By Steven Shukor
St Pancras is to be officially opened by the Queen on Tuesday 6 November following an £800m facelift. It has been a long road but it appears that high speed rail has finally arrived in Britain.
St Pancras International aspires to be more than just a train terminus.
The station boasts Europe's longest Champagne bar
Modelled on the success of New York's Grand Central, it wants to be an attraction in its own right.
As developer London & Continental Railways (LCR) puts it, St Pancras will be "Europe's destination station".
On top of restoring more than a touch of class to railway travel, rekindling some of the romance of old, LCR want the station to be an asset for Londoners.
The station has undergone an £800m facelift, which has not only restored it to its former glory, but has dragged it into the 21st Century.
Working closely with English Heritage, the richness of William Barlow's Victorian marvel - the masonry, the mosaics, the ironwork - has been rediscovered using original materials.
Work began in the summer of 2001, with the construction of a 200m extension to the Barlow train shed, to accommodate domestic rail services.
More than 150 years of dirt has been removed from the brick work. The new roof has been fitted with 18,000 panes of self-cleaning glass.
Re-painting the ironwork required 20,000 litres of English Heritage Barlow Blue, an exact match to the original paintwork.
Sir George Gilbert Scott's Gothic facade, St Pancras Chambers, will open as a 5-star hotel in 2009, with a period-style extension built on the western side of the complex.
The station has been kitted out with state-of-the-art technology, including Wifi, touch-screen monitors and passenger information screens in all 60 retail units.
"We are trying to re-engineer the model of what a railway station is about," says Mike Luddy, the St Pancras project director.
You won't find a McDonald's or Burger King here.
CHANNEL TUNNEL LINK TIMELINE
1987 Channel Tunnel Act gets Royal Assent. Waterloo named international terminal
1991 Eastern route chosen for regeneration benefits
1994 Decision to make St Pancras London terminus. Waterloo International and Channel Tunnel open.
1996 London and Continental Railways wins Channel Tunnel Rail Link contract
1997 Eurostar revenues fall well short of projection - potential investors pull out of CTRL
1998 Government agrees to back £3.75bn of privately raised debt. Work starts on Section 1
2001 Work on Section 2 begins
2003 Section 1 of High Speed 1 (formerly CTRL) opens from the Channel Tunnel to Fawkham Junction in Kent
2006 Stratford International completed
November 2007 Waterloo Eurostar terminus to close. St Pancras and Ebbsfleet International to open
2009 Projected start of High Speed 1 domestic services. Expected opening of Stratford International
The station boasts Europe's longest champagne bar, a Searcy's brasserie and a string of Burlington Arcade-style boutiques - all open to the non-travelling public.
Below the train platforms is the undercroft, once a vast dark and dank colonnaded area used to store coal and beer, ingeniously opened up with four huge light wells.
It is the main shopping area, the Arcade, home to top brands such as Hamleys toys, Foyles books and Neal's Yard Remedies.
The concourse between the train shed and the glass roof extension is earmarked for a daily farmer's market, another idea borrowed from Grand Central.
"The retail concept won't work unless the station is really top drawer," says Mr Luddy.
He said no expense will be spared in assuring high standards of cleaning, maintenance and staffing.
There will be four times as many staff at St Pancras as at an equivalent Network Rail station, according to LCR.
LCR calls St Pancras International the jewel in the crown of a 10-year, £5.8bn project to bring high speed rail travel to the UK.
It is the first new railway for 100 years and the country's largest single construction in history - delivered on time and on budget.
St Pancras was chosen because of its excellent transport connections, next door to King's Cross with its regional, suburban and London Underground services.
When it opens on 14 November, St Pancras will be five stations in one: Eurostar, High Speed domestic services to Kent (from 2009), Midland Mainline, Thameslink and six Tube lines.
Building the line, High Speed 1 (HS1) involved the laying of 67 miles (109km) of high speed tracks between Folkestone and London.
Engineering challenges included laying track to pass over the River Medway, under the River Thames and through 11 miles (18km) of tunnels beneath London.
International trains stations have been built along the route at Ebbsfleet in Kent and Stratford, in the heart of the 2012 Olympic site in east London.
During the Games, a Japanese-style bullet train will provide a "javelin" service, transporting spectators to and from the Olympic site in just seven minutes.
The potential for economic regeneration in east London and the Thames Gateway thanks to HS1, estimated to be £10bn, was a key factor in London's bid to host the 2012 Olympics.
High speed rail
The new route will cut journey times to Paris by 20 minutes to two hours and 15 minutes and to Brussels by 25 minutes to one hour and 51 minutes.
And with the paint barely dry on St Pancras's iron arches, the rail industry is clamouring for high speed rail to be extended throughout the UK.
"HS1 is really a trailer for what we could be enjoying across the length of Britain," says Chris Green, Railway Forum chairman.
"It is the best way to get more long distance transport capacity and get the UK economy into better balance by bringing the North and South closer together."