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 we’re 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. King’s Cross

A little under a decade ago, King’s 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.

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.