Trains transport people and goods much more quickly than cars and trucks, and they’re less affected by weather, roadworks or other disruptions. They are also much bigger, meaning they can carry more people or cargo in a shorter time. All of this makes trains the most efficient means of public transit for a large number of people. So it’s no surprise that a railway station is one of the most important places in any town or city for its residents, and if a station has poor accessibility or lacks amenities, people won’t use it, or will only make the journey when it’s essential. This has a huge knock-on effect for the economy and socialisation of a city or town. So it’s no surprise that cities and towns often look to reinvent their railway stations to boost passenger numbers, entice visitors and provide the perfect first impression.
A railway station, also known as a train station, is the point where trains stop at an open platform to allow passengers to board and disembark. It can be at the end of a line, a terminal, or an intermediate stop. It may be built with platforms, subways or bridges. It may have a station building with ticket sales and waiting rooms, or may be a fully open-air structure. It may be a cul-de-sac (with trains operating out from only one direction) or have transfer facilities to other rail, rapid transit, tram or bus services.
The word station itself derives from the Latin sacra ‘of the holy’ or ‘of the church’, which is appropriate for this important public space. It’s a place to gather, exchange news and enjoy public entertainment. It’s also a vital link for commuters, connecting people to their jobs and homes, as well as their destinations and communities.
As such, train stations are the most visible and accessible face of a city or town. A grand design, with clean lines and soaring glass walls, is the most obvious way to communicate this. But a station doesn’t have to be all about aesthetics, with modern technologies such as digital signage and connected kiosks ensuring an enhanced passenger experience.
Some railway stations are designed with their unique architecture, such as the soaring white roof of the new Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, which combines elements of traditional Beaux Arts and International styles to create a landmark building. But others are designed to have a more abstract feel, such as this new railway station in Liege, Belgium, by Santiago Calatrava, which consists of two curving towers with a continuous glazed wall spanning between them. The towers frame an 8,000m2 semi-circular concourse, with clear sightlines between the various connection points and trains beyond. This allows for easy pedestrian flow, while providing ample space for shops, restaurants and viewing points. As a result, it is both functional and beautiful, and has quickly become one of the most iconic railway stations in the world.