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This article has appeared in the latest Rail Director magazine. I’m reproducing it here with extra pictures taken during my visit.

HS2 Euston visit.

On the day that HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson announced that Euston station was to have only 10 HS2 platforms but the whole station would be redeveloped in one phase I was on a site visit looking at progress on this massive project. The visit began with a briefing from Tom Venner, Managing Director of the Euston Partnership. The partnership (established in July 2020) brings together all the stakeholders and delivery partners to enable Euston to be developed together as a single scheme, under a board chaired by Network Rail’s Sir Peter Hendy. Tom updated us all on the Partnerships strategic aims whilst outlining the complexities of redeveloping the 5th busiest station on the national network, integrating it with HS2 and meeting the aims and aspirations of the local communities who have many different (and sometimes competing) priorities.

The task is vast in scale and fraught with challenges. 60 acres of the Euston area is under Government ownership and incorporated in the scheme. It’s the largest real-estate development in the capital that will take many years to complete – hence the desire to minimise disruption to local residents and users of the station by completing the scheme in one phase rather than two, even if these competing ambitions mean the Hs2 station’s platform numbers are a sub-optimal solution. It’s a difficult balancing act. Whilst the £2.6bn redevelopment will now be constructed in one long project it’s still being broken up into elements. Phase 1 is the concourse, 2 is the trainshed and 3 is opening up the Eversholt St side of the station with commercial development. The Somers Town side of Euston has always seemed to have had its back turned to this deprived area of London and the Euston masterplan is determined to address this deficiency and give the whole station more permeability

Because of all these changes a revised concept design for the new Euston won’t be available before the end of the year, so none of us yet know what the new Euston may look like in the future. 

Our briefing in the HS2 office in the podium was held against the competing background noise and vibration from heavy machinery breaking up the foundations of the old Grant Thornton tower block outside. This site will become part of the expanded London Underground station that will take the HS2 strain off the existing cramped concourse. Across Melton St’s the HQ of the Royal College of General Practitioners where every GP in the country visits to sit their exams. As a considerate neighbour, HS2 has agreed to halt noisy work like this when these crucial events take place. It’s a good example of the balance that needs to be struck.

The remains of Grant Thornton house seen from our briefing room in the Podium. The cellar levels are gradually being excavated and cleared.

Our inspection tour began on the site of the HS2 platforms on the Western side of the current station that’s been cleared of residential and commercial properties – plus the 50,000 bodies exhumed from the former St James’ burial ground which will be re-buried at Brookwood cemetery near Woking. It’s now one vast open area that exposes the footprint of the new station.

This will be the site of the HS2 platforms, albeit below present ground level. In the background you can see the old London Underground station entrance and the grey clad building that covers the current work to build the new Underground Traction Sub-Station (TSS) which will replace it.
A view looking North showing the piles installed to build the new Western Wall of the HS2 station. Beyond the grey HS2 offices and hoardings are the Hampstead Rd and some of the new homes built to replace those demolished to make way for HS2.

Here the first permanent structures are appearing in the shape of some of the 161 piles for the foundations of the station’s Western boundary wall. There’s much work to do yet. Another 7-10 metres comprising 820,000m3 of earth has to be dug out to reach basement level and negotiations are ongoing on the best way of removing the earth from site in a manner that will have the least impact on the roads and neighbourhoods around Camden. The HS2 platforms will be built 8 metres below ground level In a concrete box 90 metres wide and 500metres long. To prevent blocking nearby roads there will be a basement below which will have road access for service vehicles and staff parking as well as containing equipment rooms.

A completed section of the Western boundary wall of the new HS2 station with the old station in the background.

Meanwhile, the London Underground Traction Sub-Station (TSS) in the former station building on Melton St is being relocated with work expected to be complete in 2024 when it will be replaced by ‘the sugar cube’. Work’s currently taking place under a temporary building to lessen the noise impacts on neighbours such as the GPs college. During site clearance a Victorian cobbled Rd was found near the site of the former Maria Fedelis school. This was identified as Little George St which featured in the very first Sherlock Holmes novel (A Study in Scarlet) written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887.

Forming the boundary at the North end of the station site is the Hampstead Rd bridge which will be reconstructed and extended to allow HS2 to pass under the busy A400. Like the TSS, this work is expected to be completed in 2026, removing the last constraint to completing the new tracks into Euston. This is another complex operation due to the need to provide sufficient clearance for HS2 tracks.

Our next stop was the new multi-storey site offices located on Stanhope St opposite the former Euston Downside carriage shed. There’s an excellent viewing platform atop the site which gives grandstand views South across Euston and central London and North to where the HS2 tunnel portals are to be built. The birds-eye view lets you appreciate the sheer size of the site and the amount of activity taking place as well as the proximity to the existing Euston station throat, which presents its own challenges. Opposite, we could see the truncated Granby St bridge, another crossing which will be extended to allow HS2 to pass beneath.  Alongside Park Village East the original brick retaining wall is being reinforced to prevent movement by the insertion of ground anchors. Fixed in double or single rows, these are between 12-20 metres in depth. This work will continue until March 2022. The site is squeezed in the middle by the Western abutment of Mornington St Bridge, a delicate site as one of the HS2 tunnels will exit at this point. To make exit from the cramped Northern part of the site easier a wagon turntable for road vehicles is to be installed.

A view of the North end of the old Euston Downside carriage shed site.
Looking back towards Euston station from atop the HS2 offices on Stanhope St.
Granby Terrace bridge has been severed (for now) but it will be extended over the HS2 tracks.
A general view of the old Downside site wit North London beyond.

Currently piling’s taking place to build the walls which will support the roof over this part of the site, as plans for the future include building homes above the tracks – some of the 1,700 that the scheme will provide at Euston.

The piling work with temporary sheet-metal piles in place as protection.

The site will also include the three-storey Euston Cavern Headhouse which will provide emergency access to the HS2 tunnels with access from Park Village East. When built the roof will also shield local residents from noise whilst the tunnel entrances are constructed. These piles have been constructed using the innovative “zero trim pile technique” which involves sucking out excess concrete while still wet using a new vacuum excavator. Traditional piling sees concrete overpoured before workers have to break out the excess. The old method can cause many health problems, including hand-arm vibration syndrome, hearing loss and silicosis, not to mention the noise, dust and disturbance caused to those living nearby. One of our guides for the tour was Lee Piper of the Skanska Costain STRABAG joint venture (SCS JV) who worked with colleague Deon Louw from Cementation Skanska to develop the pioneering approach. SCS will be installing around 2,000 piles over the next three years in the Euston area with all but 15 using the new technique. The new method  will bring benefits in terms of reduced carbon, noise reduction and safer ways of working. Chatting to Lee it was clear to see his pride in the new technique which he told me had cut 38 weeks from the piling programme, a major saving. He also told me that the zero trim pile technique was to be trialled on the Old Oak Common box where it had the potential to make huge savings in time, money and carbon on the construction of the 1.8 km long diaphragm walls. The piles finished using the method stand out because they look pristine. The rebar remains upright and undamaged whilst the base of the pile is a neat circle. Anyone who’s seen the mangled remains of piles that have been broken in the traditional method out can’t fail to notice the difference! Accompanying the concrete piles are a row of sheet piles driven into the ground to give support. These will be removed once the concrete piling is complete.

Here’s how piles produced by the zero trim pile technique look. Pristine!

Seeing the work at Euston move on from utility diversion and demolition to the start of construction makes one appreciate the length of the task ahead. The station isn’t currently scheduled to open until sometime between 2031-36 which gives an idea why the Partnership is anxious to prove itself to be a good neighbour that leaves a positive legacy. Rebuilding Euston’s going to a long process, but – if it’s done right – the long overdue redevelopment has a real opportunity to be a showcase for city redevelopment and transport integration. Time will tell…

You can view many more pictures of HS2 construction work at several sites along the route on my Zenfolio website. Link here.

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