Stations are, when you think about it, pretty important places. Whether you file through them mindlessly twice a day pondering existentialism, whether this is really all there is, and what’s for dinner, or whether you take pioneering long-distance trains to far-flung exotic places like Slough, they have symbolic value. Think Harry Potter, and tell me stations don’t occupy some part of our collective consciousness.
But what makes a station special? Is it how well it works? How beautiful it looks? How historic or groundbreaking its design? How unique it is?
Whatever floats your boat, or steams your train, here’s a selection of the finest the world has to offer.
Image: Jan Oosterhuis/Wikimedia Commons.
Rebuilt between 2008 and 2014, Rotterdam’s new central railway terminus is a beauty. Though the old station didn’t go without a fight - on its last day in use the letters “CENTRAAL STATION” were rearranged to read “TRAAN LATEN”, meaning “shed a tear” - the new more than makes up for its loss.
Designed by Benthem Crouwel Architekten, MVSA Meyer & Van Schooten Architects, and West 8, the new station was built to cope with increasing passenger numbers and a higher number of trains, including high speed services to Paris, Amsterdam, and Brussels, and the new RandstadRail intercity metro system.
The central station clock and station name lettering from the original 1957 station were carried across to the new building, giving its dramatic angular facade a familiar touch.
Berlin’s “head-train-yard” (to take a literal translation) is pretty much as you’d expect Berlin’s main train station to be. Big, solid, functional-looking, and more shiny and efficient than you.
Approximately 300,000 passengers shuffle through its concourses every day, which is where Berlin Hbf’s sleek functionality comes in. Platforms are separated between an upper level, with six tracks and three platforms, and a lower level, with ten tracks and five platforms.
The types of train service are split across the two levels, too. The S-Bahn (Stadtschnellbahn, kind of equivalent to the Overground) runs on the higher level along with some mainline services, whilst the U-Bahn (Untergrundbahn, or “underground train”) runs on the lower level with more mainline services thrown in.
The clever thing, though, is the separation of directions that goes with it. The upper level is east-west, whisking you off to the likes of Spandau (home of ballet) in the west and Prague in the east, whilst the lower level runs north-south. This comes in handy for nipping over to the Brandenburg Gate, or a jolly weekend in Munich.
With loads of escalators ready to trundle you happily to your platform and enough light, bright signage to keep every passing graphic designer happy, Berlin Hauptbahnhof wins on the functionality measure, even if it looks a bit, well, German.
The first time I pulled into the new station at London Blackfriars I had to stop myself standing up and declaring to my fellow Thameslinkers “God bless you all and God bless the United Kingdom”, such was my brief flicker of national pride.
I mean, come on. We needed to expand and improve on a station that was sitting awkwardly by a river, so what did we do? We put the station on the river. What a beautiful country we live in.
The station concourse is light, airy, and grandiose, the platforms are gloriously long, the views as you wait for your yet-again delayed train are unbeatable, and to top it all off the roof generates electricity. What more could you want?
Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
Image: Joe Ravi/Wikimedia Commons.
Moving away from shiny glass things, briefly, to glorious old things, Mumbai’s CST (as it’s known) is like St Pancras on speed.
Designed by Frederick William Stevens in the 1870s, CST has the unusual accolade for a train station of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Though it has since seen a change of name (from Victoria Station to its current title), a terrorist attack, and the endless tuts of over 3m commuters a day, CST stands firm.
The station has 18 platforms, four ticket offices, and a large number of air-conditioned dormitories. It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, chosen as a filming location for the iconic film Slumdog Millionaire.
Image: Revontuli/Wikimedia Commons.
Helsinki's main railway terminus has, among other things, the remarkable accolade of being the most visited building in the entire country. Around 200,000 passengers filter through every day, and the station connects all trains on Helsinki’s commuter rail network with the Finnish capital’s busiest metro station, and a hefty share of Finland’s long-distance rail services.
The station has a strangely symbolic significance in Finland thanks to its four stone men statues, holding large globular lamps that light up at night. These characters, made of the same Finnish granite as the station building, have even been parodied elsewhere in Finland, and have featured in rap-song advertisements for the Finnish national railway company.
Take that, Charing Cross.
The Victorians were really into their trains, weren’t they? I mean, I know that Belgians in the time of Leopold II (1865-1909) probably wouldn’t have liked being called Victorians, but still: Antwerpen-Centraal, built between 1895 and 1905, is pretty Victorian.
It’s vast, filled with stone, marble, and glass, and has an entrance hall that puts New York’s Grand Central to shame. If you like trains, Antwerpen-Centraal is kind of like a cathedral for them, except you might have to take a fold-out camping table with you to use as an altar.
As a one-up to Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the station has platforms over three levels, with two levels below ground, the original station platforms one storey above ground level, and an extra floor of commercial space thrown in for good measure.
Cook, South Australia
We have no idea why Google Maps feels the need to bring frozen meals into this. Image: Google.
Niche, but bear with me.
In the middle of the Nullabor Plain in the desert of South Australia, there’s a ghost town with nowt more than a railway station, an empty airstrip, and the remains of an abandoned town. The only trains that run through here are of the Indian Pacific service, a mostly tourist and novelty affair that chugs all the way across Australia from Perth to Sydney.
The nearest major city is Port Augusta, a mere 826km away, and Cook station sits in the middle of the longest straight section of railway in the entire world.
Never mind yoga retreats in rural Guadeloupe, just get off the train at Cook station and wait for the next one to come.
In a week’s time.