Monday, 31 October 2016

Marylebone Coach Station

There is, of course, no coach station in Marylebone. However, I discovered on a tour of the railway station that one was almost built on its site in the 1980s.

Today, the station is thriving and getting busier as passenger numbers rise and new services to Oxford are added. In the 1980s, though, its future was looking bleak. The number of passengers had fallen, only local services ran from the station, the stock was aged, the station building was unlisted, and both Baker Street and Paddington had enough spare capacity to pick up Marylebone's passengers.

Marylebone Station, April 1969, by Hugh Llewelyn

Road travel was obviously the future, and Victoria Coach Station was busy enough to generate complaints from local residents. Wasn't the answer obvious? The station could be demolished, and the line towards Harrow converted into a high-speed bus way.
Marylebone Station c1976, by Hugh Llewelyn

Professor Peter Hall had been commissioned by the National Bus Company to investigate this idea. He had already published Making Better Use of Railways in 1976 - the better use being conversion to roads! That report had argued for the conversion of Liverpool Street Station to a busway (to the disdain of New Scientist who pointed out that among other flaws, it 'failed to consider adequately what happens at junctions'). It's no surprise, then, that his 1983 report was enthusiastic about the Marylebone coach station, suggesting it could be used by quarter of a million coaches each year, with its coachway connecting to the A40. 

Happily, since Marylebone Station is rather lovely, demolishing it in favour of a coach terminal was not the obvious answer for everyone. The plans got as far as formal consultation, at which point there was extensive opposition. There was also concern about the practicality of these plans and the ability of Baker Street to absorb former Marylebone passengers - thanks to the introduction of travelcards, Underground passenger numbers were growing - the public inquiry was repeatedly postponed and the proposal was eventually dropped. 

Under new management in the late 1980s, the station was renovated (funded by selling off part of its site). New trains were bought, signalling updated, commuter numbers rose, and services were extended as far as Birmingham. The building is now Grade-II listed. Marylebone has made the most of its new lease of life: today's lively terminal is a very long way from those dreadful years when a coach station seemed a better idea. 

My tour of Marylebone Station was a London Transport Museum Friends event. The story of the coach station proposal is covered in much more detail on London Reconnections - which also has a fascinating comment from the senior civil servant involved. 

Images of Marylebone Station in 1969 and c1976 shared on a Creative Commons licence by Hugh Llewelyn


Ralph Hancock said...

If you are not in a tearing hurry, Marylebone offers a much more civilised way to get to Birmingham, with spacious trains instead of Virgin's nasty cramped Pendolinos, and announcements that address you as Ladies and Gentlemen. It's also a lot cheaper than the insanely expensive Virgin service which, if bought on the day, is now only just less than taking a taxi the whole way.

CarolineLD said...

Oh yes, I totally agree!

Hels said...

Yes today's lively terminal is a very long way from those dreadful years when a coach station seemed a better idea. But to whom did it seem a better idea - the commuters, the town planners, the local council, the potential bus companies?

Not only has the building survived and is now heritage listed. But the terminal is actually functioning very well.

Sw17 said...

Hugh Llewellyn's picture of Marylebone station from the platform's...the tall building on the right us Melbury House. My first job was there in May 1970 for British Rail, Chief Mechanical and Electrical Engineer's department.
On the 7th floor ( I think ), we looked out over the roof of the station and over to the dome of Abbey National in Baker St. There is an amazing documentary film, which was filmed by students of British Transport Films from the roof, documenting life in the streets close by. One if my favourites

Stephen Barker said...

Perhaps they could upgrade to line from Marylebone to Birmingham and save the cost of HS2.

Ralph Hancock said...

In reply to Stephen Barker, yes, it would have been far more sensible to do this. The line was the last one to be built leading north out of London, and is much better engineered than the previous ones, with shallower gradients and gentler curves. It would permit much higher speeds than the line from Euston, for which a special tilting train had to be built to stop it from derailing on the bends at 125 mph.

Richard Tovell said...

Does anyone know why in this environmentally conscious age there is no one within Chiltern Railways that can arrange for the engines of trains waiting at Marylebone to be switched off. In the mornings there are sometimes upwards of 20 diesel engined carriages needlessly clattering away sending a blue fog of particulates into the London sky.