Train Stations Full of Superlatives and Curiosities

Author: Thorsten Rienth

Mar 08, 2023 Innovation

Train stations are not generally given a lot of attention, probably due to their purpose: People arriving there want to move on as quickly as possible. But it is often worth taking a closer look, because there are many unique and curious things about the buildings themselves.

If you want to get to Sireci Station in the European part of Istanbul and you have the time, why not buy a ticket for the time-honored Orient Express and make yourself comfortable at Paris Gare de l’Est. Designed by Prussian architect August Jachmund, Sireci Station – the construction of which began in 1888 – was one of the largest buildings of the time. However, the station achieved its fame back then not because of its size, but because of its innovative equipment: It included gas lighting and winter heating.
Heat, albeit produced by the greenhouse effect, is also the focus of a curiosity at Madrid Atocha station. Once through the doors, travelers are impressed by a tropical garden enclosed in steel and glass. This is what the people of Madrid transformed the old terminal into when it was being converted and expanded for the AVE high-speed train. More than 7,000 plants of 400 different species from America, Asia, and Australia grow in the 4,000-square-meter garden.
Grand Central Station: A bounty hunter beneath 2,500 lit stars
The gigantic main hall of New York’s Grand Central Station is also attractive, even if you are not taking a train. It makes you forget that the station is the largest in the world in terms of its 67 tracks. It is world-famous not least because of its frequent use as a movie set. In “The Avengers” (2012), for example, the terminal became the Hall of Justice. In 1988’s “Midnight Run”, bounty hunter Robert De Niro dragged con man Charles Grodin through the concourse to the train to Los Angeles – because Grodin’s film character Jonathan Mardukas suffers from a fear of flying. De Niro did not have time to look up in the scene. Beneath the dome, he would have seen the twelve constellations as well as around 2,500 illuminated stars.
Even thousands of kilometers away in Mumbai, India, the octagonal dome of the Shivaji Terminus, or Mumbai CST in short, is an architectural highlight: One hundred meters high, it rises impressively above the main entrance. More than three million passengers a day can let themselves be enthralled by the diverse decorations, columns, and arches inside. No wonder, then, that the station, built in Victorian style with Indian influences, is part of the UNESCO World Heritage.
The combination of modern elements and traditional architecture also characterizes the train station in the Japanese city of Kanazawa: The wooden entrance portal was modeled on traditional drums. Behind it rises a gigantic dome of glass and steel. Visitors have a good chance for a moment’s pause: The Shinkansen high-speed train takes just two and a half hours to reach the capital, Tokyo – by road, you would have to meander almost 500 kilometers through the Japanese mountains to the other side of the island of Honshu.
The deepest station: Arsenalna metro station in Kiev
But it is not just the visual appearance and history of the stations that are worth a look. The superlatives are also really interesting, with sometimes several cities staking out the same claims at the top.
For example, the Moscow and Tokyo subways are fighting over the record for the most passengers passing through per day. A frequently cited house number is eight million passengers. The metro in Beijing, on the other hand, claims to have carried as many as 13.754 million passengers on July 12, 2019. The title of the longest metro network is similarly disputed: According to operator Shanghai Municipal, the network in the metropolis at the mouth of the Yangtze River measures 831 kilometers. The Beijing Municipal Government claims 807 kilometers. Which of the two is the winner at any given time depends above all on when the next expansion of which network goes into operation.
A few more superlatives: The title of Europe’s highest railroad station is held by Jungfraujoch Station. Located almost 3,500 meters above sea level in the Swiss Alps, it can only be reached by funicular. The lowest station in the world is the Arsenalna metro station in Kiev. It is exactly 105.5 meters deep. The lowest station below sea level, Yoshioka-Kaitei, is located in Japan. It was operated on a regular schedule between 1988 and 2006 and is located in the Seikan Tunnel under the Tsugaru Strait seabed. Today, it serves only as an emergency exit.
“It’s about having a plan in place to minimize the risks”
Karl-Friedrich Schöps, expert for escalators and elevators at DEKRA, is well aware of the accident risks on escalators. Travelers should be especially attentive in the hustle and bustle of large train stations.
Mr. Schöps, do all escalators actually travel at the same speed?
Schöps: This is often the case within the EU. The EN115 standard specifies a maximum speed of 0.75 meters per second for escalators. This corresponds to around 2.7 kilometers per hour. The reason is that moving staircases – “escalator”, by the way, used to be the trademarked name of a single manufacturer – need to be slowed down quickly in an emergency. This would also work at higher speeds, but then the braking distance might be too long to avoid injuries.
0.75 meters per second is not exactly fast. Nevertheless, escalators are considered a hazard zone, whether in a department store, at an airport, or at a train station. Why?
Schöps: On the one hand, because escalators are extremely heavy monsters with high drive power. On the other hand, their design leaves numerous small gaps in which shoelaces, skirt hems, the soft edges of rubber boots, or fingers can get caught. If objects or limbs are pulled in, this can result in serious injury. So-called deflector brushes are therefore mandatory at critical points to cover the gaps.
How can the dangers be minimized further?
Schöps: For example with comb plate detectors. The ascending or descending steps “thread” themselves into the comb plates at the top and bottom of the escalator. If the comb plate is raised above a defined height, it is highly probable that something has been pulled in that should not be pulled in, in which case the detector triggers the emergency stop. Another safety mechanism is provided by step motion safety devices. They detect broken and thus sagging steps. If the step were to hit the comb plate at driving speed, the passengers would feel a huge jolt under their feet. The bottom line is that every protective mechanism is about having a plan in place to minimize the risks.
Suppose someone in front of me gets their shoelace caught in the escalator steps. How do I react correctly?
Schöps: There are red and clearly visible emergency stop buttons at both ends of escalators. In the event of danger, these buttons should be pressed as quickly as possible – too much is always better than too little. If the next emergency stop button is too far away, call out loudly and ask approaching passengers to press it.
And otherwise: Walk on the left, stand on the right?
Schöps: This unwritten law applies in countries with right-hand traffic. Though for safety reasons, you should actually not walk on escalators at all and always use the handrail. In practice, this unwritten law comes down to a service issue: If you’re in a hurry at the station, you should of course be able to walk up an escalator. Historically, there is another reason: In the past, department stores displayed floor plans at the top of their escalators. If someone stopped at the top to read them, the escalator would always push new people up behind them. It defuses the potentially dangerous situation immensely when people are not standing and walking in each others’ way.