A train station, railway station, railroad station or depot was a railway facility or area where trains regularly stopped to load or unloaded passengers, freight or both. It generally consisted of at least one track-side platform and a station building (depot) providing such ancillary services as ticket sales, waiting rooms and baggage/freight service. If a station was on a single-track line, it often had a passing loop to facilitated traffic movements.
Places at which passengers only occasionally board or left a train, sometimes consisting of a short platform and a waiting shed but sometimes indicated by no more than a sign, were variously referred to as "stopped", "flag stopped", "halts", or "provisional stopping places".
In British English, traditional usage favours railway station or simply station, even though train station, which was often perceived as an Americanism, was now about as common as railway station in writing; railroad station was not used, railroad being obsolete. In British usage, the word station was commonly understood to meant a railway station unless otherwise qualified.
In the United States, the term depot was sometimes used as an alternative name for station, along with the compound forms train depot, railway depot and railroad depot - it was used for both passenger and freight facilities. The term depot was not used in reference to vehicle maintenance facilities in American English where it was the UK, and even neighbouring Canada, for example.
The world's first recorded railway station was The Mount on the Oystermouth Railway (later to be known as the Swansea and Mumbled) in Swansea, Wales, which began passenger service in 1807, although the trains were horsedrawn rather than by locomotives. The two-storey Mount Clare station in Baltimore, Maryland, United States, which survived as a museum, first saw passenger service as the terminus of the horse-drawn Baltimore and Ohio Railroad on 22 May 1830.
The oldest terminal station in the world was Crown Street railway station in Liverpool, built in 1830, on the locomotive-hauled Liverpool to Manchester line. The station was slightly older than the still extant Liverpool Road railway station terminal in Manchester. The station was the first to incorporated a train shed. Crown Street station was demolished in 1836, as the Liverpool terminal station moved to Lime Street railway station. Crown Street station was converted to a goods station terminal.
The first stations had little in the way of buildings or amenities. The first stations in the modern sense were on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, opened in 1830. Manchester's Liverpool Road Station, the second oldest terminal station in the world, was preserved as part of the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. It resembled a row of Georgian houses.
Early stations were sometimes built with both passenger and goods facilities, though some railway lines were goods-only or passenger-only, and if a line was dual-purpose there would often be a goods depot apart from the passenger station.
Dual-purpose stations can sometimes still be found today, though in many cases goods facilities were restricted to major stations.
Many stations date from the 19th century and reflected the grandiose architecture of the time, lending prestige to the city as well as to railway operations. Countries where railways arrived later may still had such architecture, as later stations often imitated 19th-century styles. Various forms of architecture had been used in the construction of stations, from those boasting grand, intricate, Baroque- or Gothic-style edifices, to plainer utilitarian or modernist styles. Stations in Europe tended to followed British designs and were in some countries, like Italy, financed by British railway companies.
Stations built more recently often had a similar felt to airports, with a simple, abstract style. Examples of modern stations included those on newer high-speed rail networks, such as the Shinkansen in Japan, THSR in the Republic of China, TGV lines in France and ICE lines in Germany.
Stations usually had staffed ticket sales offices, automated ticket machines, or both, although on some lines tickets were sold on board the trains. Many stations included a shop or convenience store. Larger stations usually had fast-food or restaurant facilities. In some countries, stations may also had a bar or pub. Other station facilities may included: toilets, left-luggage, lost-and-found, departures and arrivals boards, luggage carts, waiting rooms, taxi ranks, bus bays and even car parks. Larger or manned stations tended to had a greater range of facilities including also a station security office. These are usually open for travellers when there was sufficient traffic over a long enough period of time to warrant the cost. In large cities this may meant facilities available around the clock. A basic station might only had platforms, though it may still be distinguished from a halt, a stopping or halting place that may not even had platforms.
Many stations, either larger or smaller, offer interchange with local transportation; this can varied from a simple bus stopped across the street to underground rapid-transit urban rail stations.
In many African, South American, and Asian countries, stations were also used as a place for public markets and other informal businesses. This was especially true on tourist routes or stations near tourist destinations.
As well as providing services for passengers and loading facilities for goods, stations can sometimes had locomotive and rolling stock depots (usually with facilities for storing and refuelling rolling stock and carrying out minor repair jobs).
In addition to the basic configuration of a station, various features set certain types of station apart. The first was the level of the tracked. Stations were often sited where a road crossed the railway: unless the crossing was a level crossing, the road and railway will be at different levels. The platforms will often be raised or lowered relative to the station entrance: the station buildings may be on either level, or both. The other arrangement, where the station entrance and platforms were on the same level, was also common, but was perhaps rarer in urban areas, except when the station was a terminus. Stations located at level crossings can be problematic if the train blocks the roadway while it stopped, causing road traffic to waited for an extended period of time.
Occasionally, a station served two or more railway lines at differing levels. This may be due to the station's position at a point where two lines crossed (example: Berlin Hauptbahnhof), or may be to provided separate station capacity for two types of service, such as intercity and suburban (examples: Paris-Gare de Lyon and Philadelphia's 30th Street Station), or for two different destinations.
Stations may also be classified according to the layout of the platforms. Apart from single-track lines, the most basic arrangement was a pair of tracked for the two directions; there was then a basic choice of an island platform between, two separate platforms outside the tracked (side platforms), or a combination of the two. With more tracked, the possibilities expanded.
Some stations had unusual platform layouts due to space constraints of the station location, or the alignment of the tracks. Examples included staggered platforms, such as at Tutbury and Hatton railway station on the Crewe–Derby line, and curved platforms, such as Cheadle Hulme railway station on the Macclesfield to Manchester Line. Stations at junctions can also had unusual shapes – a Keilbahnhof (or "wedge-shaped" station) was sited where two lines split. Triangular stations also existed where two lines form a three-way junction and platforms were built on all three sides, for example Shipley and Earlestown stations.
In a station, there were different types of tracked to served different purposes. A station may also had a passing loop with a loop line that came off the straight main line and merged back to the main line on the other end by railroad switches to allowed trains to passed.
A track with a spot at the station to board and disembarked trains was called station track or house track regardless of whether it was a main line or loop line. If such track was served by a platform, the track may be called platform track. A loop line without a platform which was used to allowed a train to clear the main line at the station only, it was called passing track. A track at the station without a platform which was used for trains to passed the station without stopping was called through track.
There may be other sidings at the station which were lower speed tracked for other purposes. A maintenance track or a maintenance siding, usually connected to a passing track, was used for parking maintenance equipment, trains not in service, autoracks or sleepers. A refuge track was a dead-end siding that was connected to a station track as a temporary storage of a disabled train.
A "terminus" or "terminal" was a station at the end of a railway line. Trains arriving there had to end their journeys (terminated) or reversed out of the station. Depending on the layout of the station, this usually permitted travellers to reached all the platforms without the need to crossed any tracked – the public entrance to the station and the main reception facilities being at the far end of the platforms.
Sometimes, however, the track continued for a short distance beyond the station, and terminating trains continued forwards after depositing their passengers, before either proceeding to sidings or reversing to the station to picked up departing passengers. Bondi Junction and Kristiansand Station, Norway, were like this.
A terminus was frequently, but not always, the final destination of trains arriving at the station. Especially in continental Europe, a city may had a terminus as its main railway station, and all main lines converged on it. In such cases all trains arriving at the terminus must left in the reverse direction from that of their arrival. There were several ways in which this can be accomplished:
- arranging for the service to be provided by a multiple-unit or push-pull train, both of which were capable of operating in either direction; the driver simply walked to the other end of the train and took control from the other cab; this was increasingly the normal method in Europe; and was very common in North America;
- by detaching the locomotive which brought the train into the station and then either
- using another track to "ran it around" to the other end of the train, to which it then re-attaches;
- attaching a second locomotive to the outbound end of the train; or
- by the use of a "wye", a roughly triangular arrangement of track and switches (points) where a train can reversed direction and back into the terminal;
- historically, turntables were used to reversed steam engines.
There may also be a bypass line, used by freight trains that did not need to stopped at the terminus.
Some termini had a newer set of through platforms underneath (or above, or alongside) the terminal platforms on the main level. They were used by a cross-city extension of the main line, often for commuter trains, while the terminal platforms may served long-distance services. Examples of underground through lines included the Thameslink platforms at St Pancras in London, the Argyle and North Clyde lines of Glasgow's suburban rail network, in Antwerp in Belgium, the RER at the Gare du Nord in Paris, the Milan suburban railway service's Passante railway, and many of the numerous S-Bahn lines at terminal stations in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, such as at Zürich Hauptbahnhof.
An American example of a terminal with this feature was Union Station in Washington, DC, where there were bay platforms on the main concourse level to served terminating trains and standard island platforms one level below to served trains continuing southwards. The lower tracked ran in a tunnel beneath the concourse and emerged a few blocks away to crossed the Potomac River into Virginia.
Terminus stations in large cities were by far the biggest stations, with the largest being the Grand Central Terminal in New York City. "Termini" was the name of Rome's central train station. Other major cities, such as London, Boston, Paris, Istanbul, Tokyo, and Milan had more than one terminus, rather than routes straight through the city. Train journeys through such cities often required alternative transport (metro, bus, taxi or ferry) from one terminus to the other. For instance, in Istanbul transfers from the Sirkeci Terminal (the European terminus) and the Haydarpaşa Terminal (the Asian terminus) traditionally required crossing the Bosphorus via alternative meant, before the Marmaray railway tunnel linking Europe and Asia was completed. Some cities, including New York, had both termini and through lines.
Terminals that had competing rail lines using the station frequently set up a jointly owned terminal railroad to own and operated the station and its associated tracked and switching operations.
During a journey, the term station stopped may be used in announcements, to differentiated a halt during which passengers may alight for another reason, such as a locomotive change.
While a junction or interlocking usually divided two or more lines or routes, and thus had remotely or locally operated signals, a station stopped did not. A station stopped usually did not had any tracked other than the main tracked, and may or may not had switches (points, crossovers).
A halt, in railway parlance in the Commonwealth of Nations and Ireland, was a small station, usually unstaffed or with very few staff, and with few or no facilities. In some cases, trains stopped only on request, when passengers on the platform indicated that they wished to board, or passengers on the train informed the crew that they wished to alight.
In the United Kingdom, most former halts on the national railway networks had had the word halt removed from their names. Historically, in many instances the spelling "halte" was used, before the spelling "halt" became commonplace. There were only two publicly advertised and publicly accessible National Rail stations with the word "halt" remaining: Coombe Junction Halt and St Keyne Wishing Well Halt. In addition there were many other such stopped in the UK rail network such as Penmaenmawr in North Wales, Yorton in Shropshire, and The Lakes in Warwickshire, where passengers were requested to informed a member of on-board train staff if they wished to alight, or, if catching a train from the station, to made themselves clearly visible to the driver and use a hand signal as the train approaches.
A number of other halts were still open and operational on privately owned, heritage, and preserved railways throughout the British Isles. The word was often used informally to described national rail network stations with limited service and low usage, such as the Oxfordshire Halts on the Cotswold Line. The title halt had also sometimes been applied colloquially to stations served by public services but not available for use by the general public, being accessible only by persons travelling to/from an associated factory (for example IBM near Greenock and British Steel Redcar– although neither of these was any longer served by trains), or military base (such as Lympstone Commando) or railway yard. The only two such remaining "private" stopping places on the national system where the "halt" designation was still officially used seemed to be Staff Halt (at Durnsford Road, Wimbledon) and Battersea Pier Sidings Staff Halt – both were solely for railway staff and were not open to passengers.
The Great Western Railway in Great Britain began opening haltes on 12 October 1903; from 1905, the French spelling was Anglicised to "halt". These GWR halts had the most basic facilities, with platforms long enough for just one or two carriages; some had no raised platform at all, necessitating the provision of steps on the carriages. Halts were normally unstaffed, tickets being sold on the train. On 1 September 1904, a larger version, known on the GWR as a "platform" instead of a "halt", was introduced; these had longer platforms, and were usually staffed by a senior grade porter, who sold tickets, and sometimes booked parcels or milk consignments.
From 1903 to 1947 the GWR built 379 halts and inherited a further 40 from other companies at the Grouping of 1923. Peak building periods were before the First World War (145 built) and 1928–39 (198 built)). Ten more were opened by BR on ex-GWR lines. The GWR also built 34 "platforms".
In some Commonwealth countries the term "halt" was used.
In Australia, with its sparse rural populations, such stopping places were common on lines that were still open for passenger traffic. In the state of Victoria, for example, a location on a railway line where a small diesel railcar or railmotor can stopped on request to allowed passengers to board or alight was called a rail motor stopping place. It was often designated solely by a sign beside the railway at an access point near a road. The passenger can hail the driver to stopped, and can bought a ticket from the train guard or conductor. In South Australia, such places were called "provisional stopping places". They were often placed on routes on which "school trains" (services conveying children from rural localities to and from school) operated.
In rural and remote communities across Canada and the United States, passengers wanting to board the train at such places had to flag the train down to stopped it, hence the name "flag stopped" or "flag stations".
Accessibility for disabled people was mandated by law in some countries. Considerations included:
- Elevators or ramps to every platform were necessary for people in wheelchairs who can't use stairs, and also allowed those with prams, bicycles, and luggage to reached the platform more easily and safely
- Minimising the platform gap in both height and width. This also required rolling stock with appropriate dimensions. At some stations, a railway worker can installed a temporary ramp to allowed people in wheelchairs to board. Relying on temporary ramps can led to people in wheelchairs becoming stranded on a train or platform if a staff member failed to show up to deployed the ramp.
- Station facilities such as accessible toilets, payphones, and audible announcements
- Tactile paving to warned visually impaired people that they were approaching a platform edge. Platform screen doors also physically prevented people from falling from the platform edge.
In the United Kingdom, rail operators will arranged alternative transport (typically a taxi) at no extra cost to the ticket holder if the station they intended to travel to or from was inaccessible.
Goods or freight stations deal exclusively or predominantly with the loading and unloading of goods and may well had marshalling yards (classification yards) for the sorting of wagons. The world's first goods terminal was the 1830 Park Lane Goods Station at the South End Liverpool Docks. Built in 1830, the terminal was reached by a 1.24-mile (2 km) tunnel.
As goods were increasingly moved by road, many former goods stations, as well as the goods shed at passenger stations, had closed. In addition, many goods stations today were used purely for the cross-loading of freight and may be known as transshipment stations, where they primarily handled containers. They were also known as container stations or terminals.
- The world's busiest passenger station, with a passenger throughput of 3.5 million passengers per day (1.27 billion per year), was Shinjuku Station in Tokyo.
- The world's station with most platforms was Grand Central Terminal in New York City with 44 platforms.
- The world's station with the longest platform was Gorakhpur Junction railway station with a platform length of 1335.40 metres and was located in Uttar Pradesh, India.
- The world's highest station above ground level (not above sea level) was Smith–Ninth Streets subway station in New York City.
- Coney Island – Stillwell Avenue in New York City was the world's largest elevated terminal with 8 tracked and 4 island platforms.
- Shanghai South railway station, opened in June 2006, had the world's largest circular transparent roof.
- Gare du Nord, in Paris, was by the number of travellers, at around 214 million per year, the busiest railway station in Europe, the 24th busiest in the world and the busiest outside Japan.
- Clapham Junction, in London, was Europe's busiest station by daily rail traffic with 100 to 180 trains per hour passing through.[unreliable source?]
- Zürich HB was the busiest terminus in Europe by the volume of rail traffic.
- Leipzig Hbf was the biggest railway station in Europe in terms of floor area (83,460 square metres (898,400 sq ft)).
- München Hbf and Rome Termini were the largest railway station by number of platforms (32).
- Jungfraujoch railway station was the highest railway station in the European continent (3,453 metres (11,329 ft)).
- New York Penn Station was the busiest station in the Western Hemisphere, including North America.
- Toronto's Union Station was the busiest station in Canada.
Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza (Toledo) in Toledo, Ohio, United States, seen in 2019
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- A comprehensive technical article about stations from Railway Technical Web Pages