Five things we already know about Crossrail 2’s Euston-St. Pancras mega-station

Could all this be one station soon? Euston (left), St. Pancras (centre), Kings Cross (right). Image: Google.

Okay, Crossrail hasn’t even finished yet, but there’s no better time to get excited about all things Crossrail 2 than at least 12 years too early.

By far the most impressive sounding of the improved stations it’ll bring is north London’s new, so-called ‘megastation’: Euston St. Pancras. This will involve joining Euston and King’s Cross St. Pancras together as one giant underground station. Some versions of the plans show Euston Square being absorbed into the whole thing, too.

And so, to whet your appetite, here are five (loosely defined) facts about the proposals.

1. It will be the biggest station in London…

At the moment, the south rules, with Waterloo receiving 100m or so entry and exits annually – a number very likely to grow over the coming years.

The proposed Crossrail 2 route.

Fairly impressive, you might think. Not to Euston St. Pancras, which merges two of the busiest train stations in the capital (and, let’s not forget, Euston Square).

Even without considering the capacity increase brought by Crossrail 2 – around 10 per cent, to be precise – a merger of the three stations now would serve a whopping 150m people per year. That’s about 5 per cent of all the passengers on the entire underground network, passing through that station alone.

2. ...so big, in fact, that you might be able to get a train from one end to the other

“This is Euston St. Pancras. The next station is Euston St. Pancras.”

Sure, Bank may be a hellish labyrinth (especially in this never-ending heat) but it’s not quite a 15-minute brisk walk end-to-end. That’s about how long it takes to walk along the Euston Road, from the westernmost proposed entrance to the easternmost entrance of King’s Cross St. Pancras, as it currently stands.

Oh god: an unofficial draft of the 2040 tube map, showing Crossrail 2. Image: Ali Carr.

Just as well then, that Euston St. Pancras may well end up having a tube journey from end to end. Today, both the Victoria line and Bank branch of the Northern line run east from Euston to King’s Cross St. Pancras. If HS2 ends up meaning Euston Square gets in on the action too, that’ll be five different tube lines which will do this. If that’s not the definition of a megastation, I’m not sure what is.

3. Its trains will serve destinations over 1,000 miles apart

Okay, I accept that maybe this is cheating. This isn’t technically a fact about the tube station – although it would be a pretty impressive show of one-upmanship on Crossrail’s Reading-Shenfield record.

It is, however, the distance you’ll be able to travel with just one change in the Euston-King’s Cross-St. Pancras complex. Euston’s Caledonian sleeper can take you up to the capital of the Highlands, Inverness, whilst St. Pancras’s Eurostar service stretches down to Marseilles on the Mediterranean coast in the summer.

Unfortunately, no reliable source could tell me whether Hogwarts is to the north or south of Inverness, so I haven’t been able to account for services departing from Platform 9¾.

4. Euston St. Pancras will finally out-do Liverpool Street for number of lines served

Right now, King’s Cross St. Pancras serves the largest number of lines on the tube network, six. It shares this title with Bank (Central, Northern, Waterloo & City, DLR), if you count Monument (District, Circle). It sort shares it with Liverpool Street (four tube lines, plus Overground and TfL Rail), too.

Thanks to that pesky Crossrail 1, Liverpool Street will soon increase its count to seven – replacing TfL Rail with the proper Elizabeth Line, and gaining a direct link to the Northern line’s Bank branch at Moorgate. But, following a £30bn infrastructure project and three-station merger, Euston St. Pancras will finally leave Liverpool Street in the dust with an unprecedented eight lines – gaining Euston’s Overground coverage and, of course, Crossrail 2.


5. It has a really stupid name

Now, this may sound like an opinion rather than a fact – but hear me out.

King’s Cross is perhaps the most significant station of the three. Firstly, it is the name most associated with that area of London these days, despite St. Pancras’s long history as the rightful title of the area. It thus seems ludicrous to drop it from the name of the station.

Secondly, doing so threatens to reignite a centuries-long rivalry. The original King’s Cross station, home of the Great Northern Railway, used to host its rivals, the Great Midlands Railway, until the latter decided to build the bigger, fancier station just over the road.

Despite the Great Midlands’ best efforts, King’s Cross still stands strong, even beating St. Pancras in passenger numbers. So, let’s not let the TfL naming system glibly allow the neo-gothic flashman of a station finally do in its older, less ostentatious rival.

 

Proposed works in the Euston St. Pancras area. Image: Crossrail 2.

Then what should we end up calling it?

Perhaps we can add another fact to the list with the most convoluted name: Euston Square King’s Cross St. Pancras. Or opt for the subtler Somers Town, the home of all three stations, from the Great Northern-Midlands rivalry until now – and the place shaped most by this monumental project.

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A Century after radical leftists were elected to its city hall, Vienna’s social democratic base is slipping away

Karl Marx Hof. Image: Kagan Kaya.

Karl Marx-Hof, a kilometre-long municipal apartment block in Vienna’s wealthy 19th district, was first named after the father of the communist movement by Austria’s Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP) in 1927. Its imposing structure borrows from an eclectic mix of modernist, Bauhaus, art deco, neoclassical and baroque architectural styles. In the mould of early soviet experiments, the building, nicknamed The Palace of the Proletariat, housed shared childcare services, gardens and washrooms.

The building is Vienna’s most prominent physical reminder of a period known as Red Vienna, when left-wing radicals found themselves at the helm of the Hapsburg’s former imperial capital during the aftermath of the First World War. 

After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy in 1918, the SDAP won the fledgeling republic’s first elections held under universal suffrage and commenced an ambitious programme of social and economic reform. Leading intellectual lights of the party sought to unite the two great strands of the 20th-century labour movement, reconciling parliamentary socialism and revolutionary communism under their new current of non-Bolshevik “Austro-Marxism”. Karl Marx-Hof epitomised their radical ambitions. “When we are no longer here”, Mayor Karl Seitz told an assembled crowd of workers at the building’s opening in 1930, “these bricks will speak for us.”

When I visited Karl Marx-Hof on a sunny day in June, Monica and George, two of its residents, were walking their two Chihuahuas around the estate’s leafy, quiet courtyards. “We moved here last year,” Monica tells me. “It’s really nice because you’ve got a lot of green space in the middle of the city.”

The young couple are the beneficiaries of a generous system of public housing provision. Vienna has a relative abundance of high-quality municipal flats compared with most large capitals. “We weren’t waiting long for the flat – moving in here was really fast”, Monica says. Currently, 60 per cent of Vienna’s residents live in either municipally owned, subsidised housing, or in social homes run by not-for-profit cooperatives. The remaining portion of private homes is subject to strict rent controls and regulations.

The social democrats and their less radical successors have remained the dominant party in Vienna since the city’s first election, save for an 11-year hiatus of fascist dictatorship from 1934, followed by Anschluss and Nazi occupation from 1938. The city remains a red statelet in an otherwise conservative country. Indeed, Austria is now more associated with the far right than the radical left. But even Vienna is no longer immune to the trend of waning support for centre-left parties that has gripped European countries since 2008, and cracks are beginning to appear in its social democratic project.

Two exhibitions in the city – one in the former communal wash house of Karl Marx-Hof, the other in the grand Wien Museum MUSA – note the achievements of Red Vienna’s experiment in local socialism: the introduction of pensions and unemployment support; the establishment of a nascent public healthcare system; the opening of kindergartens, schools run on Montessori principles, public baths, open-air swimming pools, libraries, parks, leisure facilities, arts centres; and, of course, a programme of mass council house building, all paid for by a system of progressive income taxation coupled with duties on luxury goods, including servants, champagne, private cars and riding horses.

Unlike the Bolsheviks, (and partly because, as a provincial government, it lacked the powers to do so), the SDAP did not expropriate or nationalise factories or private industry without compensation, but instead paid former owners whenever buildings or land passed from private to public hands. The party built what it perceived to be the chrysalis of a new egalitarian society, while leaving the market and private ownership of the means of production largely intact. In many ways, its policies palliated the worst effects of early 20th century industrial capitalism like slum housing, mass unemployment and extreme poverty. Red Vienna laid the ground for the modern European welfare state, inspiring other social democratic governments across the continent to implement similar policies after the Second World War. 


“Back then the social democrats were good,” Monica tells me, attempting to calm her excitable dogs by pulling on their leads. Does she intend to vote for the social democrats in the upcoming national elections in September? “We vote for the blue ones,” she answers. Monica and George will cast their vote for the Freheitliche Partei Osterreichs (FPO), the Freedom Party, an organisation founded after the Second World War by a former Nazi minister of agriculture and high-ranking SS officer. “It’s because of all the refugees and all the violence that’s going on here,” she claims. “Shootings are more frequent in Vienna.”

Austria has one of the lowest murder rates in the world, almost half that of England and Wales, and Vienna itself is known for its relative safety compared to other European capitals. But hundreds of thousands of refugees have travelled through Austria over the last four years. Many have made the city their home, but most have transited towards Germany, at Angela Merkel’s invitation. The mass movement of people from across the Mediterranean to central and northern Europe has ruptured the country’s social-democratic pact. In 2016, Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party narrowly missed out on victory in the presidential election, receiving 46 per cent of the vote.

“Lots of people say they’re just racists,” Monica continues, visibly uncomfortable with the idea that people would attribute malice or prejudice to voters like herself. But she hastens to add that her views, and those of her partner George, aren’t necessarily typical of Vienna’s affluent 19th district. “There are very rich people here, so they vote for the party who protects their interests… You’ll see a lot of big houses, so I think the OVP, the People’s Party, would do well.”

The OVP is the more traditional centre-right party of Austrian politics, and wins the most seats in the 19th district. Yet the city’s voting patterns are diverse. This is partly a result of the policies of successive social democratic administrations placing the integration of social classes and income levels at the heart of their municipal agenda. Subsidised housing can be found alongside wealthy private apartments in the city centre designed by Renzo Piano, and at the foot of the city’s vineyards near up-market wine taverns. Kurt Puchinger, chair of wohnfonds_wien, the city’s land and housing fund, tells me that the council “do not want to have a situation where you can identify the social status of a person by their home address.”

Despite the SDAP’s century-long efforts to promote social cohesion, recent years have seen the rise the FPO’s vote share at the expense of the left. Favoriten is a more solidly working class area of Vienna in the 10th district. There, according to Monica, “most vote for the Freedom Party because they are for stopping migration.” She pauses to consider her words. “Not stopping. Trying to find a way to filter them and control them. Every country has a problem like this.”

Monica’s feeling for the electoral preferences of each of the various Viennese districts proves accurate. After the war, Favoriten elected communists as their local representatives. The district's loyalties quickly switched to the social democrats, and until 2005 the party could comfortably expect to receive over half the votes there, consistently getting more than double the votes of both the far-right Freedom Party and the centre-right People’s Party. But in the most recent 2015 election, the Freedom Party won 24 seats and 38 per cent of the vote, only two points and one seat behind the social democrats. In Austria nationally, the People’s Party, headed by a 32-year-old leader, Sebastian Kurz, with Patrick Bateman overtones, has formed a government with the Freedom Party – but their coalition collapsed ignominiously in May.

Neither Austria as a whole, nor Favoriten in particular, are outliers. In France, Le Pen’s National Rally polls well in the Communist Party’s former “ceinture rouge” outside Paris. In Britain, Labour’s post-industrial heartlands are turning towards the Brexit Party, while blue collar workers in America’s rust belt have backed Donald Trump. And in Vienna, neither the impressive legacy of the SDAP nor the continually high standard of living (the city was rated as the world’s most liveable for the 10th time in 2018 by Mercer, the consultancy giant) is enough to stem the tide of right-wing populism.

Until he was unseated as leader following a corruption scandal in May, Heinz-Christian Strache positioned the FPO as the party of the working class, a guarantor of Austrian identity, and the protector of a generous welfare system now threatened by an influx of migrants. “We believe in our youth,” ran one of his slogans, “the [social democrats] in immigration.”

Sofia is a masseuse who has lived in Karl Marx-Hof for 19 years with her partner and his son. “People are angry with the social democrats now because of refugees,” she told me. “They should change this... They should say ‘we are on the left but we can’t accept everybody here.’” The view that the party have abandoned their traditional voters is widespread, but Sofia isn’t fond of the alternatives. “The FPO – the Nazis – you can’t vote for the Nazis… anyone who votes FPO isn’t my friend… But I won’t vote for the People’s Party because they do everything for rich people, not normal people.”

Sofia reserves her strongest criticism for the youthful Sebastian Kurz, who is likely to become head of another People’s Party-led coalition after elections in September. “I’m scared of him,” she says. “I think he’s a psychopath. I think he’s not a normal person.”

Like many Viennese, Sofia admires the legacy of Red Vienna: “The socialists did a lot of really good things. We are the only city in the world that has so much state housing. And they brought in pensions, health insurance, a lot of things.” But she’s not sure they will get her vote in 2019. In an era of polarisation and anti-establishment rhetoric, the most fertile yet unoccupied political ground seems to be for a radical, redistributive economic programme, coupled with a more conservative vision of shared responsibilities and values, national sovereignty, and sociocultural issues.

“Even in the working class areas of the city,” sighs Kurt Puchinger, the city’s housing fund chair, “less people are voting social democrat. And this is a pity.” 100 years since the old radical Social Democratic Workers’ Party was first elected by a restive, war-weary working class, the working class remains restive, but while the SDAP’s flagship Karl Marx-Hof still stands, the bricks no longer seem to be speaking for them.