What Is a Railway Station?

railway station

A railway station (also known as a railway depot, train station or railroad station) is a public transport hub serving passengers and cargo. It is generally located on a major road and features one or more railway tracks. The most basic layout has two single-direction railway lines with a platform between, or platforms outside the tracks (side platforms). Sometimes stations serve multiple routes at different levels (examples: Paris-Gare de Lyon and Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station) or for different purposes (such as intercity and suburban rail services).

Often, a large station building is attached to the railway. This may be an integral part of the station, as in the case of a metro station (pictured), or it may be a separate terminal that is used only for passengers, as is the case for a high-speed train station. In some countries, the terminus of a railway line is designated as a “station”, while the rest of the facility is referred to as a “depot”.

Although most train stations are filled with a hurried frenzy of people running to catch their trains, some are truly beautiful. Whether it’s an undulating white structure from Santiago Calatrava or a sleek modernist masterpiece from Eliel Saarinen, these stunning train stations are more than just a place to catch a ride.

While most train stations are designed to be functional, they can also reflect the culture and history of their country. Some are reminiscent of the era when trains first made their way into cities, such as the magnificent wrought iron and glass Antwerpen-Centraal in Belgium. Others are more modern, reflecting the technological advances in trains and signalling the arrival of a new era of commuter travel.

Some of the most important elements of a railway station are those that directly relate to passenger use, such as ticket sales, information desks and traffic control systems. However, many stations provide other services that may not have direct relevance to the train journey such as eateries, shops, kiosks, cash machines, bureau de change, parking spaces, hotels and tourist information.

In addition, many stations, particularly those on major routes, provide interchange with other modes of transport. These can range from a simple bus stop across the road to a complex of underground rapid-transit urban rail stations. In some African, South American and Asian countries, large stations are also used as public markets and other informal business areas.

It is also important that railway stations are accessible to all users. This includes differently-abled people, the elderly, and those who are unable to walk or stand for long periods of time. This is achieved by providing pick-up and drop zones, ramps at level changes, two-foot warning strips for the blind and visually impaired, and accessibly-friendly bathrooms and waiting rooms.

Sadly, many small stations in developing countries do not receive the attention and investment that they deserve. This is often due to limited resources and political localism. It is possible, though, that a well-designed station can be the catalyst for other economic and social improvements in its surrounding area.