Halts, Stops & Stations

Historic Stations -
The Challenge Of Meeting Present-Day Needs

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The railway builders of the 19th century left us with a rich heritage of (often) architecturally interesting station buildings & structures, and whilst visually they may be very pleasant on the eye in many cases they are expensive to maintain and / or do not conform to modern-day expectations / demands in term of amenities.
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These images come from lovingly restored and maintained stations on
The Mid-Hants Railway (left) http://www.watercressline.co.uk/ . and The Bluebell Railway (right) http://www.bluebell-railway.co.uk/ ..
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Rather than demolish the historic station building in Strasbourg, France a modern 'steel and glass' structure was erected around it, plus a new underground car park and 'indoor' connection with the subterranean tram station created. So as to avoid damaging the historic building the modern structure is completely self supporting.
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The revitalised Strasbourg station includes an underground car park and a lawned open space in front of the station.
See caption for picture information. Many people (especially those of the younger generation or who are from overseas) look at historic stations somewhat unfavourably, seeing them as being relics of a byegone era which should be replaced with structures of a more contemporary design.

It has to be asked however what they think about white painted steel joists (with peeling paint) and what look like residential 'car porch' style lights?

This 1990's minimalistic structure is Hillingdon station on the London Underground. The two trains seen here are of different types with very different floor heights which make 'level access' completely impossible.

Special Needs Access

Many railway stations are also historic buildings which are subject to preservation orders that prohibit major structural changes, so updating them to comply with modern expectations regarding station amenities and (especially) accessibility can be a real challenge.

Even if such alterations were possible (and affordable - see below) there would still be a period of severe inconvenience to the vast majority of passengers because the platform would probably have to be closed during the works in order to prevent the temporary limited access causing it to become dangerously overcrowded.

By way of contrast, with brand new stations it is relatively easy to include the required facilities as part of the overall design.

Accessibility is looked at in greater depth on the Easy Access page.

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A modern station: Passengers have a choice of an incline lift (with 'see-through' glass walls to enhance personal safety), steps and an 'up' escalator - all in the same access shaft. This station is in Düsseldorf, Germany. The law will require special needs access to stations like this - but how? at what price?? and who pays??? (perhaps this should be funded from our windfall fossil fuel revenues?) Bayswater station in London, which dates from 1868.
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A baggage belt would provide a solution for the people seen in the image above-right, but not people with any of the other special needs.

Historic Station Upkeep - A Financial Dilemma!

Tynemouth Station on the Tyne & Wear Metro is typical of many surviving grand railway stations. It was built in 1882 by the North Eastern Railway's (NER) chief architect William Bell and is located on the North Tyneside loop which links the city of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne with the coast. When in 1904 the NER electrified this line it became Britain's first provincial electric railway.

Featuring four through tracks plus several bay platforms this thriving passenger (and freight) station was a Victorian showpiece, being especially noted for its hanging baskets and other floral displays for which it won many awards. However by the late 1960's the de-electrification, decline in rail usage and reduction in staffing / maintenance saw it fall into a state of near dereliction.

When the Tyne & Wear Executive took over the railway route in 1978 it was expected that the station would be demolished but eventually this was prevented by a coalition of campaigning local residents, the Royal Fine Arts commission and the North Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council. In November 1978 this station was granted Grade ll listing.

Nowadays it is far too big for its modern rôle as a simple two platform through station and although there has been some restoration funding issues mean that much of the station is still somewhat derelict.

The real issue here is deciding who should pay for the upkeep of the many buildings of national importance which are to be found on our railways - rail operators / local organisations for whom the structure is often a financial burden or central government?

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Three views of Tynemouth station, May 2001.
To fully appreciate this station roof's intricate ironwork click the images to see larger versions in new windows.
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Nowadays the station has only two through tracks - not seen in the above picture are several disused bay platforms. The foliage hanging down at this historic station on London's UndergrounD may look visually attractive but if the plants' roots are growing into the brickwork then eventually this will lead to a weakening of the structure.

Meeting Modern Day Safety Standards

Other legacy issues concerns stations which offer facilities which are not ideal but would be very difficult (or expensive, or both) to remedy. The examples shown here involve very sharply curved platforms, narrow platforms and terminal stations.

Very Sharply Curved Platforms

In the past railway systems were often built with stations which featured steeply curved platforms. To modern thinking this can create a safety hazard because the resulting (possibly large) gap between part of the train and the platform can cause a situation whereby a person who is not careful trips - or even, horror of horrors, falls into the gap. In an effort to alert passengers to the potential danger many rail systems issue special warnings (for instance the famous "mind the gap" announcement) but ideally the station should be re-sited to somewhere where straight platforms can be installed.

If only life was so simple! The unfortunate reality is that for many locations this can present an exceptional challenge, not just financially but because (as here - the Central Line platforms at Bank station) this section of railway was amongst the first to be constructed (in London) and it was built to follow (mirror) the streets above - which are also curved. Furthermore, the location of the foundations of the many nearby buildings means that there simply is nowhere else that the tunnels could go. With Bank station being at the very heart of London's (indeed, this planets!) Financial District it is also an exceptionally busy traffic destination as well as an important interchange node with several other lines, so simply closing it would not be a sensible option either.

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Curved platforms pose a special problem as they have to allow for the ends of the carriage to "overhang" and depending on the sharpness of the curve this can result in large gaps between the train and the platform. On inside curves (above left) the gap will be at the carriage ends whilst on outside curves (above right) the gap will be the centre of the carriage.

Two stations have been experimenting with possible solutions to reducing the size of the gaps. Both involve small sections of platform which extend out towards the train. These are Lo Wu station in the Closed Area on Hong Kong's northern frontier with the rest of China and 14th Street Union Square station in New York (USA).

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Further attempts to increase safety include painting special "mind the gap" messages on the platform edge - these are designed to be seen by alighting passengers, plus (at some stations) extra lamps illuminate below the platform edge as this also helps alert alighting passengers to the extra wide gap. In addition there are often automated "mind the gap" announcements. Experimental extending gap filler at 14th Street Union Square station of the New York Subway. Using proximity sensors to detect a train this operates automatically. The writing on the floor says Stand (C)le(ar).
Image & license: Benjamin Kaplin / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 2.0

Narrow Platforms

With narrow platforms (over)crowding is not the only source of a safety hazard. Even mature adults can find using narrow platforms such as to be somewhat disconcerting - most certainly you would not want young children to run freely here! Usually stations were constructed in this way because it was cheaper.

Because there is no wall or barrier against which a person can lean, narrow platforms are especially hazardous where there are platforms on both sides. (Typically this means where they serve both directions' trains).

One remedy would be to construct a new station tunnel and platform alongside and divert one direction's trains to use the new construction. Then the narrow platform can be extended over the disused track. This has already been done at several London Underground stations and could be done at the others too - all it needs is a source of finance!

The Glasgow Subway found a different (partial) remedy in that during the 1977-1980 shutdown for rebuilding and modernisation six of the busier stations were equipped with separate 'flank' platforms so that the island platforms would only serve one direction's passengers. In 2005 the perception of safety was significantly improved at one station (Buchanan Street) when it was (experimentally) fitted with platform screens on the unused side of the island platform - see image below. A few years later other platforms were similarly retrofitted.

In connection with the introduction of new automated driverless trains full platforms screens with opening doors are to be fitted to all Subway stations by 2020 / 2021.

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Narrow platforms like this were cheaper to build but are not ideal and can be expensive to remedy. They are only permitted because they were there before newer, more stringent, saftey rules were introduced. This means that they have what is known as grandfather rights. This extra wide platform was once a bi-directional narrow platform (as seen left) but now the other direction's trains have been diverted into their own brand new dedicated station tunnel, the former trackbed filled in and new platform entry / exit points have been created through the old tunnel wall so that the passengers now walk over the former trackbed.
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Typical station view from the Glasgow Subway showing the narrow island platform serving both direction's trains, as originally built. Early in 2005 the no-longer used platform face on the island platform at Buchanan Street was fitted with a screen, which acts as a back wall, thereby greatly enhancing the perception of safety.

Terminal / End-Of-Line Stations

The reason why terminal stations can sometimes complicate modern-day operations is that very occasionally trains would fail to stop at the correct 'stopping point' along the platform, sometimes hitting and even over-riding the buffer stops, with the train driver, passengers on the train and people on the platform being hurt... or worse. As is explained below, to minimise the risks modern electronic signalling systems usually require trains to be travelling very slowly as they enter 'dead-end' platforms.

In Britain the issue of terminal platform protection came to sharp focus in 1975 when a there was a terrible tragedy when a train failed to stop as it entered platform 9 (a deep level tube platform which is also the terminus for that track) at Moorgate station in London and travelled through the platform and smashed into the tunnel end wall, with multiple fatalities. From the severity of the crash it is believed that the train may not have even slowed down on entering the station.

Following this tragedy much more stringent safety measures were introduced which saw the train's 'stopping points' being pushed back from the actual 'end of line' and in addition even frown upon trains drawing up close to the relocated buffer stops. Furthermore strict "very slow" speed limits were introduced for trains entering any terminal platform where there is a "dead-end" - with automated control systems also being fitted to automatically apply the emergency braking system on any train which is not travelling slowly enough (this applies to the mainline railways too, not just the London underground). At some of these locations the "slow speed" station entries mean that trains take so much longer to enter the platforms that they block the rest of the line, in the process causing all other services to suffer delays too.

Relocating the train's 'stopping point' has only been possible where the platforms are much longer than the trains, and there are some space-constricted stations which were built 'in olden times' - when the dangers were not as well understood - where the platforms are only just about long enough for the trains. Relocating the train's 'stopping point' can be less than totally beneficial if the platform entrance / exit is beyond the end of the tracks (buffer stops) as then the extended hike (walk) between the train and the station exit can be very irksome to passengers, especially if it means that passengers intending to catch trains from that platform miss trains they would have caught had the trains been nearer to the dead ends. This issue does not apply to stations where the access points to the platforms are via footbridges or underpasses which feed into the platforms part way along their length.

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These views come from Moorgate Station in London, and show subsurface platforms / not the location of the 1975 terrible tragedy. Most of the trains seen in (both) photographs have drawn up close to the buffer stops as they are 8 carriages in length and need to draw up so close to physically fit into the platforms. Even then they only just do so. The steps leading to the station booking office and street are very close behind me - in fact closer than the trains.

In the view above left it is also possible to see the reflection from the 'fixed stop' red lamps on the train fronts and the sand drags.

The view above right also includes part of the same terminating tracks as seen before but with a shorter 6 carriage train in one of them. Note how much further back this train is from the buffer stop.
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These views demonstrate the new 'safer' solution at a location which opened in 1999 (Stratford station, Jubilee line platforms). Its a bit of a hike between the platforms and the trains! The issue here is especially acute because the access to the platforms requires passengers to walk this way / pass the track ends. What makes the situation even more baffling however is that elsewhere at the same station some (also 'dead-end') platforms which opened in 2009 but are operated by the mainline railway continue to allow the trains to draw up much closer to the 'brick wall' at the end of the track.
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Rather than using images taken at Stratford these views - which show facilities which were rebuilt this way and reopened in 2010 - make for a better example of how the mainline railways still allow trains to draw up much closer to the 'end' of the tracks. This is possible because they are restricted to 15mph (24km/h) on entering the dead-end platform and by the time the train has reached halfway along the platform it must have slowed to below 10mph (16km/h), otherwise the 'overspeed' feature in the signalling system will automatically apply the brakes.

Short Platforms

An issue which can affect railways is that sometimes the platforms are a different length than the trains using them. Where the platform is longer than the train this does not usually cause any issue, although some transport operators like to use physical barriers to artificially shorten the platform. By way of contrast, where the train is longer than the platform then serious safety issues can arise which either require special solutions to maintain safety or result in the train not being able to call at the station at all. The reasons why such situations might arise are several-fold and only sometimes 'historic' in nature.

The reasons can include:-

  • A new fleet of trains is introduced and these are longer than the trains they replace.
  • An existing fleet of trains are lengthened by the addition of one or more extra carriages.
  • Trains start travelling along a route which they previously did not use, and these trains are longer than those which used to serve this route.
  • A defect in the platform means that part of it cannot be used

This issue is most acute for stations where the transports call at 'high level' platforms, as (obviously) it would not be acceptable for passengers to be trying to get off the train by having to jump down on to the tracks! Likewise when calling at stations in tunnels or on viaducts it is essential that the train's doors only open next to platform faces.

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In 1938/9 the stations on the original section of what is now the London Underground Central Line were lengthened to accept 8-car trains. At subterranean stations the platform extensions were built in a way which also provides a larger safety clearence between the train and the tunnel wall, which explains the tunnel diameter changes seen here. (Holland Park). In the 1940's Central Line services were extended over some former steam railway routes and as the Underground trains are shorter than the steam trains they replaced so at the stations there were sections of platform which were no longer used. This explains why both platform ends have been fenced off. (Barkingside).

In recent years a steady rise in passenger numbers many railway routes in London has seen trains steadily become longer everytime the rolling stock is replaced, and on some lines the situation has been reached whereby at a few stations the platforms are no longer long enough. The solution adopted years past of lengthening platforms has been ruled out as being too expensive and too disruptive - especially at the many subterranean stations.

Perhaps the solution that would best please the health and safety people would be for the relevant train door(s) to remain closed during the station stop and for passenger information messages inside the train to advise passengers to use other doorways.

However at some stations there is sufficient space for a narrow width section of platform to be extended in to the tunnel - so that all the train's doors can still be open. The example from Baker Street station seen below dates from the era before the days when the health and safety people were so powerful and demonstrates a pragmatic solution that worked for many years. It was perhaps only possible to adopt this solution because the tunnels here were originally built for the Great Western Railways' broad gauge trains which were wider than present day trains.

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Closed doorway on a London Underground tube train at an historic station
where nowadays the trains are slightly too long to fully fit into the station platform.
(Northern Line Bank branch, southbound platform at Euston station.)
Open doorway on a London Underground subsurface train at Baker Street station.

The sign on the platform end wall tells passengers that they should not wait for trains in the section of platform which is in the tunnel. To make the text easier to read an enlarged version of the sign has been placed in one of the train's doorways.
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These views were also taken at Baker Street station and show what the passengers in the train see.

The view above - right shows that there is an extra sign encouraging passengers to use a different train doorway. This extra sign is positioned where it would likely be the first thing that is seen when the doors open on a train that had stopped a little further back in the tunnel than normal. Passengers would still be able to use the doorway to leave the train, but they are discouraged from doing so. It is not just a safety issue - another reason would be because by alighting from the train here the passengers would get very close to (and possibly even brush against) the dusty tunnel wall.

In the present era when health and safety risk averse thinking rules our way of life a new example of the solution seen at Baker Street would be very unlikely to be allowed.

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The three Baker Street station views several rows above show what nowadays is history. A new fleet of trains have been brought in to service and these are even longer than those that had previously been used. The older trains almost certainly had grandfather rights which could not be transferred to the new trains. Therefore the doors now remain closed on the part of the train which is still inside the tunnel whilst the train calls at this station. This is not a severe hardship however, as the new trains were designed so that passengers can walk through from carriage to carriage whilst still inside the train.

Of course wherever possible it is preferable to extend short platforms to match the length of the trains which call there.

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These images show a station where the platforms have been extended because rising passenger numbers meant that trains needed to be lengthend from three to four carriages. Since this photograph was taken the trains have been lengthened even further - to five carriages. (South Acton)

However, sometimes photographs can only tell half a story... until the 1960's all the stations on this route (London's North London line) were capable of accepting trains which were formed of six carriages, but rationlisation by the then British Railways saw most of them being shortened. In addition to the new, longer, trains much of the route has been resignalled so that trains can travel much more frequently as well, significantly increasing overall route capacity.

Because of rising passenger numbers London's Docklands Light Railway also found it neccessary to start using longer trains, and to lengthen most station platforms so that they would be compatible with the longer trains.

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Having had its platforms extended the new section remains closed off until other stations are ready and the longer trains can be brought into service. By way of contrast this station's platforms were opened much earlier and these signs erected advising passengers that it would be pointless to wait for trains on the extended sections of platform.

For various reasons some DLR stations could not have their platforms lengthened. When calling at these stations the longer trains stop with the front and rear beyond the station platforms.

In addition, the passenger doors in those sections of the trains remain closed, and although this can be a nuisance for alighting passengers it should not be more than that, as there will always be two other sets of doors elsewhere in the same carriage which passengers can use.

Although subterranean sections of the DLR include a continuous emergency evacuation side-walkway through the tunnels it was decided that a portion of this could not be used as a station platform extension.

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Cutty Sark is a subterranean station where it was decided that the cost of extending the platforms to accept the longer triple-unit trains would be so high that this would not be done.
As an aside, this is the station which visitors to London should use if visiting the historic Greenwich area.
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Elverson Road is one of the surface stations where the platforms have also not been extended and as a result two sets of doors at the front and rear of the train remain closed whilst calling here. Automated announcements advise passengers who wish to alight from the train that they need to walk through to adjacent doorways.

These views show the front portion of a train which is in the closed-off zone (left) and a view from inside the train showing the sign at the station advising passengers that the doorway is not being used (right).
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Platforms which have been shortened because they were built for trains that are longer than those which now use them do not pose safety risks, although some transport operators like to artificially shorten such platforms 'simply because they can'. Sometimes the cost of installing the physical barriers will be recovered in financial savings from not lighting the unused portion of the platform at night and only performing the minimum maintenance required for overall safety.

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This page last updated 27th March 2018
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