Railway Stations - Encyclopedia

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"RAILWAY STATIONS. -The improvements made during the decade 1910-20, especially in the United States, in the construction and operation of railway passenger stations, may be said to have revolutionized railway terminal construction; and the newer stations, of which the Grand Central terminal in New York is the outstanding example, demonstrated even after a short period of operation their superiority from practically every point of view. The substitution of electricity for steam as a motive power was the basic factor in the newer methods of construction. As long as steam was used little could be done to mitigate the noise or noxious gases that made the old-fashioned railway yard a public nuisance. It was virtually necessary to operate these yards on the surface where the products of combustion could make a free escape to the open air. In any confined space steam operation is not only dangerous, owing to the tendency of smoke to obscure the signals, but unpleasant for pas sengers. The use of electricity eliminates the noxious gases and reduces the noise of the locomotive. An electrified yard can be depressed and completely covered over. This permits the reclamation of streets and valuable areas hitherto obstructed by tracks, with the result that what was formerly a railway yard filled with steam and smoke can be utilized for public and private buildings of the finest character.

In Europe, the completion of the passenger station at Leipzig (1915) was practically the only terminal improvement that was not interrupted by the World War, although the Gare St. Lazare in Paris was somewhat enlarged, and in London, Waterloo station was partly reconstructed and a number of tracks equipped for electric operation. The Leipzig station was under construction from 1907 to 1915, and cost L6,500,000, of which, following the German practice, 2,900,000 was borne by Saxony, 2,550, 000 by Prussia, £810,000 by the city of Leipzig and 240,000 by the imperial Post Office Department. The main building has a frontage of 984 ft. and occupies an area of 172,000 sq. feet. The train shed has a high roof of steel and glass, built in the form of six arches; it is 785 ft. long, with an area of 710,500 sq. ft., and covers 26 tracks. The station serves as a junction for the passenger traffic of Magdeburg, Thuringia and Dresden, and the larger part of the traffic between Prussia and Saxony passes through it.

At the close of the decade the Leipzig station was the largest, though not the busiest, station in Europe. It was smaller than the Grand Central and Pennsylvania stations in New York, and was in 1920 handling considerably less than half as much traffic as the Gare St. Lazare, the busiest station in the world. It was said in 1916 that the number of persons passing through the St. Lazare in a single month equalled the total number of soldiers fighting on all fronts. Plans were then undertaken to electrify the suburban traffic, which is very heavy, and to depress the suburban tracks to a level beneath the steam trains. Even without these increased facilities, the station furnished accommodations for 200,000 to 250,000 passengers a day, a record, however, very nearly equalled in London by Liverpool St. station. Both the Gare St. Lazare and Liverpool St. station handled on busy days twice as much traffic as the South station in Boston, the busiest American station.



No. of



per day


per day

Grand Central, N.Y.





Pennsylvania, N.Y.





Leipzig.. .





St. Lazare, Paris





Liverpool St., London .





Waterloo, London





South, Bosto





Kansas City .





Northwestern, Chicago





TABLE I. Largest Railway Stations. Outside of Europe and North America two important stations were erected, one in Argentina and one in Japan. The Retiro station of the Central Argentine railway at Buenos Aires, said to be the finest station in South America, was opened in the latter part of 1915. The terminal, including buildings, train sheds and approaches, occupies 744,000 sq. ft., and in point of size and design compares with any of the newer stations elsewhere. Much of its equipment was supplied by English contractors. The Central Railway station in Tokyo, completed in 1915, was erected at the very small cost of X270,000, although it is built on a scale which in the West would cost 10 or 20 times as much. The explanation lies in the extremely low price paid for Japanese labour, iod. ($.20) a day (of io to 12 hours) for common labourers, and £5 a month for carpenters and masons. Estimated in days' labour, the cost was 730,000 labourer-days. The main building is of brick and granite, 1,104 ft. long, 66 to 132 ft. wide and 54 ft. high, with a dome (152 ft.) at either end. The terminal took the place of three stations which formerly served the three main-line Government railways.

In the United States and Canada a constantly increasing railway traffic made necessary the construction of a large num ber of new stations. Terminals that had been erected with the expectation that they would serve their purpose for 50 years or longer became inadequate in less than half that time. The result was that the newer stations were built on what would otherwise be considered too extravagant a scale. The designers were looking to the future.

One distinctively American contribution to the advance of terminal architecture was the invention of an improved roof to take the place of the great arched train shed, once considered the most necessary adjunct of a railway station. Cold in winter and hot in summer, these sheds were expensive to build and expensive to maintain. Even at the height of their popularity there were some designers who preferred the umbrella or butterfly types of shed, consisting of a series of low arches which, viewed in cross section, suggest the names by which they are known. After 1905 the Bush type of shed began to supersede all others, especially where steam was still tolerated in the terminal area. This shed was the invention of Lincoln Bush, who made the first installation at the Hoboken terminal of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western railway, of which he was chief engineer. The Bush shed is similar to the butterfly and umbrella sheds; it differs principally in that it affords a continuous roof except for an overhead slot above the centre of each. track for the escape of steam and gases from locomotives. A shed of this pattern affords protection from the weather, is free from smoke and dirt, and costs about one-half as much as the large arched shed. Within ten years after its invention the Bush shed had been adopted in ii American and Canadian terminals, notably the Michigan Central station at Detroit, the Northwestern at Chicago, the Grand Trunk at Ottawa and the Canadian. Pacific at Montreal. In England there was developed a somewhat different type known as the " ridge and furrow," of which the Snow Hill station of the Great Western railway at Birmingham, reconstructed in 1914, furnishes an example. The Snow Hill train shed consists of a series of transverse girders (275 ft. long with four supporting columns) spanning the entire width of the station. The best results, however, can be attained only where the smoke and dirt of steam operation are eliminated altogether. The problem of the train shed was most completely solved in the Grand Central terminal, New York, where electricity was adopted as a motive power. Here the " sheds " closely resemble the stations on a subway or underground railway.

Less successful in this respect, though of first-rate importance among the new stations of the period, was the Pennsylvania station in New York. Being of the so-called throughstation type, this station is essentially a monumental bridge over the tracks, which traverse Manhattan Island in tunnels under the city. The main building was designed after the Roman Doric style of architecture and occupies two complete blocks (8 ac.), on Seventh Avenue from 31st to 33rd Streets. The general waiting-room is 277 ft. by 103 ft., with a height of 150 feet. The train yard or shed (340 ft. by 210 ft.) is an " undisguised example of modern engineering in glass and iron," and suggests somewhat the old-fashioned train shed. The station was built primarily to provide the Pennsylvania railway with a terminus in New York (before 1910 the terminus was in Jersey City), and the construction of the river tunnels, which were necessary to make a connexion with Manhattan Island, was an engineering feat of considerable magnitude. The improvement extends from Manhattan Transfer, i m. east of Newark (about 72 m. from the terminal), to a connexion with the Long Island railroad at Woodside, L.I., which also used the Pennsylvania station as a terminus. At Manhattan Transfer incoming Pennsylvania trains change to electric operation and are hauled by electric locomotive, operating with a direct current of boo volts from a third rail. At the New Jersey shore they descend into one of the two approach tunnels and proceed under the Hudson river and New York to the Pennsylvania station. As soon as empty they leave the station to the east, still travelling underground in one of four tunnels which pass under eastern Manhattan and the East river to Long Island, where they emerge not far from the railway yards. The terminal was completed in 1910 at a cost of $115,000,000.

The Grand Central terminal, undoubtedly the most successful modern terminal of any type, was begun in 1903 and opened to the public in 1912. The primary purpose was to provide not only the necessary traffic facilities for an enormous number of passengers - ultimately expected to reach at least 250,000 a day - but to ensure pleasant and comfortable accommodations for every passenger, even at times when the crowds were heaviest. Subsequent development of the terminal area has made the Grand Central terminal not merely a railway station but a civic " center " of impressive beauty and utility. A railway station should form a harmonious unit in the architectural development of the city, but the designers of the Grand Central terminal accomplished something more than that: they actually transformed the architectural aspect of a very considerable section of New York. They achieved this result partly by setting a high standard themselves and partly by causing practically every property owner and builder within that section to measure up to it. The achievement was the more remarkable in that the entire project was conceived and carried out by the New York Central lines, a private corporation, without assistance of the city or state. The extraordinary architectural and economic success of this terminal was largely due to the intensive utilization of areas immediately adjoining the tracks and even over the tracks themselves - areas that were formerly incapable of being used or were suitable only for cheap dwellings or certain kinds of factories. Early plans did not contemplate buildings of a greater height than six stories in the immediate terminal area, but as soon as it was evident that noise, smoke and dirt had been successfully eliminated there arose a demand for hotels and office and apartment buildings of 25 and even 30 stories. This development was favoured by the fact that in constructing the terminal the engineers were able to restore to public use a number of streets that had hitherto been entirely done away with or existed only as foot bridges. The underground areas, yards, etc., occupy about 80 ac., which above the surface are covered with a great variet y of buildings. It was not long before the enormous expenditure on the terminal, about $150,000,000, came to be economically justified by reason of the high return obtained from the lease of the space over the yards, etc., for building purposes, the so-called " air rights.". In 1920 this return was sufficient to meet the fixed charges on the entire investment. The problem of building the station was extraordinarily complicated, and the closest coordination between the operating and engineering departments was necessary to carry out the new construction while tearing down the old station and at the same time keeping in operation some Boo trains a day, including those run for construction purposes. There were excavated 3,250,000 cub. yds. of material (more than two-thirds of which was solid rock), and in the construction there were used about 1,000,000 bar. of cement; and all this work was performed without interruption to the service rendered the public. The architects, Reed & Stem and Warren & Wetmore, adopted a modified Doric style. The " head house," or station proper, is of monumental proportions and the facade (on 42nd St.) consists of three great portals designed to carry out the idea of a gateway. The exterior is granite and Indiana limestone. The main concourse, with a length of 275 ft. and a width of 120 ft., can accommodate 30,000 people at one time. Its great height (125 ft.) gives it an effect of unusual spaciousness. From the concourse the passenger walks directly out on the same level to the " express " platforms. In winter the main concourse is kept warm by indirect heating, and the station platforms are protected against inclement weather so that even on the coldest days the passenger can board his train in comfort. The tracks occupy two levels. The express level is 20 ft. below the level of the street (Park Ave.) and occupies 45.4 ac.; the suburban level is 44 ft. below the street and occupies 32.8 acres. There are 42 tracks on the upper level and 25 on the lower; a special waiting-room (the suburban concourse) gives access to the latter. Leading from the main concourse are connexions with the incoming waiting-room (or station), the Commodore and Biltmore Hotels, the Yale Club, the Vanderbilt Concourse office building and various other buildings. The incoming waiting-room, located beneath the Biltmore Hotel, has separate passage-ways of its own leading to the concourse, the subways, the street, etc., so that passengers arriving in the terminal do not interfere with the flow of people to trains. The use of ramps, or inclined passage-ways, instead of stairways, facilitates the movement of passengers and lessens the danger of accident. Nearby hotels include the Belmont and Chatham.

A vital necessity in designing the Grand Central terminal was a signalling system for each level that could be operated by a director who could not possibly see the train movements which he controlled. Interlocking machinery, which in its simplest form is locking mechanism designed to control the signals so that they will. automatically indicate the position in which the switch is set, was originated in England about 1856, but its use did not become general for many years. To operate the complicated network of trackage in a modern terminal requires interlocking machinery of an extremely elaborate character; the mechanism must safely control traffic and permit train movements with the greatest possible despatch. In the Grand Central terminal the interlocking machinery is of the allelectric type. Each track level is controlled by a director who is guided by a diagram on which the movement of trains is indicated by small electric lights. The largest of the signal machines is operated by 400 levers, each of which moves electrically a switch or signal, and to each 40 levers is assigned a man working under the instruction of the train director. The machinery is as nearly automatic as possible. Alternating-current track circuits are used to prevent the operation of switches while trains are moving over them and to indicate the presence of trains in proximity to danger zones. These circuits also operate electric locks which automatically hold the levers so that they cannot be moved except when the track is clear. Alternating current is used because of the 660-volt directcurrent circuit employed for electric motive power. There are five main interlocking stations. The procedure in the case of an incoming train is as follows: At Harmon (33 m.) the steam locomotive is detached and an electric locomotive substituted. From Mott Haven Junction (5.3 m.) the train is announced to the director by telegraph or loud-speaking telephone (a telephone instrument with a horn similar to that of a gramophone instead of a receiver). After the train has passed 72d St. the director can trace its further progress by means of the electric buttons on his diagram, and he then decides upon which track to receive the train and gives his order to the levermen accordingly. When the incoming track is determined an announcement is made by means of the telautograph to various parts of the terminal. This instrument notifies the attendant at the incoming bulletin board and, in the case of through trains, serves to summon the station porters.

The Grand Central terminal was built by the New York Central lines under the direct supervision of W. H. Newman, then chairman of the board of directors. The terminal is owned 60% by the New York Central lines and 40% by the New York, New Haven & Hartford railway, and is used by both railways under a detailed operating agreement. In 1920 the traffic capacity of the station was far from being reached, yet more than 110,000 passengers used the station, arriving and departing on some 600 trains daily. Besides these there were every day from 50,000 to Ioo,000 people who passed in and out of the station without using the trains. Of the daily traffic about 65,000 were suburban passengers, and this kind of traffic was steadily increasing. From 1903, when the construction was begun, to 1920 the total passenger traffic very nearly trebled.

Reference to Table II. will indicate the more important new stations besides those already described. In addition to the terminals listed, two new stations of large proportions were planned for Chicago. One of these, the new Union station, was already under construction in 1921, while the designs for the other, the Illinois Central or 12th St. station, had been approved by the railway and by the city authorities.






main building



Washington, U.C. .


663 x 211

Pennsylvania, N.Y. .

19 to

430 x 430


Northwestern, Chicago .


320 x 218


Grand Central, N.Y.


673 x 301


Ottawa, Quebec,


281 x 141


Michigan Central, Detroit


345 x 266

Kansas Cit y. .


510 x 150


Havana, Cuba. .


240 x 70


Buenos Aires. .


850 x 606


Tokyo. ... .


1,104 (Frontage)


Leipzig... .


984 ..


St. Paul, Mimi. .


Table, 11. - Representati.ve Railway Stations erected 1907-22. *Includes entire cost of terminal development.

Whether the expense of the more elaborate American terminals is justified in view of the limited profit obtained from passenger business is a question which gave rise to no little discussion. Estimates were made as to the number of miles of new track that could be laid with the money expended for terminals, and it was demonstrated in some instances that terminal charges were making serious inroads on passenger profits. " As showing what some railways are up against," said John A. Droege, general superintendent of the New York, New Haven & Hartford railway, writing in 1916, " it is worth noting that the New Haven has to pay 29 cents for each passenger it brings into the Grand Central terminal in New York." 1 The U.S. Interstate Commerce Commission, in its report in the Anthracite case (35 I.C.C. 270), under the head of " Unproductive Betterments," said: " The Pennsylvania has expended on its new passenger terminal properties in New York City approximately $414,000,000. These properties are operated by the Pennsylvania Tunnel & Terminal railway company, and the operations result in a deficit each year. The deficit in the year ended June 30 1913 was $2,087,000. .

Thus the question is presented: Must the present effective freight rates of the Pennsylvania earn an annual return of 6% on the investment in these terminal properties? The record shows that $47,000,- 000 of the expenditures in this property has been charged to profit and loss and to income of the Pennsylvania - that is, its past surplus income has already contributed $47,000,000 to the cost of this property." In answer to such criticisms Samuel Rea, president of the Pennsylvania lines, stated in 1917 that in seven years the traffic of the Pennsylvania station had increased from 9,862,434 to 18,135,- 311 annually, and that if the probable period of its usefulness was considered it could not be regarded as an unproductive betterment. He pointed out also that had the Pennsylvania waited longer to purchase a site in Manhattan the prices would have become prohibitive.

By leasing " air rights " and retail privileges within the station, the owners of the Grand Central terminal were able in 1920 to make an effective answer to criticisms of this sort. Following the example of the Grand Central, many railways sought to make their stations productive investments. Thus the Michigan Central constructed a seventeen-story office building in connexion with its station at Detroit, while the designers of the proposed Union station at Chicago, estimated to cost nearly $too,000,000, altered their plans to provide for a huge office building over the head house and train shed.

Closely connected with the criticism of expense was the criticism on the score of excessive size. Ironic references were made to the " magnificent distances " which passengers were compelled to walk between the street and trains. Examples of the distance walked by passengers purchasing tickets and checking baggage were given as follows: South station, Boston, 1,100 ft.; Northwestern, Chicago, 940 ft. and 20 ft. climb; Pennsylvania, New York, 480 to 950 ft., depending on the entrance used; Grand Central, New York, 450 ft.; Union, Washington, 1,200 feet. It should be said, however, that space is required if immense crowds are to be handled, and a slight extra walk is a small price to pay for freedom from the discomfort of crowded passage-ways. Nevertheless there were some leading railway men who believed that future development would be in the direction of more and smaller terminals located at various parts of a cit y. One proposal was to construct a system of subways, making each stop a Union Railway Station.

See J. A. Droege, Passenger Terminals and Trains (New York, 1916).

(H. B.*)

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