What Is a Railway Station?

A railway station is a place where people change between trains. It may also be used by other types of transport, such as buses or cable cars, and it may also act as a hub for local commerce. Whether designed for passengers only or as a combination of passenger and freight facilities, a large railway station requires extensive infrastructure to operate effectively. It must contain ticketing areas, information enquiries points and toilets, as well as decently sheltered waiting rooms for departing passengers, and routes for general circulation and movement. In many countries, stations must also provide facilities to handle baggage and freight.

A very large station might also contain a shopping area or retail outlets, where passengers buy refreshments and other necessities. These facilities can have a major impact on commercial property values, and some studies indicate that they may even increase residential properties near the station. However, care must be taken in selecting the kind of shops, as some types of stores might not be appropriate, from a security point of view, such as those selling military memorabilia or fast food.

Some stations are built in a very distinctive architectural style, and the best are often architectural landmarks in their own right. These tend to be the larger, more important termini of major rail routes. Usually designed in the more formal Beaux-Arts style, they are often monumental in scale and richly detailed, with grand colonnades marking their design focus, immense ticket lobbies or great halls and rational layouts to cope with high volumes of passengers. The most famous examples include London’s Grand Central, which was hailed as the world’s loveliest station when it opened in 2006, and Berlin’s new Hauptbahnhof, which was described as the symbol of modern Germany reunification.

The majority of railway stations are intermediate, with the station building and goods facilities separated on either side of the tracks. However, stub-end stations exist, typically at zigzags or at termini of lines serving two different destinations, and they can also occur on funicular and cable car routes. These are sometimes referred to as ‘tourist’ stations, since they can be attractive in their own right and attract visitors in addition to commuters.

In some countries, railway stations are given heritage designation, ensuring that they will be preserved and maintained in the future. The criteria for this are generally quite stringent, and the designation will be revoked if the station is altered or demolished in any way that doesn’t comply with the terms of the Act.

In other countries, particularly those where railways have been privatized, it is common for the station to be run as a commercial enterprise with facilities such as restaurants and retail outlets. In some cases, the buildings are leased out to separate businesses and the public is encouraged to use the station as an informal meeting place. In these situations, the station must ensure that the leaseholders keep the facilities clean and safe. Some stations have a ‘community space’ where informal activities take place, such as public markets or community-based retail.