Main stations

The frequent rail traveller becomes familiar with the main stations where lines meet and trains interconnect. Some rank highly in my affections while others do the opposite for reasons I will outline below. These images date back over the last fifteen years which is why the train liveries may seem unfamiliar. The stations themselves have changed little.

This is York. It is probably my favourite station: partly because there are good, early memories associated with it, but mainly because it is beautiful.

The most attractive feature is the curving roof, supported by a forest of decorated cast iron pillars.

An evening train for London takes the curve into the cathedral-like space of York Station from the north.

Passengers wait to board a GNER Edinburgh to London train under the magnificent curving roof of York Station.

At York the railway line makes a great curve to reach but not enter through the old city walls. The station was designed and built by William Peachey and Thomas Prosser next to one of the ancient gates into the city. The present station was opened in 1877, much enlarging the original.

This station is one of the most beautiful with a great curving roof, eight hundred feet long, supported on delicate very elaborately decorated columns.

This is a view looking north from the cathedral like interior of the station. The main line to Newcastle and Scotland swings off to the left. A two coach train that has just arrived from Scarborough waits in the sunshine for its next duty

This is Doncaster, the epitome of a railway town. For the first fourteen years of my life, the only times I left Doncaster was through this station, so it is a place I associate with excited expectation and happy memories. The station was rebuilt just before the Second World War and nothing substantial has changed since. I noted recently that the tiles in the subway are worn, but original. Such details are strangely comforting.

The east side of the station is for up traffic and the west side for down. In the middle is an up and down main line used by non stopping trains. A long time ago it was possible to buy a platform ticket for 1d and watch trains storm through the station at speed at close quarters, though the impecunious could get nearly as good a view from the nearby St Jame's Bridge.

A train for Leeds halts at platform eight. In the background are the Doncaster Plant Works, today a remnant of the huge complex they once were.


A fault delays a crowded train. Train travel is not always fun...

An Edinburgh bound train winds across the points to reach platform eight at Doncaster.

A through freight train crosses the main line to access the line to Sheffield..

After a journey of over four hundred miles, a train from Glasgow emerges from the Gasworks tunnel into the Kings Cross terminus through a forest of masts.

I showed this image to my grandson, aged four.

"How many class 91s can you see?" I asked.  "Four," he replied with barely a glance. "Count them again!" I said, somewhat disappointed. "That one is a 125," he pointed out....

This is Kings Cross Station in London. It was built for the Great Northern Railway by the architect Lewis Cubitt and his brother between 1851 and 1852.

With the gothic splendour of St Pancras Station next door it often overlooked and described as merely functional, but I think it is a fine building. Yellow brickwork columns along the walls of the train shed supports decorated semi circles of cast iron creating two glass roofed arches, seventy feet high and 800 feet long. This is the eastern arch and platform one where passengers are boarding a Newcastle train.

Before a sort of shopping mall was built in front of it and spoiled the view, a dramatic clock tower 120 feet high looked down over the entrance. This blemish has now been demolished, The front aspect of the station has been restored to its former glory...

...and a fine new concourse now envelops the old Great Northern Hotel.

There are rumours that clandestine arrivals and departures take place from platform nine and a half, but I have never been able to confirm this.

Next door to Kings Cross is the redeveloped St. Pancras which boasts the widest single arch over the main platforms and is strong candidate for the title of "Britain's best station."

It is difficult to accept today that this station was once seriously in danger of being pulled down. This man had some part to play in its survival...

Passengers from Brussels make their way towards customs located in the former under croft below the platforms.


HS 1 begins at St Pancras and provides a 180mph service to north Kent. The service is provided by Javelin trains.

Another HS Javelin train at Ashford.

A few years ago the Eurostar trains ran from Waterloo. Travellers from the continent must have been somewhat bemused to travel at high speed from Paris or Brussels through the tunnel and then clank the rest of the way across Kent on the southern region's third rail system.

Paddington does not aspire to a wide single arched roof, but it is nevertheless a handsome station.

Paddinton is busy until late in the evening.

With its concrete and low claustrophobic roof, Victoria is not a nice station. Even its trains are ugly like this Gatwick Express.

Euston is another station that does not inspire any great affection with its grey grim low interior.

Class 91 locomotives power most of the East Coast Main Line express trains between London and Glasgow. Unlike the earlier 125 trains which have an engine at each end, the Class 91 sets are pulled northwards and pushed southwards by one engine at the northern end of the train. When the train is heading south, as here, the driver controls it from a cab in an unpowered van at the front.

One of these trains has reached a speed of 162mph and they are designed to cruise at 140mph. Unfortunately they cannot run safely at this speed because the signals are too close together. A train travelling at full speed cannot be halted by one signal before it has overrun the next, possibly causing a collision. Until the signalling system is upgraded, they are limited to 125mph and the journey time between Edinburgh and London remains about four and a half hours.

In this view a train from Glasgow, running a few minutes late, emerges from the tunnel under the Mound and the National Gallery, into Edinburgh Waverley station where it will form the 09.00 to London.

Edinburgh Waverley is a bit of a curate's egg of a station with depressing and quite splendid parts. Part of the reason for this is that it is a combination of no less than three stations that have been joined together.

The roof is quite low and depressing, apart from in the large ornate waiting area..

But the setting is spectacular, with Princes Street to the north and the castle to the south.

The Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Company built Glasgow Queen Street Station in 1842. This is the higher level station, there being a low level suburban line station below it. The high level station is graced by a fine flat arched roof over the platforms. New lighting and floor covering has created a bright airy atmosphere in the huge space below.

This station serves the north of Scotland, has a frequent service to Edinburgh and is the starting point for the scenic West Highland Line. The train to Mallaig and Oban is about to depart from platform two in this view.

Queen Street has been demoted a little over the years. Once main line trains left here for London but the line was never electrified and these trains now depart from the other, larger Glasgow station. More recently electrification of the line between Edinburgh and Glasgow Queen Street has been proceeding so through trains to London may be reinstated.

A random selection of some of the principal stations on the continent are shown below...

The rather functional Venice Santa Lucia Station. The impressive part is when you stand at the top of the flight of steps outside the station and look out...

Frankfurt, with some restoration work being done.


Two views of Budapest Keleti.

This is where the Orient Express used to arrive in Istanbul. Massive redevelopment of the railways of Turkey have rendered this station largely redundant.

Across the Bosphorous is another redundant station  Haydarpasa, which, before the redevelopment. was the terminus for all points east.

This is Paris Montparnasse. The French seem to like the pointed arch rather than the round arch.

This is Paris Montparnasse to Madrid sleeper, sadly a service that has been withdrawn.

Brussels Zuid is a busy station but a bit cluttered and claustrophobic....

...mind you, I would love to play with the points on the complicated approaches to the station.

Three views of Paris Gare de Lyon, again showing the French style of arch.

Lausanne station.

Basel which has services from France and Germany in addition to the Swiss trains.

The handsome, compact station at Hamburg..


This is Copenhagen Central which I like for the red brick main concourse. I also enjoyed the flashmob video made here:

This is one of the most elegant train sheds, at Paris Gare du Nord.

My favourite station on the continent, Amsterdam Centrale - the starting point for many a European adventure using the ferry from Newcastle.

The design of main stations, most often during the nineteenth century, was informed by the need to disperse the smoke from steam engines without choking the customers. The high arched roof was not merely some grandiose statement by an ambitious railway company. It is the stations that have retained this original feature that seem the most attractive. In every case a magnificent fusion of cast iron, wrought iron and glass.