King’s Lynn railway station has been officially reopened by Michael Portillo following a £1.1m heritage-inspired makeover.
The former Conservative cabinet minster, now known for his television train documentaries, was greeted by local dignitaries, rail enthusiasts and invited guests when he arrived from London’s King’s Cross on Tuesday.
Mr Portillo toured the revamped station, taking time to admire the new signs, paintwork and benches, before addressing the crowd.
Rail operator First Capital Connect (FCC) worked with West Norfolk community groups including the Fen Line Users’ Association on the project, which combined the modernisation of the grade II-listed building with a return to traditional styles.
Mr Portillo said the project had been beautifully conceived and had finally given Lynn had the station it deserved.
“Very often railway refurbishment projects have to strip away the layers added over the years to get back to the original design.
“I hope companies continue to think about the ways in which we can provide people with better-working and better-looking railway stations.
“Often the best solution is to look at the original station and to be so bold as to let it live again.”
Improvements include new automatic doors to the station, bespoke cast iron benches, the introduction of LED lighting throughout and the like-for-like replacement of the Victorian glass and wood ticket office roof.
The navy, cream and red colour scheme reflects the livery of Great Eastern’s steam trains, while gold accents have been used to highlight Lynn’s role as a royal station.
Signs at the station, built in 1871, have also been replaced with 1950s-style British Railway ‘totems’.
David Statham, FCC managing director, said it had been one of the best heritage railway projects in the UK.
”I’m sure you will agree this project has made a welcome addition to the station and to the town itself,” he added.
“Everyone involved should be very proud of what they have achieved.”
Mr Statham said what began as a simple project to re-wire the Lynn station had developed into something very special.
Borough councillor Andy Tyler, secretary of the Fen Line Users’ Association, said it was a wonderful occasion.
“We are so pleased that First Capital Connect was so co-operative in working with us and the local community in this major restoration”.
Mr Tyler said he was a great admirer of Mr Portillo and the way in which he encouraged younger generations to take an interest in the railways, both past and present.
There was applause as Mr Portillo unveiled a plaque in the ticket office commemorating the opening.
West Norfolk Mayor Barry Ayres also addressed the crowd, sharing his memories of catching the train to Hunstanton.
“This refurbishment means the daily routine of commuting will be far more pleasant for all,” he said.
“Who wants to travel from a dreary station first thing in the morning and come back to a dreary railway station in the evening? The town and tourism can only benefit from this superb work.”
Speaking after the event, Mr Portillo said he believed people could be uplifted by good architecture and depressed by bad.
“If a building is designed with care I think we are more likely to treat it with respect,” he said.
“In railway terms, £1.1m is not a lot of money, but I think FCC has made it go a long way.
“I certainly noticed the difference today – the project has been done very thoughtfully. A real harmony has been achieved.”
Mr Portillo previously travelled to Lynn from Ely, via Downham Market, while filming Great British Railway Journeys with the BBC.