7 other things we should consider building in front of Euston station for no particularly good reason

Old Euston station, complete with arch. Image: Public Domain.

Minister of State for Transport John Hayes made a speech yesterday calling for more “beauty in transport”, by which he means that train stations him and Prince Charles like are good, and that train stations him and Prince Charles do not like are bad. In summary: boo to brutalism, cheers to classicism (and the Boris Bus, for some reason). In the speech’s conclusion, he calls for a totemic step, a statement of his intent: the restoration of the Doric Arch at Euston.

The arch was part of the original set of Victorian buildings that comprised Euston, which were all demolished in the 1960s because the station was no longer large enough for purpose. Serving no particular function other than loudly indicating here is our splendid Victorian railway station, vigorous attempts to save the arch failed and it was unceremoniously smashed up and dumped in the River Lea. Although widely regarded as a crime against architecture, this was not the universal view: Harold Macmillan, the Tory Prime Minister who oversaw the destruction, offered the typically pithy assessment that, “An obsession with such buildings will drain our national vitality”. Sick burn, HM.

A magnificent view of the Euston Arch from Euston Road in 1962. Or it would have been if the Arch wasn’t behind that hotel. Iconic. Image: Geograph/Ben Brooksbank.

 

Hayes is backing the efforts of the Euston Arch Trust to restore the arch to its rightful place or, at least, within a hundred yards of it: plans call it for it to face onto Euston Road, as the section of Drummond Street it previously stood on had the current station forecourt built on top of it, and you'd have to move the artisanal hot dog stand. But they can use quite a lot of the original stone as someone went back and fished it out of the river. It’ll certainly give the drinkers in the bars next door something to look at.

All of which is absolutely super if you, like John Hayes, think 70-foot tall doric arches are absolutely smashing. But if we’re going to build something faintly ludicrous and essentially pointless in front of Euston station, let’s consider all the options first.

We could also build:

A giant toilet

Image: Geograph/Oliver Dixon/CityMetric

 

This would help rectify London’s terrible public toilet provision AND save patrons of the Euston and Cider Tap bars from having to climb the alarming narrow spiral staircases for a wee.

 

A huge jar of Shippam’s Fish Paste

Image: Geograph/Oliver Dixon/CityMetric.

Things from the past are brilliant, after all, so let’s celebrate Britain’s culinary heritage with a vast glass jar of horrible meat paste from the days of rationing.

 

A miniature version of St Pancras station

Image: Geograph/Oliver Dixon/CityMetric.
 
People seem to love St Pancras station's Grade I listed frontage, so let's just build another, smaller one down the road.
 

A huge Sonic The Hedgehog pog

Image: Geograph/Oliver Dixon/CityMetric.

Only ‘90s kids remember it, but everyone will be awestruck by its audacious use of the classic 'circle' shape.

 

The McDonald’s Golden Arches

Image: Geograph/Oliver Dixon/CityMetric.

What better way to raise money for transport infrastructure than a sponsored Euston Arch for the 21st century. Everyone would be lovin’ it!

 

A statue of that gorilla that escaped from London Zoo and drank 5 litres of undiluted blackcurrant squash

Image: Geograph/Oliver Dixon/CityMetric.

Truly, a fitting London hero to welcome all our visitors from the north.

 

An invisible Doric Arch made of special air

Image: Geograph/Oliver Dixon.

The cheapest option by far: use a newly-invented kind of air to build an invisible replica of the arch. No-one will be able to see or touch it, but if Minister of State for Transport John Hayes asks it is absolutely, definitely there.


 

 
 
 
 

The Delhi Metro: How do you build a transport system for 26m people?

Indraprastha station in 2006. Image: Getty.

“Thou hath not played rugby until thou hath tried to get onto a Delhi Metro in rush hour,” a wise Yogi once said.

If you’ve never been on New Delhi’s Metro, your mind might conjure up the the conventional image of Indian trains: tawdry carriages, buckets of sweat, people hanging out of windows and the odd holy cow wandering around for good measure.

Well, no. The Delhi Metro is actually one of the most marvellously sophisticated, affordable, timely, and practical public transportation systems out there. On a 45C day in the Indian summer, many a traveller has shed tears of joy on entering the spacious, air-conditioned carriages.

Above ground, Delhi is a sprawling metropolis of the scariest kind: 26m people, three times the population of London, churn and grind through Delhi itself.

The National Capital Region, an area which includes Delhi and its surrounding satellite cities – now victim of its never-ending urban sprawl – has an estimated population of almost 50m. So how do you tie such a huge population together?

The map; click to expand. Image: Delhi Metro Rail.

Motorised vehicles won’t do it alone. For one, air pollution is a horrific problem in Delhi, as it is across India. Last November, the government declared a state of emergency when the Indian capital was engulfed by a toxic, choking fog so thick that you could barely see several metres in front of you, drawing allusions to the great Victorian fogs in London.

Then there’s Delhi’s famous traffic. Twenty-five years ago, the travel writer William Dalrymple observed that you could reduce the Delhi’s road laws to one simple idea: the largest vehicle always had the right of way. The traffic has tamed somewhat in the 21st century, but the number of vehicles has multiplied again and again, and it’s not uncommon for people to be stuck in four-hour traffic jams when they try to traverse the mighty city.

Enter the Delhi Metro – a huge network of 164 over- and underground stations – and by any account, a titan of civil engineering and administration.

The numbers are simply colossal. Every day the metro serves on average almost 3m people. Annually, it carries around 1bn.

In a country where intercity trains still turn up a day late, the Delhi Metro is extraordinarily timely. On the major lines, trains will come every several minutes. The trains are extraordinary speedy, and you’ll reach your destination in a fraction of the time it would take for you to drive the distance.

The minimum fare is 10 rupees (12p); the maximum fare, to and from the airport, is 50 (60p).

The evolution of the metro. Image: Terramorphus/Wikimedia Commons.

Construction of the metro system began in 1998, with the first section completed in late 2002. Keen to avoid the catastrophic corruption and bureaucratic mismanagement which plagued eastern city of the Kolkata Metro, developers took advice from Hong Kong’s high-tech system There have been several stages of development to add extra lines; more is planned. By 2020, it is hoped that the 135 miles of line will have increased to over 300.  

One thing quite striking about the metro is its women’s only carriages at the rear and the front of the train, marked by pink signs. Sexual assault and harassment has been a horrific problem on Delhi’s transport systems. Women can of course go anywhere on the train – but men who violate the carriage system will have to deal with the scathing anger of the entire pink carriage.


One of the under-discussed impacts of widespread and well-used public transportation systems is their propensity to break down social and class barriers over time. As the London Tube began to be used more and more in early 20th century London, people from completely different walks of life and classes began to brush shoulders and share the same air.

The story is similar in Delhi. The necessity of the metro helps to break down old caste and class divisions. Of course, many elite Delhiites would not be seen dead on the metro, and choose their private chauffeur over brushing shoulders with the common man. But slowly and surely, the times are a changing.

What’s more, the Delhi Metro system is one of the greenest around. Six years ago, the Metro was the first railway system in the world to be awarded carbon credits from the United Nations for helping to reduce pollution in the capital by an estimated 640,000 tonnes every year.  

All praises sung and said, however, at peak times it’s less mind the gap and more mind your ribs – as a fifth of humanity seems to try to get on and off the train at once.

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