A railway station is a key element of the national rail network and is one of the first points of contact most passengers have with the railway. It should be well designed and pleasing to the eye (Figure 1), comfortable and convenient for the passenger and efficient in its layout and operation. In addition, it should provide an attractive shop window for the services offered by the railway and serve as a magnet for new passengers.
Most railway stations offer interchange with other modes of transport, usually buses and trams. The type of interchange offered ranges from a simple bus stop across the street to underground rapid transit urban rail stations. The station building may also function as a transport hub, providing connections with local and long distance buses and trains as well as other forms of transportation such as taxis and coaches.
Stations are complex places combining transport and other services with retail and social functions. They are often heavily used by pedestrians and the building entrances are important nodes in the overall station structure. These can be mapped in Openstreetmap as buildings with the appropriate tags like building=train_station and for station entrances that are not part of a building, it is convenient to map them using a node called railway=station_entrance that is linked to both a building’s boundary way and a service area (footway) way.
The layout of a station building and the facilities offered will depend on the capacity required for its main function which is to provide a safe interface between the movement of trains and those of people with luggage and other passenger groups. This must be achieved within the shortest unconstrained flows possible during normal operating conditions as well as during emergencies such as security alerts and evacuations.
In order to meet the passenger and traffic demands of modern and high capacity railways, it is now common for stations to be built to a level close to that of the train floor, a practice that was not generally adopted on non-metro or rural railways in the past. This facilitates the loading and disembarking of passengers with minimal steps from the platform. The platform can be located either on the edge of a track or on an island between two tracks. The choice of location depends on the number of tracks, the availability of space and the type of service.
Stations often contain a wide variety of shops and other retail outlets which are important sources of revenue. This is especially true for large and busy urban railway stations. However, care needs to be taken to ensure that retail outlets do not impede the flow of passengers or obstruct the access to train platforms. It is also good practice to ensure that leases for shops include requirements that they comply with safety and fire protection standards as well as training for staff on matters such as alarms, evacuation and emergencies. This is especially important for retail outlets that sell fast food or items likely to attract crowds such as souvenirs and gift shops.