Rail Industry Focus


Looking to the future at Victorian Paddington

Source: RTM Apr/May 16

Natalie Holden, senior commercial scheme sponsor for the Paddington project at Network Rail, talks to RTM’s Luana Salles about the ongoing work to replace the station’s intricate glass roof, upgrade its retail hub, and of the changes simultaneously taking place underneath.

Late last year, Manchester Victoria station opened its doors to passengers with a new-look concourse and massive glass canopy towering over what had once been a much dimmer, drearier building, effectively making it unrecognisable compared to its earlier years. 

Very similar ambiance changes have been taking place at London Paddington, Network Rail’s seventh busiest station overall. Its former glass panels had become extremely discoloured over the years due to the amount of fumes the station had dealt with – national press reported last year that its trains’ diesel emissions at peak times exceeded European limits – and gradually created the appearance of a very dark roof instead. 

Natalie Holden, senior commercial scheme sponsor for the Paddington improvement project, said the renewed ceiling doesn’t even compare to what the station used to have. 

“Because of the roof scheme, the feel of the station itself is different,” she told RTM. “It does feel a lot brighter, a lot lighter – and as a result of that, people often comment that when you’re in a brighter and lighter area, you feel it’s a more enjoyable place to be in. That’s certainly helped the passenger experience.” 

The station, originally designed by engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, is a Grade 1 listed structure nested in the heart of London, just a few doors down from Hyde Park. Its massive glazed roof, inaugurated in 1854, is a key element of Brunel’s legacy. 

Intricate Victorian roof work 

In terms of roof work, Holden said the polycarbonate panels for Spans 1-3, above platforms 1-8, in the main train shed at the station are already complete. Overall, work consists of repairing the roof structure and fabric, replacing the polycarbonate glazing, re-decorating the metal structure, future-proofing for services and upgrading the lighting. 

“The entire replacement of the polycarbonates will be complete around June, because we need to get all of our scaffolding down as well. We worked on the polycarbonate that was actually contained on the spans themselves, but we also worked on the transepts and the valley girders; they were replaced and maintained where needs be,” she added. 

“The spans themselves are made up of some intricate Victorian scrollwork. All of those scrolls were taken off, and there were 3,910 scrolls in total. Every single one was slightly different, so each one had to be labelled carefully, sent off to be refurbished, or completely renewed. And then they had to be put back up as well.” 

In total, she estimated that Network Rail engineers are around 40% through the work of replacing the scrolls, which, along with the clean glass panels, have already helped bring in intense natural sunlight, thus enhancing customer experience during times of inevitable disruption and additional upgrades. 

Heritage protection and public engagement 

Network Rail kicked off the £20m Paddington station facelift in July last year, which involved redoing ‘the Lawn’, its retail outlet area, along with ongoing works on the roof and lighting systems above the platforms. At the time, Holden had already guaranteed they were working closely with Historic England (formerly part of English Heritage) to preserve the legacy of Brunel’s building. 

Speaking to RTM, she said this partnership had continued throughout the entire process, as well as including close collaboration with architectural designers and Westminster City Council. Engineers put up comprehensive scaffolding – 26 sections of it in total – hung from the roof to protect the building and work on different sections carefully. 

“We have also tried as far as possible to maintain the original appearance of the roof,” she added. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job – we’ve kept it as sympathetic as we could to how it was originally.” 

Claiming her team had not received any council complaints during the process, she explained: “We start engagement with the councils really early, so we have steering groups and we plan strategies together. They are quite informed and they had opportunities to visit the site.” 

In terms of engagement with the wider public, Holden said it was really important that they maintained a ‘business as usual’ approach at the station. 

“Last July, we started communicating that there were a number of schemes at Paddington station that were taking place, but it was business as usual: that trains running wouldn’t be affected, and that you would still be able to use all the facilities at the station, but you may not get some of the retail offerings that you would’ve wanted – you just had to be aware that things are slightly different,” she explained. “For example, we didn’t have M&S and Sainsbury’s open at the same time, but we always made sure there was a supermarket open.”

The Lawn

 The Lawn 

These retail offerings are mostly located in the Lawn, the retail and dining hub at the back of the station that was originally the lawn of the Victorian station master’s cottage and is now closed for upgrade . 

Its redevelopment is phased in two stages, the first of which includes shop fitting and bringing tenants back in, due for completion in May. Network Rail has already passed the halfway mark in the 54-week Lawn revamp project, and phase B is due to finish later this year, at which point the hub will be officially reopened. 

“At the moment, we’re negotiating with a number of retailers to see who exactly will go back into the station,” she said. “But what we have done is completed some pedestrian and shopfront analysis, and we’ve also conducted some interviews at the station, to understand the retail offering that people wanted at Paddington. 

“We studied to see which retails were busiest and at what time, so we’re hoping to be able to really make a statement at the station, that we put retail in place that is actually what the passengers want at the moment. It’s a reflection of their needs, really.” 

Asked if this is standard practice for Network Rail, Holden said they are increasingly trying to accommodate passengers’ requirements at all different stations. “I think as we move ever forward to strive to improve, that marketing information is becoming more and more important to us,” she added. 

Similar aspects of customer behaviour also fed into other elements of Paddington’s upgrade work, such as the placement of the lifts, escalators and, importantly, signage – making sure everything was positioned in relation to Network Rail’s understanding of how people move around the station.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


James Miller   31/05/2016 at 17:21

The most annoying thing about the refurbishment of Paddington has been the lack of a Marks and Spencer Simply Food. I'm coeliac and must have gluten-free food. No other store comes close with the variety and quality. As the Bakerloo escalators are out at the moment, I've been avoiding Paddington like the plague.

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