St Pancras update - protest report

The protest at St Pancras Credit: Ralph Smyth

Almost a hundred cyclists circled St Pancras International on the morning of Wednesday 14th November, the first day of Eurostar service. They were there to protest that cycling seems to have been forgotten in the £800m redesign of the flagship station. The demonstration was called to highlight the lack of safe access to and from the station for cyclists, the absence of cycle stands to park bikes and the refusal of Eurostar to let customers take their bikes on the same train which they are travelling on. Campaigners say this undermines Eurostar's new green carbon-neutral image.

As the station's slick PR gushed that it has become “Europe's Destination Station, a place people will want to visit" cycle campaigners replied "...unless they are on bikes". With three cyclists killed within half a mile of the station in the last year, the immediate area has become the blackspot in London's cycling boom. Last December Italian Emma Foa was crushed to death by a Channel Tunnel Rail Link lorry while cycling to work at Camley Street.  The ride paused there for a minute's silence and was joined by her husband who has been calling for better cycling conditions.

The colourful procession started at 8.30am to the words of “I want to ride by bicycle”, the song by Queen, coming out the back of a cycle trailer mounted sound system. After going round the station anti-clockwise the ride dismounted to travel along one-way Midland Road, highlighting the missing link from the western station exits to the London Cycle Network.

Campaigners met Transport for London and the London Borough of Camden last week to call for urgent safety improvements. Cyclist Mark Whitby, formerly president in 2001 of the Institution of Civil Engineers stated: "St Pancras International itself may be a masterpiece of transport engineering but this stops when you walk out of the station. The streets around it are the opposite of European best practice and are an insult to anyone who is walking or cycling.  While pedestrians leaving the new station are herded into 'cattle pens' to cross the road, cyclists are sent round an extended gyratory system.”

Then the station car park was inspected, where last night 50 new cycle stands with space for 100 bikes were rushed in by an embarrassed Network Rail. Previously there were only 30 unsecured 'wheelbender' loops at the furthest end of the car park. Camden Cycling Campaign co-ordinator Jean Dollimore said: "Proper stands for 100 bikes is definitely a step in the right direction but the huge demand at other London stations shows we’re likely to need a lot more. Rotterdam's new railway station is to have 8,000 while Cambridge is being expanded from 2,000 to 3,000.”

Finally the cyclists managed to take their bicycles and banners in with them into the main platform and rang their bells in to join in the celebrations when the first services arrived.
Eurostar have now promised to enable customers to reserve cycles onto the same train that they are travelling on rather than the current “within 24 hours” by early 2008, becoming the first high speed service in Europe to permit cycles on all its trains.  However this will be too late for those travelling today to Paris who are likely to find all public transport suspended and huge queues for the popular Vélib rental cycles.  City Cyclists co-ordinator Ralph Smyth said:“What's the point of saving 20 minutes only to be stuck in traffic jams or face unreliable public transport services? Cycling is not just the fastest and most reliable way around London, Paris and Brussels it's also the greenest.”

Koy Thomson, Chief Executive of LCC, said: “If Eurostar presents itself as the modern low-carbon alternative to air travel, it must think beyond its stations and help customers make sustainable choices.”

Comments on this article

Comments have now been closed on this article.

Comment from Paul:

Well done! With regards to the 100 cycle stands turning up pronto, it just shows you that direct action is the best way to get results.

Comment from: Andrew:

In principle I welcome the building of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link as a less environmentally damaging alterative to yet more airport expansion. But we need to make the area around St Pancras/Kings Cross a less hostile area for cyclists, as well has providing adequate bike parking facilities.

Also let's make the Eurostar trains more bicycle friendly. It would be a great improvement to be able to take the bike on the same train you are travelling on. I would like to be able to take my bike on the Eurostar to Brussels then on to Amsterdam for a cycling holiday in Holland. Better still would be a train through from London to Amsterdam. (At one time there was to have been an overnight sleeping train from London to Amsterdam; I had hopes of being able to take my bike on such a train.)

We also need to ensure facilities are provided for taking non-folding bikes on the new Javelin high speed trains from St Pancras and Stratford to various destinations in Kent.

PS. For a time Eurostar trains were being used on GNER services from London Kings Cross to Leeds. Presumably it was possible to take bikes on those trains, so why not on these same trains from London St Pancras to Paris/Brussels?

Comment from Simon:

The absence of cycle racks just shows the absence of joined-up transport thinking in the UK and TfL in London.

There are 2 small compartments on all Eurostar trains (usually for large luggage). Unless Eurostar changes its pricing policy you'll have to pay £20.00 each way; a cheapest adult single fare being £26.00!

Interestingly, this might be the UK's first High Speed line but, except for stopping at Ashford it goes to another country, let alone another major city in the UK!

Incidentally, bikes are allowed on TGV's in the north of France, but not on the southern routes.

Comment from Lisa:

I totally agree and awareness with operators needs to be increased by public pressure - simple as that, lets keep it up!

Comment from Steve:

Since the media predictably to have ignored the November 14th protest, the first I knew about this was a brief mention in the Observer Magazine on 25th Nov. Having moved from South London to Shropshire early this year, there are many battles to fight here, but Friends of the Earth and the Green Party are on the case, and I will continue to concentrate on what I think is a very important aspect - convincing the train operators and Network Rail that train plus bike is as good for them as it is for us and the planet!

Comment from: John:

Glad to hear the action prompted a change of heart from Eurostar- great news about being able to take bikes on board!