Tracking The London Bridge Station Situation

Tom Strudwick gets underneath developments at London Bridge station – and the barriers to completion.

In case you hadn’t noticed, there are a few changes happening at London Bridge train station. Among these changes are improved tracks and platforms across the board, as well as a 50 percent rise in journeys via the country’s fourth busiest station.

But as you may have read in the national press, it’s not going too well, with passengers being forced to jump over barriers to avoid being crushed by surging numbers of commuters. I visited Principle Engineer for Station West Andrew Milsom at his on-site office. Here, he puts me on the right track:

The pile-ups are happening because between platforms 10 and 15, there is only one set of barriers. This is probably going to go on until August next year, but will decrease to nothing by the end of the developments.

Despite Network Rail’s Managing Director Phil Hufton having commissioned independent research into how to improve crowd management, Andy assures me there’s not much that can be done. The project which is now entering its second stage is different to other projects Andy has worked on, as he tells me:

The difference is that the dates absolutely cannot be changed. If something is done late it can cost us millions of pounds a day so we cannot afford delays. We’ve actually been looking at bringing certain developments forward. For instance we’ve recently had to use a crane to lift in another crane, just so we’re prepared. For us, the plan B is to find another way to get it done on time.

With the station being used for 55 million journeys each year, it’s hardly a surprise that the improvements being made to the station are causing a few headaches. I was shocked to discover the original budget of the project was £480 million, but now, over £784 million has been spent on the upgrades – an underestimate of £304 million. According to Milsom, this is due to the lack of flexibility of timings. London has been promised a new station by 28 May 2018, and this is a date which cannot be missed. On budgeting, he says:

A well designed project is usually within 10 percent of its original budget, but most jobs are within percent. That’s not to say this is a badly designed project however.’

I went on to ask Andy what has made the project so challenging, and what effect the project will have on the surrounding areas

One of the most difficult challenges we’ve faced here is that the station remains open throughout the duration of the project. But the project is going to be problematic until August 2016, then it’ll get better until it’s completed in May 2018. In terms of office and retail space though, I think investors will realise the potential and property and office space will become more expensive.

So it’s bad news for local businesses, but good news – eventually – for all those who commute in and out of London Bridge.

The question remains, though: can we last out that long?