Railway stations have always been inspiring places. The neo- classical columns of Huddersfield, Penn Central (pictured below) in New York and the Gare du Nord (pictured above) in Paris were built as statements of faith in the future.
Put up in a more confident age, anticipating prosperity and better times, railway stations ushered the purveyors of trade and commerce on their myriad journeys. In a way the railway station was the Victorian equivalent of a mediaeval cathedral.
Full of the hustle and bustle of personal drama, stations have always intrigued story tellers, singers and film makers. Preserved railways with their beautifully maintained stations evoke a gentle myth of a better time.
Paul Simon wrote one of his most memorable songs, Homeward Bound, on Widnes Station. How many movies make use of a railway station to emphasise the pain of parting or the joy of that special person’s return?
The railway station has come to symbolise forward motion, a story with a happy ending, a new beginning. This might appear whimsical to the long term commuter, the passenger without a seat and the tired underpaid worker just anxious to get home.
Railway stations often became sad, utilitarian, structures after their heyday. Many had their buildings boarded up. Staff were withdrawn and booking offices closed. Up and down the network many station buildings were replaced altogether by temporary shacks and converted deep sea containers. Their temporary nature as transient it seemed as the fortunes of this once great industry.
That’s all changing now as the rail industry struggles to cope with the upsurge of passenger volume. Capacity is the real challenge right across the spectrum and railway stations are no exception. One result of the King’s Cross modernisation was to increase the area available for passengers.
More customer friendly
People on the move need space to catch their trains in safety and speed. Railway stations are being upgraded, expanded, made easier to use, accessible to disabled people and far more customer friendly. The railway has worked out the huge footfall through its stations presents a real commercial opportunity.
Passengers want coffee, tea, food, clothes, newspapers and books while on the move. Better still they want to pause awhile in these great halls of endeavour, inspired as their ancestors once were.
The news from this industry is of an economy resurgent. Business is booming, commerce is growing. Station concourse trading is making a greater contribution to a confident railway, fuelling further investment and driving up the standards of world class customer care. Railway stations are once more becoming inspired statements of faith in the future.