r2 Language Paper 2 – Fire at King’s Cross Station, 1987

The Guardian reports on one of the worst ever disasters at a British underground railway station, in which 31 people ultimately died. In a Government enquiry, London Underground were severely criticised for their poor safety procedures.



Twenty-seven people died last night and dozens were taken to hospital after breathing in smoke after fire broke out under an escalator inside King’s Cross underground station in central London.

Police and firemen were searching the tunnels. More than 150 firefighters and 30 engines were involved in what the fire brigade described as the most serious incident in recent years. Eight of those taken to hospital were understood to be seriously ill.

Rescuers used lighting equipment borrowed from television camera crews, but almost two hours after the blaze started they were unable to get more than a few yards into the station. Transport police and firemen moved towards the station along Underground tunnels but the smoke prevented them getting through.

A Transport Police spokesman said: ‘There are dozens of tunnels under there.’ Underground trains were kept running through the station to increase ventilation. The escalator that caught fire served the Piccadilly line. Five Underground lines intersect at the station, one of the biggest junctions on the system. The injured were taken to University College Hospital and the Middlesex Hospital, both half a mile away, and to St Bartholomew’s in the City.{94fcff1f50bc494

The fire was discovered at about 7.30 pm, and smoke poured through into the mainline station concourse above. Passengers waiting for trains north were asked by loudspeaker to evacuate the station as scores of firemen moved in. Local residents also reported seeing the smoke billowing above ground into the main road.

The body of one victim, a young man whose skin was completely blackened, was brought above ground shortly after 8.30 pm. He was found near the exit on the steps of the underground entrance beside St Pancras mainline railway station, across the road from King’s Cross.

Above ground on Euston Road there was traffic chaos as fire engines and ambulances made their way to the station through the tail end of the rush-hour traffic. The whole of the area around King’s Cross and St Pancras was sealed off by the police.