08.07.16: Above St. Pancras

The skylight in St. Pancras International Train Station, London. 


Technical information

March 14, 2010,
12:41 p.m.

51°31'50” N,
0°7'33" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 7D

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L (35mm)  


1/100th second


It’s rather easy to find a passenger train station in and around London, England. There are 330 of them within the city boundary. The number jumps to 366 if you include the suburbs. And that doesn’t include stations for the London Underground, the city’s subway system commonly referred to as the tubes.

This is a photo of the skylight above the international terminal in St. Pancras train station, a modern addition to a station that opened in 1868. The international terminal at St. Pancras, added in 2007, serves as the London terminus for Eurostar, the high-speed train service linking London to Paris, Brussels and Lille, a city in northern France.

The 366 passenger train stations in and around London may seem extreme, but it is typical of Europe in general. It demonstrates the importance of rail transportation throughout Europe, where it is common to take trains between cities within a country and between countries. Trains provide a flexible, convenient and relatively inexpensive travel option.

Unfortunately, that option is missing in the United States. There may not be 366 active passenger train stations in the entire United States (I tried to research that fact but had difficulty finding sources).

My wife and I take trains between cities when we are traveling in the “Amtrak Corridor,” the area between Washington, D.C., and Boston served by Amtrak. Passenger train service is convenient and on time throughout that northern corridor. But other than areas in central Texas, California and the Chicago area, the remainder of the country has lost passenger train service through the years.

Part of the problem is that the vast majority of tracks in the U.S. are owned by freight railroad companies. That means passenger trains must defer to freight trains using the tracks, which leads to long delays and uncertain schedules. Amtrak’s Cardinal, which operates three days a week between New York City and Chicago, includes a stop in Ashland, Ky. (my hometown). Much of the route uses tracks owned by CSX, a freight company. So passengers never know if the train will arrive in Ashland around 10 p.m., it’s scheduled time, or the following morning.  Amtrak’s web site shows the on-time performance of the Cardinal hovering around 50 percent.

And the limited amount of high-speed train service in the U.S. — Amtrak’s Acela that serves the northeast corridor — isn’t truly high speed when compared with trains in other areas of the world. The Acela’s averages about 71 miles per hour and has a top speed of about 150 mph in two sections covering 28 miles between Boston and New York. The Eurostar averages 136 mph with a top speed of more than 200 mph.

As for this photo of London’s St. Pancras station, I was intrigued by the design of the roof/skylight area of the relatively new international terminal. I liked how the curved beams created interesting lines and I thought it could create an interesting photo if used in black-and-white or, as in this case, muted color.

While this section of St. Pancras looks modern, much of the remainder of the station retains an architectural look reminiscent of the mid-1800s when it was built. The outside of the terminal resembles a church (unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to get exterior photos).

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.