The glitz and pomp of last night's royal opening was a fitting tribute to a real engineering achievement
The opening of St Pancras station and new high speed rail line linking London to Paris had all the glitz pomp and circumstance you might associate with a film premier than the unveiling of a completed construction project.
Everything from the presence of the Queen and prime minister Gordon Brown to the unlikely, but hugely successful, duet of He’s got a ticket to ride between Welsh opera star Katherine Jenkins and soul star Lemar brought an air of grandeur and splendour to the event.
William Barlow’s 1868 train shed was transformed into a theatre with 1000 seated guests listened to the Royal philharmonic Concert orchestra whilst actor Timothy West in the guise of Barlow told the story of St Pancras and this great restoration.
Many of the industry’s finest – Sir Stuart Lipton, David Higgins, Ray O’Rourke, Roger Madelin, to name but a few, supped champagne with politicians of all persuasion including Ruth Kelly, John Prescott, Peter Bottomley and Ann Widdecombe.
This was a ceremony that brought a tear to the eye; a lump to the throat as it somehow managed to rekindle a sense of heroism and romance to construction and not just rail travel. But then this was the country’s first major railway project for over 100 years and the restoration of a architectural icon to all its Victorian splendour.
And unlike so many of projects of national significance this has been quietly delivered on time and on budget with very little controversy, which enabled Rob Holden, CEO of London & Continental Railways and the evening’s host and his team to genuinely hold their head up high when he called it an heroic engineering achievement. And when he said that he hoped that St Pancras would come to be regarded as a destination and not just a station it seemed right rather than corny.
“Barlow” informed us that when he completed the building which had the largest structural span in the world he was disappointed that the achievement had never been celebrated. One hundred and thirty nine years later that achievement was being marked with all the dignity and it – and the construction industry - rarely gets but often deserve.
T5 – beat that if you can!