The Architecture and Design of Railway Stations

Railway stations serve a vital role in transport infrastructure but also, in many cases, offer a place of civic ambition and architectural beauty. These are some of the best (and most interesting) train stations in the world, from a Victorian masterpiece to a modern-day design that resembles a futuristic umbrella.

The design of railway stations is complex, balancing the requirements for both people and trains. Creating effective interfaces between the two requires careful planning, especially during emergencies like security alerts and evacuations. The design of sightlines, signage, and passenger flows are key to the success of the overall circulation system.

As such, railway stations must be able to operate in a highly challenging environment with limited resources. However, the increased threat of terrorism is creating new challenges for the railway industry [1]. Considering that rail transport systems are a critical point in the economy and society, they represent the perfect target for terrorist attacks, which can cause fatalities and significant disruptions. Therefore, it is important to develop more efficient and effective methodologies to analyze and protect railway stations.

In the past, the design of railway stations reflected their urban vocation as public spaces, where social interactions could take place (Devisme, 1979). However, with the transformation of most European railroad companies in semi-private or private organisations, this vocation has been progressively lost. Stations were seen as mere transit points, isolated from urban fabric and without a clear sense of community or identity. This situation contributed to the dissociation between rail transport and urban centrality, thus decreasing their demand.

While some railway stations have reclaimed this civic vocation, others remain dominated by the edifices of their past and fail to offer an attractive space for passengers and other users. A few examples of innovative and creative design can help us understand how railway station designers have tried to regain this urban value.

One of the first railway stations to regain its city-center identity was the Stockton & Darlington Railway Station, which opened in 1847 and is listed as an Historic England landmark. The building is now home to a café and museum, but it was originally designed as a large concourse and was complemented by a tropical garden of palm trees.

Another example of a station that has recovered its civic vocation is the Grand Central Terminal in New York. Initially, the palatial neo-Baroque structure was criticized for its excessive splendor, but since becoming famous in early 2009 thanks to a viral video of 200 dancers reenacting the Do Re Mi sequence from The Sound of Music, Grand Central has gained a reputation as a must-see attraction. Its opulent interior, which features more than 20 types of marble and stone, includes a huge main hall with an arched dome that resembles the canopy of a cathedral.

The future of railway station design is still in its infancy, but there are some exciting trends worth watching. In particular, the development of more sustainable, flexible buildings that are more adaptable to changing transportation needs is a crucial direction. This can be achieved by using new materials and more efficient structural systems. Furthermore, it is essential to develop new ways to integrate railway stations into the surrounding urban environment, rather than simply occupying their land.