Why's It Called Stratford International If It Has No International Trains?

By James FitzGerald Last edited 54 months ago

Last Updated 23 December 2019

Why's It Called Stratford International If It Has No International Trains?
Stratford International: 10 years without an international train

In December 2009, trains started calling at Stratford International station: an east London hub allowing rapid transit to St Pancras and to some of the loveliest towns in Kent. But, at age ten, this 'international' station has never had an international train, and you can't use it to get abroad.

"You can't?" gasps Michael from Australia when we catch him nearby. "Then I would say that name makes absolutely no sense."

"I didn’t know that. How does it work? Do you have to change at some other station?" asks Paul from Lithuania.

"Stratford is a well-connected place," says Filip from Greece, "but it would be helpful if they renamed this station so it’s more descriptive of what it does."

'A bit confusing'

You can at least get to Cyprus from here

The station aspired to having Eurostar services as part of a project that would have seen British cities beyond London connected up to the likes of Paris. Those plans long scrapped, Eurostar trains now whizz through Stratford International on their way to St Pancras. But they don't stop here.

There's a separate Docklands Light Railway station just across the street — which is also called Stratford International. The joke goes you can go from there to Cyprus. But that’s just another DLR station, not the well-known island in the eastern Mediterranean.

"It's a good time to change the name, as it’s a bit confusing," reckons Claire from Barking. "That said, Eurostars would be really helpful here. I'd like to go to a Christmas market on the continent."

But changing the name now would surely be viewed as an acceptance that the decades-old dream of 'regional Eurostars' is finally over. Something that rail bosses have been reluctant to do.

'Ready to become international'

HS1's Javelin trains allow access to some of the loveliest towns in Kent

HS1, the company which owns Stratford International, clarified why the station retains its name.

"Stratford International is on the international line," the company said in a statement, "and it has been built to accommodate international passengers at some point in the future. The station needed a different name to avoid any confusion with Stratford regional station.

"Stratford International is physically built ready for it to become international and would only need the technical equipment, such as computers and scanning machines."

Postcard carousels spotted on the station concourse are a further expression of the fact this building is prepared to receive foreign visitors at the drop of a hat. But Alberto, who works in a car-rental firm here, is less optimistic: "It’s been ten years of waiting already, so it’s not looking bright," he says. Who pops into Stratford International to rent a car? "About 25% are tourists. The rest are local or have been shopping at Westfield."

A tourist-ready concourse features postcard carousels and car-rental firms

Eurostar declined to comment on Stratford International’s name because it doesn’t operate there. Instead, it says, it’s "focused on providing a quick and competitive journey time between our destinations. As Stratford is just 7 minutes from St Pancras, it’s an easy connection."

It doesn’t sound like Eurostars will be stopping in Stratford anytime soon.

"A lot of the original aspirations for Eurostar have never come to fruition," says Oliver Green, a transport historian and author of London’s Underground. "It amazes me that anyone flies to Paris anymore. But they still do. They find the trains expensive or don't want to get the connection to St Pancras. I keep hoping that things are going to come together for the project.

"Things haven’t gone smoothly for Stratford International either — but they never do at first. The Docklands development, with its Light Railway, has been effective — though only in the long run. When the DLR was opened, it was ridiculed as a Mickey Mouse railway. It was saved when it was later linked up with the Jubilee line."

'It’s distinguished from the other Stratford station'

The station takes the form of a kilometre-long concrete box

Not everyone we encounter near Stratford International minds the station’s name. "I don’t think it’s important at all," bristles one woman as she hurries into Westfield shopping centre.

"There’s no need to change it," says George, who lives nearby. "The name distinguishes it from the other Stratford station."

"I don’t have an issue either way", says Bal. "Someone told me the station name was actually something to do with the International Quarter?" This development is one of the nearby entities whose own names appear to be paying tribute to the railway station.

But perhaps all these 'international' labels are actually nodding to something else. Are they celebrating the fact this area hosted one of the world’s foremost sporting contests: the Olympics?

That's such a stretch, even a limber Olympian gymnast would struggle to make it. Other railway stations which claim the 'international' label do so specifically because international passengers can get on and off there. When Waterloo lost its Eurostar services in 2007, it also renounced its 'international' moniker.

‘The promised legacy hasn't been delivered’

Broadstairs? Yes. Brussels? No

Has Stratford's non-international 'international' station become emblematic of undelivered promises in the wider area during the its transformation for and after London 2012?

We ask Penny Bernstock, Head of Education & Society at the University of West London, who's studied Stratford for 20 years. "It’s benefited from unparalleled public investment, with the urban landscape transformed," she says. "But it's not delivered the promised legacy for local communities.

"Housing was a key commitment but much of what is described as affordable is anything but. A significant proportion of it is shared ownership, which requires household incomes in excess of £50k in an area where the median average is £27K.

"We are good at regenerating spaces but need to do more to ensure this connects with its intended beneficiaries. Two worlds have opened up in Stratford: an old Stratford characterised by high levels of poverty and deprivation and a new Stratford that has become a destination for professional workers that is much less ethnically diverse. But — with lots of housing still to be built here, as well as the as well as the culture and education quarter, it is still possible to get the legacy back on track."

The nearby Olympic Park. Photo by M@ in the Londonist Flickr pool

The London Legacy Development Corporation is the body that was set up to manage that legacy.

"Everyone has a chance to share in the benefits of London 2012, whatever their background," said Paul Brickell, its Executive Director of Regeneration.

"We are committed to delivering as many affordable homes as we can in line with the Mayor's policies. Fifty per cent of homes on our remaining developments will be affordable and we recently invested more money at the first neighbourhood, Chobham Manor, to increase the level of affordable housing to 35 per cent.

"Good growth underpins our approach — creating a fairer economy where everyone can share in the benefits of the regeneration through hundreds of apprenticeships and internships, paying the London Living Wage and training in manual and tech jobs."

Stratford is a transient sort of place. Down in the 'international' station, the high-speed trains come and go: disappearing down tunnels to whisk passengers to Margate, Folkestone, and Canterbury.

But some things never go away. Whether they’re about the Olympic legacy or something as comparatively trivial as a station name, the debates in this part of London are eternal.