20th April, 2017

All Aboard! The Railway Stations Where Old Meets New

By Jason Ng, Senior Marketing Communications Specialist for MK Electric

Since railways started to spread across Europe in the middle of the 19th century, beautiful railway stations have been built to inspire passengers and to act as statements of success for their cities. Often serving as time-honoured focal points for their communities, the evolving and increasing needs of the commuting and travelling public have left many stations struggling to be fit for 21st-century purpose.

In recent years, huge projects have been undertaken to transform and modernise stations across the continent. And while some have been complete ground-up rebuilds that have fully embraced modern design and architecture, others have incorporated new creations in juxtaposition with the original buildings and backdrops with some truly stunning results. In this blog, we celebrate four of the most awesome blends of old and new.

Rotterdam Centraal, the Netherlands

One of the busiest and most strategically important stations in the Netherlands, and projected to receive a tripling of daily passenger numbers between 2007 and 2025, the central station of Rotterdam was in serious need of a reconstruction. A seven-year demolition and rebuild project was completed in March 2014, and although this station is all new, its designers were keen to ensure that a sense of history was retained.


Rotterdam Centraal, the Netherlands

The glass roof of the main train shed is a perfect example of this. Instead of a contemporary ‘seamless’ look with relatively minimal framework, the steel-framed structure consists of a multitude of smaller panels that throw patterns of natural light and shade across the platforms and concourses – a subtle hallmark of rail travel of old. Meanwhile, although the main entrance is dominated by a huge triangular wooden edifice, passengers are still greeted by the metallic ‘Centraal Station’ lettering and clock from the original station of 1957, helping to create a comforting sense of familiarity for visitors in a brand new setting.

Antwerpen-Centraal, Belgium

Named the most beautiful railway station in the world by Mashable magazine in 2014, to redevelop Antwerp’s main terminus and detract from its character would have been a crime against architecture. Mercifully, the nine-year project to vastly expand the station, which was completed in 2007, left the stunning grand entrance hall untouched and retained the character of the vast iron and glass train shed that sits behind it.


Antwerpen-Centraal, Belgium

With a considerable number of additional platforms needed to incorporate new international services, the train shed’s sweeping iron arches could have been under threat from outward expansion. Instead, the developers went downwards and excavated enough space for trains to arrive and depart from the station on four different levels. This has been carried out on either side of the train shed while leaving the central space open, so that the natural light from the roof can illuminate even the lower levels of the station, resulting in a station that’s fit for modern use but still oozes history and tradition.

London King’s Cross

One of London’s busiest terminals and the start of the East Coast Main Line that runs to Scotland, King’s Cross was cramped, dingy, neglected and made to look ugly by a low-level concourse extension that was built in the 1970s. But, after a five-year redevelopment that cost £500million and completed a few months before London’s hosting of the Olympic Games in 2012, this gateway to the north has been given a new lease of life.

London King’s Cross

A modern semi-circular concourse has transformed the space beyond recognition. The cool white metal roof is formed in a ‘diagrid’ structure free of supporting columns across the 150-metre span of the hall, save one: the base that sits at the front of the traditional façade (restored by Network Rail). Helping to draw attention to a historic monument of British train travel, it’s a conscious move to celebrate Victorian form amongst today’s functionality.

London St Pancras International

Literally next door to King’s Cross, the terminus for the Midland Main Line was in a similarly sorry state in the later years of the last millennium. The walls and roof panels of St Pancras were leaking, dilapidated and covered in soot from decades of emissions from steam and diesel engines. For a station opened in 1868 and featuring the longest single-span roof in the world when it was built, its condition was a travesty – and we have the Channel Tunnel to thank for its restoration to its former glory.


London St Pancras International

St Pancras’s £800million redevelopment, the centrepiece of which was it becoming the London station for Eurostar services from France and Belgium, was completed in 2007. 

While the train platforms have been kept at a high level, covered by the striking restored roof arches, it’s below where the real transformation has taken place.

The undercrofts below the tracks were previously dark, foreboding spaces used for storing beer barrels. But now, thanks to the creation of four gaps between the platforms, they now form a concourse of shops, cafes and Eurostar departure facilities. Despite all these changes, the historic structure of the Victorian era hasn’t been forgotten, as the concrete structure of the elevated trackbed is supported by the original cast-iron pillars, which take pride of place around the shop fronts of the concourse.

Of all industrialised advances, transport tends to be one of the least sympathetic towards heritage. Works of beauty that inspire memories of a bygone era are regularly swept aside in the name of progress. That’s why railway termini that respect or even actively embrace their past are so remarkable in this day and age – and equally why they’re cherished by rail and architecture buffs alike.


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