You are now arriving at Kate's Kingdom
LONDON Liverpool Street Station has 123million visitors a year, making it Britain's busiest station - twice as busy as Heathrow airport.So what does it take to run such an institution? Features editor TRACEY SPARLING meets station manager Kate Warner.
By Tracey Sparling
LONDON Liverpool Street Station has 123million visitors a year, making it Britain's busiest station - twice as busy as Heathrow airport.
So what does it take to run such an institution? Features editor TRACEY SPARLING meets station manager Kate Warner.
LOOKING down on the concourse of Liverpool Street Station, I see thousands of people scurrying to the destination, ant-like in their actions.
Plugged into i-Pods, with a takeaway coffee in one hand and the other ferreting in their bag for their ticket, 400,000 people a day stride across this bright, wide space. There's a constant background hum of noise, each sound indistinguishable in the general bustle.
At the helm is the fresh young face of Network Rail, Kate Warner. Aged only in her early 30s, the station manager soon shows she's an authority on the unique place that is the station - and she can talk for Britain about the many aspects to her work.
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As she stands by the escalators drawing in yet more people from the busy streets outside, Kate said: “We stand here at the quietest time of the day - 3pm - and look, it's still quite busy in here. Liverpool Street is the busiest station in the UK in terms of passenger numbers.
“We have much greater volumes of people through here to South East England than most other parts of the world, so the Chinese and Japanese in particular are genuinely very interested to see how we deal with the numbers.”
She tells me how she enjoys showing visiting dignitaries round the station - so far this year she has met groups from the Ukraine, China, Japan, South Korea, Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Germany to name a few.
Of course this station is much loved by many Brits too. It's the place where reunions are held, dreams come true as people set off on long-awaited journeys, and children stand and wonder at the size of it.
Kate said: “Many people identify with the building because it plays a big part in their lives, maybe in terms of how they remember it from when they were little, or maybe they walk through every day of their career.
“I get the most amazing letters from customers. One even suggested we play piped classical music through the station, and they had even suggested which pieces of music would be best for different times of the day, with uplifting tunes for Monday mornings!”
There are actually many difficulties to consider before any changes can be made to the station, or the way it works.
Liverpool Street Station is fully listed internally, unlike some stations where just the façade is listed. Kate said: “From my point of view that means that any changes we want to make, have to be considered very carefully. Network Rail also has the responsibility for the safety of all its passengers, from design issues to manage the flows of people, to the lifts and escalators being checked every day before operation. If you look down now you can see there are several different pathways people naturally take across the concourse, and any changes have to accommodate that.”
Incredibly, 40,000 people go to Liverpool Street every day not to go on a train - but to use the shops or to have a coffee with friends. Many are City slickers desperate to escape the office for a break, and the station is right round the corner for many workers.
The safety of passengers is paramount even when it comes to the risk that pigeons pose.
Kate said: “You may laugh, but when I was duty manager I used to count the pigeons in the station -which was quite tricky. If they congregate and form rest areas, their droppings could result in people slipping over. We also have to protect the fabric of the building from pigeons, and I don't mean shooting them but trying to stop them coming in the first place. We don't have men with snipers on the roof, but do discreet vermin control.”
Her teams also have to sort out the smallest hitches. For example if a lift fails, technicians have to be there within 30 minutes. She said: “In somewhere like this, if a tiny part of the service has a problem we have a huge problem on site.”
Ironically, in a place where so many strangers cross paths, one of the things Kate loves about her job, is the community feel within the station's 'City' location.
She said: “The 'city' is a special branch of the capital, it's not the west end, not Westminster, and people who work in the City are very proud to work there. It sounds prestigious to say I work in the city - which I do find myself saying sometimes!
“I get invited to the Lord Mayor's dinner, which is another sign of the community feel to the city, and it's quite a nice feeling when you get to know everybody.”
Within the station, work Network Rail staff, train companies' 200 staff, and 50 retailers, and Kate said people get to know each other
As a former shop manager, who joined South West Trains in Surrey to later transfer to Network Rail, she sees how much trade shops in such a busy area can thrive on.
She said: “WHSmith and Boots for example, turn over a lot more per square metre than their average high street counterparts, which is reflected in their rent - the more they make the more they pay and the proceeds go towards the upkeep of the building.”
Kate works long days, and she points out that her team do too, but admitted that even her holidays have to include a bit of station-spotting.
She said: “If I go to Barcelona on holiday I find myself looking at the escalators in the station, thinking 'oh they have that sort,' and then the signs, because the design of the station is so important in so many ways. You can get a bit obsessed.”
Read the next in this series on Wednesday : Meet the voice of the underground announcements, and see down a disused tunnel.
Tell us what Liverpool Street Station means to you, at Evening Star Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP2 1AN or e-mail email@example.com.
Liverpool Street serves destinations in the East of England including Ipswich, Stansted Airport , Cambridge , Lowestoft , Great Yarmouth , Norwich , Chelmsford , Colchester , Braintree , Southend on Sea and Harwich , as well as many suburban stations in north-eastern London , Essex and Hertfordshire . Almost all passenger services from Liverpool Street are operated by 'one' .
Liverpool Street's concourse is dominated by one of the last remaining mechanical "flapper board" display boards at a UK railway station, and certainly the biggest. But its days are numbered.
It was in 1991 that the giant timetable board, was fitted at great expense - however due to technical difficulties there was a long delay after the official opening before it became operational.
So 16 years on it's time for a revamp - and the board will be replaced by an electronic version this autumn.
Kate said: “One of the things we are doing at the moment is updating the customer information system. It's taken two years to redesign because it's such a complicated process. The indicator board has pros and cons it stands; some people still don't see it - yes honestly! We have to take into account where people stand, which direction the flows of people come from before we design a replacement.”
As part of a £2m investment starting in September, it will be replaced by a black board sporting a liquid crystal display.
Currently, the board runs geographically in terms of trains departing, with Ipswich appearing near the centre. The new board will run in sequence order, in terms of trains due. It will also include a column for the Stansted Express, and the most popular train.
Services will not just say 'delayed' but will give an estimated arrival time, and PA announcements will also be linked to the board.
Kate said: “These developments mean we can give people more information, to decide their options. For example it could help them decide whether they have time to pop to M&S to buy their dinner!”
The first signs of change will be scaffolding going up in late August or September.
You can see the board at this moment, by webcam. See www.vicinitee.com
In the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, fictional "docu-drama" portrayals of how a terrorist organisation might seek to attack London have frequently chosen Liverpool Street station as the specific target.
'London under attack' first shown by the BBC's Panorama in May 2004, saw a lorry containing chlorine gas deliberately exploded at the junction of Shoreditch High Street and Commercial Street, just north of Liverpool Street station. In the programme the gas cloud hung over the station, and killed 3,000 people.
In a second BBC programme, Dirty War , of October 2004 a suicide terrorist detonates a "dirty bomb " just outside the station, killing 200 people and rendering the area uninhabitable for 30 years. Programmers chose Liverpool Street because of its unique position on the border between the City of London and the East End . The government denounced both programmes as "alarmist and irresponsible"
Andy McNab 's fictional novel Dark Winter also makes the station the target of a similar attack.
A CIA safe house features above the Circle Line overflow entrance to Liverpool Street Underground station, in the film Mission: Impossible .
The lead character leaves the safe house and enters the main line concourse to use the payphones situated under the double staircase. These phones have since been removed, and cash machines put in their place.
In the film Stormbreaker , the main character runs through the station to find a photo booth whereupon he is then transported to MI6 .
Many soap stars from EastEnders, Coronation Street and Hollyoaks catch trains from Liverpool Street, especially the Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex lines.