back on oneself to get to the bus stop just in time to see one disappearing into the distance.

It would be interesting to know what metrics could be used to judge the success (assuming that failure is not an option) or the project. If one thinks in terms of number of commuters getting to the platform per hour, then there has probably been a very slight increase - something like ten more per hour. That's a pretty shoddy return on investment. But at least they don't have to worry about baggage transfers. Then we really would be in trouble.


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