An official and objective ranking of London’s 14 major rail terminals

Another happy day at London Victoria. Image: Getty.

14. Victoria

Awful. Ugly, dirty, with two sets of platforms so that you’re never quite sure which side of this vast charm vacuum you’re meant to be on, and jammed between the most depressing shopping mall in London and a playpark for buses. The world beyond has been in the middle of building work since before any living human can remember. And if you find yourself in Victoria then there’s a reasonable chance you are soon to find yourself in Gatwick, London’s worst airport.

It was going to be 11th, but having written this I’ve realised I was kidding myself and have re-ordered the list. It’s just the worst.

13. Euston

It would be unfair to compare Euston to hell as it does at least present an opportunity to go to a better place (Manchester, say, or Glasgow). Then again, it would be unfair to compare it to purgatory, too, as unlike that corner of Catholic mythology it also presents a risk of ending up somewhere worse. So, officially: Euston is worse than purgatory.

Not quite hell. Image: Getty.

It is, at any rate, a cramped and dirty product of the worst era of British architecture: its dirty poor quality facilities besides particularly depressing loos stand as a “fuck you” from London to those who visit it from large parts of the country. It ranks so near the bottom not just because of these qualities but because of the frequency with which any regular train passenger will find themselves encountering them. There are worse stations – but there are few this bad in which you are this likely to regularly find yourself at some ungodly hour of the morning.

12. Moorgate

As dark and dirty as the grave, and only marginally bigger. What’s worse, the furthest you can get is Letchworth. Letchworth, for heaven’s sake.

This isn’t a rail terminal: it’s a tube station going through an awkward goth phase.

11. Fenchurch Street

Geographically not much more ambitious than Moorgate – the trains only run as far as Southend, although to be fair if they went any further they’d fall into the North Sea.

Looks nice, though. Image: Getty.

This one is a proper rail terminal, at least, although the retail and refreshment facilities are second to literally everywhere and, worse, it doesn’t even have a tube station. Its inclusion on the Monopoly Board baffles me to this day.

10. Cannon Street

Strangely pointless: seems to exist entirely to complicate track arrangements out of London Bridge, a hilariously nearby station at which every train leaving Cannon Street is also destined to call.

Bloody office blocks. Image: Sunil060209/Wikimedia Commons.

On the upside, it’s clean rather than filthy, and cosy rather than cramped. On the down, it inserts an entirely unnecessary station onto the District and Circle lines from which you can literally see the next stop up the line. Not awful, exactly, just… why?

9. Marylebone

Fenchurch Street’s nicer brother: the one your mum secretly wishes you’d brought home instead. 

The newest platforms at Marylebone. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Again, it’s out of the way, its trains go to nowhere very much and it’s poorly hooked into the tube network (although not quite as poorly). But it has a decent pub, and if you don’t mind going the slow way, it provides cheaper, more comfortable and more scenic trains to Oxford and Birmingham than its larger, brasher rivals. It’s alright, really.

8. Charing Cross

Charing Cross has many of the problems of the smaller stations I’ve already talked about – It’s cramped and it’s dirty in exactly the way Simon Bradley’s mum’s house was the morning after some prick posted word of his 17th birthday party to an open group on Facebook.

Charing Cross, from the Strand. Image: Bernard Gagnon/Wikimedia Commons.

And yet…

It’s right in the heart if things. You can walk out one way and hit Trafalgar Square. Walk out the other and you’re crossing the Golden Jubilee Bridges to the South Bank. It’s a shithole. Yet, somehow, I can’t bring myself to hate it. 

Then again, I never use it, so perhaps this is just Euston syndrome in reverse.

7. Waterloo

So big and so busy – It’s the busiest station in Britain and possibly, depending on how you count, the busiest in Europe.

A particularly busy day at the busiest station. Image: Getty.

That scale is a double edged sword, though. On the one hand it feels bustling and important and like you’re really setting our somewhere. On the other, it’s overcrowded and you’re inevitably 20 platforms from the one you want, and you’re not really setting our somewhere at all because, despite being the busiest station on an entire continent, it’s served by no really long distance trains: Exeter is about the limit, and even that is reached more quickly from Paddington.

On the upside, the way London snottily pretended that the Thames didn’t have a south bank for so long means that it’s incredibly well located. The name is a nice riposte to the existence of Paris’ Gare D’Austerlitz, too.

6. Paddington

You know, a lot of people have told me they hate Paddington, and I can’t entirely see why. It’s nothing special, I guess, but there’s a certain grandeur to the scale of that glazed roof, and that, plus the lack of major barriers between concourse and platforms, gives journeys through Paddington a sense of occasion. All that, and there’s a statue of a tiny fictional Peruvian bear, too.

The concourse on a snow day. Image: Getty.

That said, it’s miles from anywhere useful, west London is generally awful, the area outside the station is particularly so, and the whole tube situation here is completely fucked up. So no way am I putting this higher than 6th place.

5. Liverpool Street

Fine, basically? Clean. Bright. Decent enough facilities. Decent enough shops. Good scale – you’re never more than about two minutes from your platform. It works.

Alright, basically. Image: Diliff/Wikimedia Commons.

I don’t think it’s a spectacular place to transit through or anything, it’s more that I just can’t think of anything grounds on which to slag it off. It’s okay. The vanilla ice cream of London rail terminals.

4. Blackfriars

Okay, now were getting to the good shit.

Blackfriars by night. Image: Andrew Dupont/Flickr/creative commons.

Blackfriars is a station that’s also a bridge. It’s literally on both sides of the river. Okay the name is annoying and its train services have been screwed since slightly before Henry II ascended the throne in 1154. But it’s a motherfucking station that crosses a motherfucking bridge. Come on, that is badass.

3. Kings Cross

A little under a decade ago, Kings Cross was awful. A tiny concourse for a huge number of long distance trains. A temporary facade that had been there 40 years. Its main purpose was to give visitors from Scotland and Yorkshire some basis for their lifelong prejudice against That London.

The hawk is not always in attendance. Image: Getty.

But then, they fixed it. The new concourse is light and airy. The curved concourse roof is a thing of beauty, and the bridge which carries departing passengers to their platform is a clever way to stop them and arrivals from getting in each other’s way. And the trains will, if you’re so minded, take you to real faraway places like Aberdeen and Edinburgh. It’s glorious.

My one slight criticism is that the public square out front which opened with such fanfare doesn’t work because it is, fundamentally, next to the closest thing you’ll find in central London to a motorway. But the station itself? Glorious.

2. London Bridge

London Bridge was a mess even more recently than Kings Cross. Months, rather than years, ago, the concourse was the size of a postage stamp and roughly as sticky, and to get to the platforms you had to walk up dark, sloping concrete corridors like a member of Spinal Tap lost in the world’s worst multi-storey car park. On, and the main entrance was through a bus shelter.

The new concourse. Image: Network Rail.

No longer. In January, the station finally opened a cavernous new ground-level concourse, which opens to the street on two sides, and takes passengers directly up to every platform via escalator. More shops and cafes are still on their way in the various arches around the station.

It’s lovely – functional and beautiful, the closest thing you’ll find in London to the greatness of New York’s Grand Central. After years of work, London Bridge has gone from being London’s worst rail terminal to a candidate for its best.

If they could just make the trains run okay, then it’d be pretty much perfect.

1. St Pancras

I mean it’s just brilliant isn’t it? The outside is beautiful. The inside is beautiful. The giant clock that looks down on the concourse is beautiful. Even the roof, for heaven’s sake, is beautiful – the blue of the arches automatically bringing to mind joyful days and cloudless skies.

Obviously the best one. Image: Getty.

All that, and you can get on a train that will take you under the sea to different countries entirely. It’s just magical: the only London station that doesn’t feel even slightly disappointing.


Praise is so much harder to write than snark, and I’m quite lazy, so I’ll leave it there, except to say: you know that they nearly demolished this place? The past was completely mad. 

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

This article first appeared on our sister site, the New Statesman.

 
 
 
 

“A story of incompetence, arrogance, privilege and power”: A brief history of the Garden Bridge

Ewwww. Image: Heatherwick.

Labour assembly member Tom Copley on a an ignominious history.

The publication last week of the final bill for Boris Johnson’s failed Garden Bridge has once again pushed this fiasco into the headlines.

As well as an eye-watering £43m bill for taxpayers for this Johnsonian indulgence, what has been revealed this week is astonishing profligacy by the arms-length vehicle established to deliver it: the Garden Bridge Trust. The line by line account of their spending reveals £161,000 spent on their website and £400,000 on a gala fundraising event, amongst many other eyebrow raising numbers. 

Bear in mind that back in 2012, Johnson promised that the bridge would be entirely privately funded. The bridge’s most ardent advocate, Joanna Lumley, called it a “tiara for the Thames” and “a gift for London”. Today, the project would seem the very opposite of a “gift”.

The London Assembly has been scrutinising this project since its inception, and I now chair a working group tasked with continuing our investigation. We are indebted to the work of local campaigners around Waterloo as well as Will Hurst of the Architects Journal, who has brought many of the scandals surrounding the project into the open, and who was the subject of an extraordinary public attack by Johnson for doing so.

Yet every revelation about this cursed project has thrown up more questions than it has answers, and it’s worth reminding ourselves just how shady and rotten the story of this project has been.

There was Johnson’s £10,000 taxpayer funded trip to San Francisco to drum up sponsorship for the Thomas Heatherwick garden bridge design, despite the fact that TfL had not at that point even tendered for a designer for the project.

The design contest itself was a sham, with one of the two other architects TfL begged to enter in an attempt to create the illusion of due process later saying they felt “used”. Heatherwick Studios was awarded the contract and made a total of £2.7m from taxpayers from the failed project.


Soon after the bridge’s engineering contract had been awarded to Arup, it was announced that TfL’s then managing director of planning, Richard de Cani, was departing TfL for a new job – at Arup. He continued to make key decisions relating to the project while working his notice period, a flagrant conflict of interest that wouldn’t have been allowed in the civil service. Arup received more than £13m of taxpayer cash from the failed project.

The tendering process attracted such concern that the then Transport Commissioner, Peter Hendy, ordered an internal audit of it. The resulting report was a whitewash, and a far more critical earlier draft was leaked to the London Assembly.

As concerns about the project grew, so did the interventions by the bridge’s powerful advocates to keep it on track. Boris Johnson signed a mayoral direction which watered down the conditions the Garden Bridge Trust had to meet in order to gain access to further public money, exposing taxpayers to further risk. When he was hauled in front of the London Assembly to explain this decision, after blustering for while he finally told me that he couldn’t remember.

David Cameron overruled the advice of senior civil servants in order to extend the project’s government credit line. And George Osborne was at one point even more keen on the Garden Bridge than Johnson himself. The then chancellor was criticised by the National Audit Office for bypassing usual channels in order to commit funding to it. Strangely, none of the project’s travails have made it onto the pages of the London Evening Standard, a paper he now edits. Nor did they under his predecessor Sarah Sands, now editor of the Today Programme, another firm advocate for the Garden Bridge.

By 2016 the project appeared to be in real trouble. Yet the Garden Bridge Trust ploughed ahead in the face of mounting risks. In February 2016, despite having not secured the land on the south bank to actually build the bridge on, nor satisfied all their planning consents, the Trust signed an engineering contract. That decision alone has cost the taxpayer £21m.

Minutes of the Trust’s board meetings that I secured from TfL (after much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Trust itself) reveal that weeks beforehand Thomas Heatherwick had urged the trustees to sign the contract in order to demonstrate “momentum”.

Meanwhile TfL, which was represented at board meetings by Richard de Cani and so should’ve been well aware of the mounting risks to the project, astonishingly failed to act in interests of taxpayers by shutting the project down.

Indeed, TfL allowed further public money to be released for the project despite the Trust not having satisfied at least two of the six conditions that had been set by TfL in order to protect the public purse. The decision to approve funding was personally approved by Transport Commissioner Mike Brown, who has never provided an adequate explanation for his decision.

The story of the Garden Bridge project is one of incompetence, arrogance and recklessness, but also of privilege and power. This was “the great and the good” trying to rig the system to force upon London a plaything for themselves wrapped up as a gift.

The London Assembly is determined to hold those responsible to account, and we will particularly focus on TfL’s role in this mess. However, this is not just a London issue, but a national scandal. There is a growing case for a Parliamentary inquiry into the project, and I would urge the Public Accounts Committee to launch an investigation. 

The Garden Bridge may seem like small beer compared to Brexit. But there is a common thread: Boris Johnson. It should appal and outrage us that this man is still being talked about as a potential future Prime Minister. His most expensive vanity project, now dead in the water, perhaps serves as an unwelcome prophecy for what may be to come should he ever enter Number 10.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly.