Thu Jan 19th, 2006 at 05:34:58 AM EST
back from the frontpage
The first railway station halls were simple wooden sheds. In much of the 20th century, if halls were built at all, utilitarian design dominated again. Lately in our all-commercial age, some stations became shopping centres with train connections...
But in the half-century before both the triumphalism of technology and its symbol, the railroad, played central roles in WWI and got sullied in the blood of millions, major railway stations were built to be more. They were the face of a city to travellers, and the gateway to the wider world for locals, and had to inspire awe of man before his own creation. Thus, not at all unconsciously, architects chose Europe's medieval cathedrals as models. Naves, vaults, towers, arched windows, sanctums, domes were adapted for the secular-spiritual purpose.
Let me be a local patriot – and begin with Nyugati pályaudvar (=West Station) in Budapest. Finished 1877, this (by later standards) relatively small terminus features romantic/neo-rennaisance side buildings (good photo) and a French-style iron-glass hall – co-designed by Gustave Eiffel. (The iron-glass front was a world-first.)
Finished 1905, the station portrayed below by Davy Gijbels (see more pictures at RailFanEurope) is usually considered the most beautiful railway station in the world. (To truly see why, check out some hi-res photos too.) In the last five years, the terminus has been rebuilt into a three-level station. You can glimpse the unfinished second level on the left of the photo below. The deepest level connects to the tunnels of the high-speed line to Amsterdam (to be opened next year).
Some new stations are still works of art. I show one here: designed by Spanish architect Calatrava (see earlier bridge blogging), Liège's new main station nears completion. On a two-month-old photo from a site photo-documenting Belgian railway construction, the hall is half-finished:
Lucerne, main station
Back to the golden age. In major cities that built a single terminus (or head station), growing traffic led to the need for ever more tracks and platforms, thus either tracks outside the hall or ever wider station halls – resulting in multiple pillared halls (you could say: naves). For example, the widest railway station hall in Europe, the main station of Leipzig, was finished 1915 with 26 tracks into a six-nave hall1. But my favourite is the main station of Lucerne – a five-nave main hall built 1896 (plus a newer for narrow gauge tracks). The [EDITED->] HDR photo by Stiga from Photography BB Forums below shows some of its unique atmosphere, coming from facing South but looking right at a mountain.
Berlin, Anhalter Bahnhof
Some cities didn't have a main station. But the biggest cities kind of had multiple ones. In terms of railway stations, four European capitals stand out: Only London, Paris, Moscow and Berlin each had more than half a dozen big railway terminals. But most of Berlin's were destroyed in WWII, never to be rebuilt. Below we glimpse into what was the biggest when finished 1880, the Anhalter Bahnhof for trains to Southern Germany. (See an aerial photo and a picture of what remained at Wiki.)
In place of another destroyed Berlin terminal, the Lehrter Bahnhof, currently the new main station approaches completion – a unique building that is in fact two through stations at right angles on top of each other, forming a cross.
New York has two main stations. One of them is the ugly Penn Station, its magnificent original 1910 hall was destroyed for the fourth Madison Square Garden. The other is Grand Central Terminal from 1913, the world's largest railway station – 67 tracks (46 for passengers) on two levels (upper beating Leipzig, tough not in width of passenger section – narrower platforms).
Meanwhile, Chicago isn't called the Railroad Capital of The World for nothing – meeting place of Western and Eastern rairoads, many of which built their own stations. The two dozen in total 'consolidated' into six big terminals. I don't know them, tough – pictures in the comments would be welcome, as for major station halls elsewhere in the world.
- Today it has only 24 tracks – equalling the previously second-placed, the 'five-nave' main station of Frankfurt am Main from 1888. However, Leipzig's building has a 270 m inside and 298 m outside diameter, Frankfurt's a 270 m outside diameter. Milano Centrale's five naves cover 24 tracks, Paris's modern and ugly Gare Montparnasse also has 24 tracks under its six 'naves', or even 28 if we include the hall of the adjoining Gare Vaugirard, and the 1889 'eight[front]/five[back]-nave' Gare Saint-Lazaire currently has 27 crammed into it, but again all three are less wide than even Frankfurt's in meters. So are some stations that have more tracks but not all of them covered, for example Munich main station with its 32 tracks.↑
Previous Monday Train Bloggings:
- (Premiere/ modern Austrian trains & locos)
- Fast Steam
- Heavy Haul
- Forgotten Colorado
- The Hardest Job
- Highest Speed
- New England Autumn
- Bigger Than Big Boy
- Failed Designs
- Crazed Designs
- Trains In The Arts