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Petre Popescu

Zuid/Midi is actually not as confusing as it sounds. "Midi" means "midday" in French, and it's often used as a synonym for "south".



In terms of functionality, Union Station in Toronto is an end-station. Very few people travel through Toronto, and even if they do they still have to switch trains or wait a long time for their train to take off again. And as the largest city in Canada you would think it would be important enough to be an obstacle. Yet the station design is that of a through-station. Whenever a train arrives (let alone two) there is a monstrous delay as the people bottleneck while trying to cram themselves into a tiny, dark, dingy tunnel. Some welcome to such a supposedly important city, huh? What an incredible missed opportunity, and what a failure of imagination and design on the part of the planners and architects.


I suspect one reason overpasses are less common than tunnels is that the distance you have to go up to get over the tracks is much more than to go down and under the tracks. In many cases this may make ramps impractical, necessitating escalators and/or lifts.

Melbourne's newish (renovated) Southern Cross Station has a mix of terminating tracks (most of the regional lines) and through tracks (suburban lines). During the renovation they abandoned the underground tunnels, and for the through tracks switched to overpasses. Many frequent users think the underpasses were quicker, but your point about above-ground navigation for new users is a good one.

Alon Levy

I'm not sure your hypothesis about through- versus end-station holds outside Europe. In the US, the layout of a station reflects mainly when it was built, and what the necessary connections were. The very old stations, or newer stations on very old lines, were built on a network of small private railways, so they weren't figured with multiple connections in mind. The newer stations, built by governments or by conglomerates, needed connections in multiple directions, and mostly had a through-layout. Think of it as the difference between Grand Central and Penn Station.

There are exceptions on both sides, depending on special circumstances - e.g. Broad Street in Philadelphia became a through-station, while LA Union Station was a terminus. But in neither case was it because of perceived importance - it was because of transportation need. Philadelphia needed to connect to New York, Pittsburgh, and Washington. Los Angeles needed to connect in just one direction, east.

I don't agree with what you say about passenger experience at through- versus terminal stations, either, again based on non-European examples. The stations in the US, as well as Shanghai's two train stations (both termini), separate the track level, which is cramped and dinky, from the main concourse, which runs the gamut from so-so to magnificent.


Is that at all related to the (somewhat archaic) use of "meridian" in English to mean "south"?

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

I've deleted the sentence to which Petre's comment refers.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

I'm talking about effects here, not just purposes. End stations have the effect of emphasising the importance of the city compared to others on the network, if only because everyone must change there. That's not inconsistent with the fact that these designs are the result of transport need (or more precisely, with the intersection between transport need and city geography.)

Alon Levy

You could argue it the other way, too: end stations inconvenience travelers, causing rail operators to shift operations to cities with through-stations - this has happened on Britain's multiply branched mainlines, where British Rail constructed hubs at through-stations located right before crucial splits, like Milton Keynes.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Absolutely. That's part of the tradeoff. As I mention, bypasses of major capitals via through-stations are an important part of pan-European thinking about the rail network.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Actually, an earlier draft of this post mentioned Southern Cross. Half of it is an end station and the other half is a through station, and the latter is very well done as through-stations go because the pedestrian circulation is over the tracks instead of under it. Nowhere in Southern Cross do you leave the main station space with its defining roof.

An earlier post of mine on Southern Cross is here:


Cap'n Transit

Penn Station is, of course, a prime example of the best and worst practices in through-station design. I'm thinking that it's easier If the tracks are well below grade

Ed O

Two examples of European through-stations where you go up rather than down:

Hamburg Hbf - overpasses at both ends under the roof. You can easily see the shops and way out from the platforms. Also, from the overpasses there's a great view of the platforms - when changing trains, you can keep your eye on that ICE train as you make the mad dash from one platform to the other...

København H - there's no direct visual connection between the platforms and the magnificent concourse hall - but you get a fine sense of arrival as you ascend the escalators from the platforms and emerge into the hall.

Louis Haywood

Washington's Union Station is similar in this regard. Some trains arrive on through tracks (tracks continue south, partially under the US Capitol and the National Mall, serving and Virginia Railway Express commuter trains), while some, including Acela Express trains, arrive at the end station. But there are no tunnels, just simple stairs up to the station.

Also, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the first station pictured is Paris Gare de l'Est, not Gare St Lazare, judging by the looks and the TGV train on the right.


If I recall correctly, Heidelberg Hbf and Mainz Hbf in Germany are both through-stations with overpasses between tracks. Regensburg Hbf may be the same, but I can't remember for sure.

Würzburg Hbf is unique, in that the tunnel under the tracks is the main level. Take the stairs down from your train, follow the tunnel to the end and you'll find yourself in the main station hall at street level. Yes, you can technically call it a tunnel still, but the flow as a passenger feels more natural (or maybe just easier since there's only one set of stairs to navigate if Wurzburg is your origin or destination, rather than two).

Louis Haywood

To be accurate, the Union Station tracks don't go under the National Mall, and probably go just behind the Capitol Building.

Jarrett, by the way, great post as always.


The worst train station (big one) is still probably nicer and more convenient than the nicest airport... :)


We have a similar situation in Boston,With two stub end terminals,one for all southern rail traffic,and one for all northern.Now,Ive heard several proposals to link either terminals with an underground tunnel,have any other European Cities attempted this?

Alon Levy

Yes. In Paris, the RER was built by connecting terminals with underground tunnels.

James D

In a similar vein, there is Dresden Hauptbahnhof, which looks just like a normal terminal station, apart from being encased by massive through platform structures on either side of the station building. The Germans, being typically, well, German, describe this layout as an Inselbahnhof (island station).

James D

It's not just major capitals. Smaller cities also get by-passed if they have terminal stations, and if anything it's the junction station areas that are seeing development. Both Tours and Orléans have seen many long-distance services transferred respectively to St-Pierre-des-Corps and Fleury-les-Aubrais (aka Les-Aubrais-Orléans).

There is of course an alternate approach to making a terminal through: i.e. actually physically modifying the terminal. This has been done with subterranean levels and an end-on tunnel at Antwerp, whilst Stuttgart has a proposed scheme that goes radically beyond this sort of thing. It's things like that that make me doubt the idea of pan-European thinking!

(Incidentally, Milton Keynes is something else: it's not actually just before a major split (that line splits at Rugby); it's just a "New Town" (i.e. a garden city on bureaucratic steriods). The only real instance of a British junction station that still exists is Bristol Parkway.)

James D

Yes, there are loads of through stations where you go up. Rather less attractive (and sharing many of the flaws of New York Penn station) is Birmingham New Street. In fact, Birmingham Snow Hill and the rather more attractive Birmingham Moor Street are also "ups". Other large British stations where you go up include Newcastle Central and Leeds City. And of course, there's virtually every non-grade-separated station in Britain.

Of course this phenomenon is quite simply explained: it's cheaper not to grade-separate, it's cheaper to elevate a line than to put it below grade, and in larger cities you tend to get more effective demand for grade separation of one variety or the other.

But this wouldn't be complete without mentioning one particularly absurd station: Pontypridd. This is another one where the street access is at "underpass" level and stairs lead up to the southbound platform. But to get to the northbound platform, you have to go up to the southbound platform, then up again over a footbridge. As far as I know, this layout is unique.

James D

Loads of them. Dundee was done very early. So was Newcastle. The Midland Railway had a rather detailed plan to sort out Bradford, but that one never happened.

Barcelona sorted itself out in the 70s (which explains why Sants station is nowhere near the centre). Madrid's vaguely getting there -- nothing long-distance has served the former North station at Príncipe Pío for aeons, but there are still trains terminating at Chamartín that don't continue to Atocha.

And if we're counting local trains, then the Munich (in operation) and Leipzig (under construction) S-Bahns fit the bill. And then there was the whole elaborate Berlin Haupbahnhof scheme, which is historically more complex, but in form very similar.

I'm sure there are many others. Whether it's a good idea for Boston is another matter. If an adequate North Station - Worcester - Hartford - New Haven high speed route could be created, South Station could be reduced to the Amtrak service needed for Providence only, and far fewer trains would have to deal with a line littered with movable bridges.

Alon Levy

James, if I'm not mistaken, the movable bridges are in Connecticut, not Rhode Island or Massachusetts. Through-routing from South Station to North Station would improve circulation, not reduce traffic to Providence.

Besides which, there's nothing good about moving your commuter traffic away from your intercity station. You want to make it easier for people to get to the train station, not harder.

David Eerdmans (inno-V)

Fascinating piece of text. I totally agree that the 'feeling' of a through station is totally different from a end-station, and that most great stations around the world are end-station, despite the logical problems they bring for both trains as well as passengers.

As mentioned before in this thread, there are a few examples around the world where end-stations have been turned into through stations - Antwerp being a brilliant example where it worked out in a great way. It's nowadays one of the most impressive stations in the world, although it can be a bit tricky to find your way through it.

Interesting question why so few through stations have a bridge instead of a tunnel. In older stations this might have to do with not exposing passengers to steam (or diesel) exhaust fumes. Another reason my be not to spoil the beautiful architectural design of these train sheds, although in Liege Calatrava clearly shows that this shouldn't be a problem. A third reason could be that in many stations the railway line is located on a level above ground level, so going down to a tunnel actually means going to ground level. A bridge would mean extra stairs. And finally: a tunnel requiers less stairs, because a tunnel only needs to be high enough for passengers, while a bridge across the tracks needs to be as high as the train (and overhead wires).

Many stations in the former Soviet union do have bridges by the way. In larger stations you'll even see both a bridge and a tunnel - for example a bridge leading to the station hall for suburban travel and a tunnel leading to the long diatance station.


How many stairs there are to get to a bridge or tunnel depends very much on what kind of trains and platforms you have. For example, if you have to provide 20 feet of overhead clearance, plus enough room for overhead wires, and you have low level platforms, then a tunnel is clearly easier. If you have 13 foot overhead clearance, no overhead wires, and 3.5 foot high platforms, then there's actually fewer steps going up to a bridge than down into a tunnel. Plus, a bridge is often easier to retrofit after the fact since you don't have to dig under active tracks.


New York-Boston operations terminating in North Station would be a travesty.North Station projects the idea that corporate interests triumph over the public good,with its ugly brutalist architecture, and cramped conditions.Plus,a massive investment was taken to electrify the route between New Haven and Boston.It would be far better to maintain the shore line service and than build a Boston-Worcester-SpringField line.Now If a Montreal-Albany-NewYork line,than this would also allow for a Springfield-Pittsfield-Albany line.These combined with the Acelas and Regionals would create a fairly comprehensive HSR network


Besides, half the movable bridges are on the New York-New Haven segment anyway. If I'm recalling correctly, that would be at Cos Cob, Norwalk, Westport, Bridgeport, and Stratford. The rest of Connecticut has another five movable bridges, and there are none at all in Rhode Island.

Alon Levy

The Acela isn't really HSR. It runs at low speed for most of the way. The high-speed segments in Rhode Island and Massachusetts don't even have the highest average speed in the system, because of the slow zones near Boston - the average speed between New York and Philly is higher than between Providence and Boston.

However, the Rhode Island and Massachusetts segments do have high upgrade potential, because of the relatively high curve radii and the concrete ties. It's the Connecticut segments where bypasses are often better than upgrades.


I'm not really sure how much our bodies adapted for the savanna have anything to do with our preference for open spaces. If there is any lingering ancestral preference for a savanna environment surely it is overwhelmed with the daily life reinforcements we receive that open spaces are safer spaces and that visual orientation is the most natural, universal way to navigate. I make this point only to make sure that we don't build into our urban design mystical preferences. Open space can be more pleasant and easy to navigate than narrow tunnels, however a perfectly open featureless landscape can be equally disorienting and instill a strong sense of vulnerability. Whether there is any instinctual preference for open space or not, open space facilitates visual navigation, the most common day-to-day kind of navigation, making signs and symbols less necessary. Aversion to narrow, confined spaces is reinforced every time we are surprised by something we did not see, as the probability of us not seeing something that might surprise us increases the more limited our sight is. What do we gain by suggesting that there is an innate desire for open space that we do not learn by making transit stations as intuitively navigable as possible - that is visual navigation and as naturally safe as possible - that is by removing perceived and actual opportunities for surprise?

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Sounds like a raging agreement.  I agree that totally featureless plains can be as disorienting as tunnels, which is why the open sea, for example, can be hard on humans.   But my impression of the African savanna is that it's a lot like a good rail station.  There are enough physical features, a tree here, a rock there, that you can see where you are, where you're going, and what might be coming at you.  In any case I agree that the potential for surprise is the crucial issue.  Predation by big cats was a defining reality for early man at least until the domestication of fire, so we have evolved as prey, not just as predators, and while this adaptation generates much of the stress in the surprise-laden big city, and good design responds to it.


A classic example of a (giant!) through station with an overpass is Clapham Junction in London.

It's kind of horrible actually, since it's ancient and all stairs (no elevators, escalators, or ramps).

Frankly, the reason most of the old through-stations in Europe have underpasses is that most of the older major through-stations have *elevated track*, or at least track above the dominant surrounding grade level. If they have sunken track in a trench, they have overpasses. This is kind of stupidly obvious, and I'm surprised you missed it. The fewer levels involved in construction, the better, from an architect's point of view. From a pedestrian's point of view, it's better to walk straight in off the street and then go up (or down) than to have to go up *AND* down.

Seattle's King Street station has overpasses for exactly that reason; it's built by sunken track aiming for a tunnel.

Philadelphia's 30th Street Station is an extraordinary design, with the "mainline" tracks (currently sadly underused) below ground level, the "suburban" tracks above ground level at right angles, and the main interchange section being giant halls and passages at ground level. This is probably the most appropriate 19th century model for a grand station anywhere period, and frankly Berlin's Hauptbahnhof has some notable design similarities (pedestrians ground floor, trains at level -1 and +1).

In fact, NY Penn Station was technically built with overpasses too, in a design with one grand open hall and staircases down to platforms. Unfortunately the grand open hall was replaced with Madison Square Garden in a particularly abusive and stupid move.

(Of course, as you know, minor through stations are generally built with two platforms, one on each side, and direct access from the side. An overpass or underpass is only needed to switch sides, and often there's actually a controlled grade crossing. "No level change" does seem to be preferred if possible.)

I'm actually struggling to think of a multi-track through station which is truly at grade, and where therefore there was a "fair" choice between an overpass and an underpass. The ones I can think of all have overpasses (== cheaper).


For more examples, Crossrail in London, at some huge number of billions of dollars, is another such scheme; Thameslink, while using 19th century rails, was re-established in order to accomplish another such scheme.

For a really extreme example -- *in the US* -- NYC Pennsylvania Station. Amazingly they didn't start through-running until Amtrak came along (!!). However, before the giant multimillion dollar Pennsylvania Railroad project, trains from east of the Hudson terminated at Grand Central (or at the West Side Terminal), trains from Long Island terminated at Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn or Long Island City in Queens, and trains from everywhere else terminated in New Jersey. And you took a ferry to connect to Manhattan. (Or the "Hudson & Manhattan", now PATH, from NJ, or the Brooklyn Bridge or the subway from Long Island).

Penn Station connected the LIRR service and the Pennsylvania Railroad service into one station *in* Manhattan, and displaced a huge number of ferry, bridge, tunnel, PATH, and subway transfers. But it required more massive tunnel works than any of these projects until the RER (twin Palisades tunnels, twin "North River Tubes" under the Hudson, Penn Station, quadruple "East River Tubes" under the East River, and approaches). Actually it required substantially more works than the Boston tunnel would require, unless the suggested "Central Station" were built.


Oh, and I guess I didn't note this, but the next stage of the Pennsylvania Railroad's project involved the masssive Hell Gate Bridge, so that traffic from Connecticut and points east could link into the East River Tunnels and Penn Station. Really, for a through-connection project, it was one of the most involved ever.

Alon Levy

Hell Gate Bridge was a project of the New Haven Railroad, allowing it to serve both Penn Station and GCT. Most of its operations were based out of GCT, but it used Penn to through-run some trains from Washington in joint operation with the PRR.

Daniel Sparing

Interesting topic. Unfortunately, despite the less beauty I am completely for through stations in any future developments where possible, because of
1. the multiplication of connections of generates, and also
2.for the operative reason that it is expensive to turn around (and possibly clean, etc) trains in a city centre.
(to give an example following the Randstad, no trains end in the Schiphol airport as it would be very "expensive" timewise, but many services do in the next, small stop, Hoofdorp.)

Through stations:
I otherwise agree that careful architectural solution is needed for the pleasant tunnels, as well as some bright, common service area at the entrance -- this has been successful in Berlin and Bern, for example, which latter is in fact a through station, the mentioned ICE reverses as it uses the other branch of the Y shaped line.
Many through stations have some end platforms, too (e.g. Amsterdam), if you arrive here you are lucky :)

End stations:
where end stations exist for historic reasons, I agree to keep them as they are, of course. But note that in many cases, in fact some through tunnels have been retrofitted to these stations, e.g. in München (S-Bahn), in Kassel (RegioTram) and currently being extended in Zürich.

An example you will certainly not like :) is Stuttgart, where the end station will completely be cleaned out and a perpendicular, underground through line is constructed. We will see if it is gonna turn out a pleasant passenger experience.

Daniel Sparing

And to answer the last question: I guess, because the vertical clearance for people is much less, than for trains incl. catenary. Another reason, if trains run on elevated track (like in many Dutch cities), the tunnel is on street level, so it means less vertical movement.

But otherwise let's go for the overpass. Like in Basel, another example.


Nitpicky, but Berlin WAS a classic city of "end stations" - Anhalter, Potsdamer, Hamburger, etc. (each named for the direction/destination at the other end) and it was a dream of Prussian urban planners for much of the industrial era to connect/combine them. Most famously this was proposed by Albert Speer in his Germania project for the wholesale reconstruction of the capital city.

Matt Miller

I've found Jamaica station's LIRR portion in NYC, with the mezzanine above tracks, and freestanding escalators down to the trains, to be very pleasant.


Harrisburg, PA (built by the Pennsy) has a nice enough setup. The island platforms are all served by stairways up to a central enclosed overpass with windows and wooden benches. The waiting area is light, and the big windows give a clear view of arriving and departing trains. At the same time, because the enclosed overpass is small (perhaps 25' across), it doesn't bathe the platforms in shadows the same way larger stations like PHL-30th do.

In modern times, this is effectively an end station for the Keystone corridor, but in the olden days it was an important assembly point where long-distance trains were assembled or broken into sections to/from New York, Philly, Baltimore, DC, etc.

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