Europe vs the USA, Train Station Edition

A tourist mother was overheard in the lobby of the MetLife building telling her daughter that it was a train station. This is something which could only happen in America. I love US train stations, especially the grand ones along the Boston-to-Washington corridor: Washington’s Union Station, Philly’s Penn Station, New York’s Grand Central Terminal. But one thing these imposing edifices all have in common is a very un-European habit of hiding the trains.

Europe, of course, has more than its fair share of grand train stations of many different vintages, from Antwerp to Milan. But as a general rule — one which applies equally to the newest and shiniest of them all, in Berlin — they celebrate the trains, rather than hiding them. The centerpiece of any train station is just as much the large steel-and-glass turn-of-the-century sheds over the tracks as it is any imposing facade.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any obvious reason why this should be the case. Why should the Europeans be the utilitarians, here? I suspect it might have something to do with the vintage of the stations in the US: maybe they were built a bit later than their European counterparts, in more developed cities, and therefore had less room to play with and more incentive to bury the tracks and the trains. But I doubt that’s the whole story.

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2 Responses to Europe vs the USA, Train Station Edition

  1. geoff says:

    similar to european stations, many early american stations had glass train sheds/ platforms. penn station (the original one) and grand central depot did. at the time of construction, such sheds were a bit of a necessity, as you couldn’t really put steam engines underground without suffocating all on board. with the advent of electric trains, the yards could be built over and the land recaptured. this happened in the early teens for grand central and, rather detrimentally, to penn station in the 1960s.

  2. Jon Fostik says:

    Brussels Central (or Midi) is underground. If you want to glance a glimpse of the trains in the US consider Hoboken Terminal, Atlantic City, Boston South Station, Chicago Northwestern Station, San Francisco Caltrain 4th Street Station, Oakland Jack London Square, San Diego, Dallas Union Station. Some promising spots on the US station horizon ( if they come to pass, i.e. money found) would be a renovated Transbay Terminal in San Francsico, although the trains would be underground. Milwaukee just renovated its Amtrak station; Minneapolis is planning a new intermodal terminal downtown for Northstar commuter rail and Amtrak. Hopefully St. Paul Union Station will reopen at some point in the next 5-7 years. And Seattle King Street is being “gussied up”. Although somewhat larger due to a recent renovation, Boston North Station is still living in the shadow of the sports Fleet Center. Richmond Main Street was brought back from the dead, albeit without the former shed being used, but now what it needs is more trains. Likewise on the promising list include a new Miami intermodal station and an Amtrak return to part of Jacksonville Union Terminal. Big redevelopment plans at Denver Union, and now the feds don’t want the tracks moved underground. If the state of Georgia ever gets its act together, Atlanta’s proposed Georgia Central Station would add some splash. Charlotte is planning an intermodal station-artists conceptions show it as part of an urban area including hotel, shops etc. Cities that should be on the station ” need do better list” would include Houston, New Orleans, Orlando, Birmingham, Detroit,Cleveland. Bear in mind that some of the grander European stations are a result of having to rebuild after WWII damage plus changing political situations, i.e. Berlin.

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