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Is there life after rail? New uses for old stations.

Posted by Sarah Wright on Oct 13, 2015

Musee_DOrsay_Before_and_AfterWhat do you do with a train station when it’s no longer needed to serve its original purpose?

Sometimes they become too small, or remain too big, are no longer in the most suitable part of town, another station subsumes it or maybe it just doesn’t work for a modern train and today’s demanding passengers? What happens to it then? They are often central, sometimes huge, other times tiny or built deep underground. Some of them are so old or special they are protected and can’t be knocked down.

Today SmartRail's Sarah Wright takes a whistle-stop around the world and looks at some of the best, most unusual and even eccentric station conversions and aims to find out if there really is life after rail….

Royal_Mail_Secret_Rail1) Royal Mail’s Secret Rail Tracks: Since 2003 the Royal Mail’s underground sorting system and 6.5 miles of track have lay abandoned. Unknown to most, these tunnels used to transport 4 million parcels a day right under the feet of Londoners thanks to its driverless trains.It is hoped that by 2016 the tunnels will be re-opened to the public as the Royal Mail Museum and that visitors will be able to take a ride on replica trains along a 1km loop of track.

Musee_dOrsay2) Musée d’Orsay: In 1900 Orsay Railway Station was constructed for Paris’ World Fair. The station is now famous as one of Paris’ most important galleries. Before it housed art, Orsay station had 16 underground tracks, it was used as a mailing centre for sending packages to prisoners of war during the Second World War, then those same prisoners were welcomed there on upon returning home after the Liberatio. Osay was later used as a film set. In 1977 it was decided that the station should be preserved for the future, and has since seen 86,401,695 visitors through its doors.(Musee d'orsay also featured in the main top photograph as a before and after).

High-Line3) High Line Park: Spreading for 1.5 miles down Manhattan’s railroad lies High Line Park. Inspired by Coulée verte René-Dumont in Paris, the park is visited by roughly 5 million people a year and has not only brought to life disused railway tracks but also the areas around it. The trail offers views of the Hudson River and often hosts installations and performances. It has been deemed such a success that it has driven other US cities to develop similar projects.

Mapocho4) Mapocho Station: This beautifully repurposed station in Santiago, Chile now hosts art exhibits and concerts. The building, which is over 100 years old, instead of being a reminder of better days passed is a lively centre for culture and is a proud reminder of the present. To explore Santiago’s present, and future, in more depth then visit SmartMetro to speak to its Metro leaders.

Hamburger_Bahnhof5) Hamburger Bahnhof: Opened in 1846, Hamburger Station was one of Germany’s first terminal rail stations. Its neoclassical design helped set the tone for Berlin’s further development. High volumes of traffic forced the station to close in 1884 and its first lease of new life was for residential and administrative purposes. In 1945, after years of war damage, Hamburger Bahnhof was left in no-man’s land between East and West Berlin. When taken on by the West, the station was restored and in 1996 opened as the National Gallery of Contemporary Art – and now holds one of the largest collections in the world.

CanFranc6) Canfranc: Settled among the Pyrenees Mountains Canfranc used to connect France and Spain; it now lays seemingly abandoned. Opened in 1928 the impressive art-nouveau building took 24 years to construct. Civil War in Spain and the Second World War forced the station’s closure. Canfranc was rumoured to have housed some of the infamous Nazi gold. Now, its grand exterior hides a large underground laboratory where dark matter was tested. It was recently purchased and is in the midst of an ongoing renovation although the purpose of it has yet to be revealed.

Wanstead7) Wanstead: Let us finish the way we started, by taking a look into the past. The Second World War led London’s tube stations to be used in some very inventive ways, most notably as public shelters from the Blitz. Wanstead Station, before it was fully complete, became the temporary home of the East End’s Plessey factory, after it was damaged during an air raid. The factory became the workplace of roughly 2000 people – mostly women – who produced 8 million shells and bomb cases for the RAF in the 5 miles of tube lines. Grants Hill and Redbridge also became homes to production during the war.

80 years on Auden’s poem ‘Night Mail’ harks back to a romantic era where people eagerly waited for letters to receive news, today all we have to do is log in online. However the train, depicted by Auden as lively and essential to life, has stood the test of time:

The gradients against her, but she's on time.
Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,
Snorting noisily as she passes

Unfortunately, much like the letter, not all stations and metro stops have the same longevity as the trains that visit them. Yet, these stations just go to show us how something that may seem unassuming or unusable can be reimagined and given a new lease of life in the most unusual way – ways that allow the history of the place and the importance of rail to shine through. Clearly, there are plenty of new uses for old stations and there can be life after rail after all.


The passenger experience and ensuring you keep pace with customer demands is a key theme at SmartRail USA Congress & Expo (28-29th October, Charlotte, North Carolina) it’s the only show dedicated to driving innovation in passenger rail in the US. And, the only show of its kind that’s free!


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Topics: quirky

Sarah Wright

Written by Sarah Wright

Post studying for a Masters in History at the University of Essex and taking time out to travel Europe and South East Asia, Sarah came into the world of events and marketing. She has been putting her communication skills and creativity to good use here with us since.

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