Cathedrals of mobility

By Kay Dohnke
Static structures as symbols of dynamic momentum: Around the world, magnificent train stations are impressive urban islands of permanence in a world of fast-paced mobility.
© Getty

New York

Grand Central Terminal (officially opened in 1913, photographed in 1930)

© Getty
New York

  • 67 tracks

    in total on two levels: the Grand Central Terminal has more tracks and platforms (44) than any other train station in the world.
  • 750,000 people
    enter the terminal every day, more than any other building in the United States.
  • One minute:
    The 200 clocks of New York’s Grand Central Terminal are one full minute fast – as a safeguard to prevent passengers from missing their train.


Liège-Guillemins (opened in 2009)

© Getty
  • 312 million euros
    were invested in the new construction project. The 200 meter long domed roof with 39 steel arches is so transparent that no additional lighting is required during the day.
  • 100 instead of 40 km/h
     (24,9 mph) is the permissible speed at which trains may enter this station compared with the previous one (a functional building from the 1950s).


Antwerpen-Centraal (opened in 1905)

© Getty
  • 75 meters (246 ft)
    high is the dome of the main concourse, modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, to which the platform concourse is connected (185 m/607 ft length, 66 m/217 ft width, 43 m/141 ft height).
  • In 1835
    the first train stopped in Antwerp. At that time, the Astridplein, still the central station’s address today, was on the outskirts of the city.

  • From 2000 to 2009
    Antwerpen-Centraal, one of the world’s most beautiful train stations, was thoroughly modernized and modified, including two new subterranean levels, to accommodate high-speed train service.


Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (opened in 1888 as Victoria Terminus)

© Getty
  • 100 meters (328 ft)
    above the entrance to the Victorian-Neogothic station sits a dome that can be accessed. Perched on it is the “Progress” statue.
  • 1,300
    trains and 2 million people per day use the 18 tracks.
  • 15 km (9.3 mi)
    north of the magnificent building an underground train station for high-speed trains is in planning – start of construction TBD.


The vision of a Transpod Hyperloop terminal

© Transpod
  • 100 % airtightness
    of the vacuum tubes is a must during boarding and un-boarding at a Hyperloop terminal: one of the many technical hurdles that have to be overcome in deploying this super train technology.
  • 3 times
    faster than a current high-speed train: the Hyperloop train operating in a vacuum is supposed to achieve a speed of up to 962 km/h (600 mph).
67 tracks! 75 meters (246 ft) tall!

180 (591 ft) meters of façade! 2,600 trains and and two million passengers daily! No matter in what era they were built: Train stations are still breaking records today. Their history is inseparably tied to the rapid growth of worldwide rail transportation. As important elements of our cultural heritage, the most beautiful, extravagant stations symbolize the era of a world in motion.

Nobody had any idea of how the summer of 1835 was going to fundamentally change the world. The first railroad established in Continental Europe from Nuremberg to Fürth is deemed to have been one of the central events marking the birth of rail transportation – which goes on to see a truly explosive development. In 1840, only 8,591 kilometers (5,338 mi) of railroad tracks exist in Europe and as early as in 1880, a railroad network of more than 365,000 kilometers (226,000 mi) opens the door to the world. Sheer endless bands of steel make the remotest corners accessible, shortening what used to be week-long journeys to the length of day trips. Far-away cities are now nearby; railroad tracks make people’s dreams of distant places and yen for travel reality.

Marble, domes and baroque style

This rapid breakthrough development is synchronously reflected in the station architects’ zeal to build. Train stations are the central anchoring points of this novel and interurban mobility. And these anchoring points nurture the evolution of the cities that surround them in ways that only ports did before them. The big wide world is now moving into the space behind the doors and facades of the stations’ concourses. They deliver on the railroad’s promise of overcoming space and time. Many cities stage their participation in this Europe-wide and global journey into mechanized mobility in stone, marble and glass. Antwerpen-Centraal receives its 75-meter (246-ft) tall domed concourse as early as in 1905 the Gare du Nord in Paris a 180-meter (591-ft) long neo-classicistic façade in 1864 and the western terminal Nyugati Pályaudvar in Budapest begins to boast its neo-baroque glass façade in 1877 by Gutave Eiffel. In 1888, the Victoria Terminus in Bombay manifests the splendid Indo-Saracenic architectural style in which cultures merge into an all-new entity – today, 1,300 trains are still beckoning two million travelers daily to enter its concourses.

Train stations are abodes of wanderlust

Train travel anticipates what we call globalization today. Railroads pave the way into continents, overcome distances and make it possible to experience cultures in other parts of the world: The Orient Express invites travelers to visit Constantinople. Between New York and Seattle, Los Angeles and Miami trains with names like California Zephyr, Flying Yankee, Silver Meteor or Empire Builder rush through the United States. Many of them are headed for the Grand Central Terminal of 1913, the world’s largest train station with 67 tracks. The Trans-Siberian Railway connects Moscow with the far eastern lands of the Russian Empire and in 1957 the Trans-Europ-Express begins to traverse at high speed countries that are just slowly beginning to grow together politically.

Even to those who couldn’t afford to travel in those days train stations would offer the chance to indulge in a little bit of wistful wanderlust – by walking through awe-inspiring portals, window shopping in the classicistic sandstone concourses, sharing the dreams of far-away places and adventures with the people in the waiting halls. Train stations provided the appropriate setting for nurturing the hopes linked to departures, feeling the pain of farewells, and the shedding of tears of joy upon the arrival of loved ones returning from a journey.

A standard time

© Pixabay
A standard time,

for larger regions became a necessity in the 19th century due to the expansion of rail transportation – primarily to avoid train collisions. Up to that time, all cities and towns around the world had their own local times according to the position of the Sun. Clocks typically didn’t have any minute hands. A universally applicable “world time” was introduced in 1884, then called Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Since 1972, all time zones have been referenced to the atomic clock based Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) that’s still used today.

Train stations in the course of time

And then the automobile appears on the scene and redefines all dreams of long-distant travel and mobility. From the 1950s on, its triumph causes one rail service after another, one rail line after another to disappear and train stations are falling victim to the mass of cramped suburban trains that degrade from being a symbol of the pleasures of travel to a symbol of the daily grind. Only when high-speed trains make cities increasingly fast to reach and the railroad pits its fortes against the over-abundance of automobiles the tables turn again. Today, masterpieces of engineering –  just having traveled as swift as arrows at 300, 350 kilometers (180, 220 mi) per hour – are rolling into the familiar stations, reviving the travel bug inspired by the trains of old and again evoking the feeling that distant places and regions can be reached, except much faster now than even the most imaginary visionaries were able to foresee.

At the end of the 20th century, train stations again become heralds of a new age. Architects like Santiago Calatrava recognize their mission of turning train terminals into symbols of forward-thinking mobility. Modernity and mobility once again are mutually dependent. At Liège-Guillemins – opened in 2009 as a terminal for the Thalys and Intercity high-speed trains – the filigree, modernistic architecture stands for new departures: Trains have long begun to outperform cars and are serious competition for airliners. Calatrava, in 1994, had already expressed this futuristic vision in the architecture of the Lyon Saint-Exupéry terminal and, in 1998, in the Lisbon Expo terminal Estação do Oriente. A little later, this trend was continued in the design of the Southern Cross Railway Station in Melbourne, Australia, and the symbiosis between train stations and shopping malls brought to the fifth continent.

Connecting links to a mobile future

Today, both upmarket and normal shopping complement the pleasure of traveling before we nestle into an upholstered seat in the compartment of a train that seems to be flying toward our destination at magic speed. Thus, train stations will continue to be places of transition and transformation, connecting links of stone or steel between the past belief in progress and the future viability of modern engineering achievements.

20/20 vision

© Getty
20/20 vision
Cathedrals of mobility© Getty

Train stations are like icebergs – at first glance, they only reveal a fraction of their total magnificence. This is also true for the Berlin Central Train Station depicted here. Europe’s biggest interchange and split-level station with its 14 platforms is an interchange point between ICE high-speed trains, regional and local passenger service (U/S-Bahn, Regionalbahn, Regional-Express). This is another facility where Schaeffler technology is utilized: the 321-meter (1,053-ft) long East-West roof contains numerous spherical plain bearings/bolt systems.

Cathedrals of mobility© Karl- Heinz Döring/F.A.Z. Infografik

Mammoth marshaling of goods

© Getty
Mammoth marshaling of goods

Europe’s largest classification yard in Maschen near Hamburg (pictured) comprises 272 km (169 mi) of shunting tracks distributed to 64 in south-north and 48 in north-south direction. Up to 3,500 rail cars per day can be handled in a total area of 700 meters (2,300 ft) in width and 7 km (4.3 mi) in length. Maschen is an important logistics artery for the  metropolis Hamburg and its port. The only classification yard of even more mammoth proportions is Bailey Yard in the geographic center of the United States, in Nebraska, with 507 km (315 mi) of shunting tracks.

Speed records in the course of time
  • The Japanese Maglev LO Series traveling at 603 km/h has held the absolute world ...
    The Japanese Maglev LO Series traveling at 603 km/h has held the absolute world speed record for trains since April 2015. In normal service, the train travels at 320 km/h.
  • A heavily modified TGV V150 achieves 574.8 km/h in the French Département Marne ...
    A heavily modified TGV V150 achieves 574.8 km/h in the French Département Marne in April 2017 – the world record for wheeled rail-bound vehicles. The fastest production train in this category is the Chinese CRH 380A with 486.1 km/h (302 mph).
  • In 2002, the Talgo XXI high-speed diesel train prototype pushed/pulled by 1,150 ...
    In 2002, the Talgo XXI high-speed diesel train prototype pushed/pulled by 1,150 kW- locomotives dashes through Spain at a speed of 256.4 km/h. As the fastest diesel locomotive in regular service a Krauss-Maffei Class 353 produced for the Spanish state-owned RENFE railroad operator achieves 230 km/h in 1978.
  • 51 years after the German DRG SVT 137 “Leipzig class” in February 1936 was the f ...
    51 years after the German DRG SVT 137 “Leipzig class” in February 1936 was the first diesel-electric locomotive to have broken the 200-km/h (124-mph) mark, the multiple-unit HST sets the diesel-electric record that’s still valid today: 238 km/h.
  • The British LNER Class A4 4468 Mallard in 1938 achieves a recorded speed of 201. ...
    The British LNER Class A4 4468 Mallard in 1938 achieves a recorded speed of 201.2 km/h – the unbroken official record for production steam locomotives. The larger and more powerful U.S. PRR Class 1 steam locomotive purportedly achieved 227 km/h (141 mph) – credibly, though unfortunately not documented.
  • The rail-bound Zeppelin, still one-of-a-kind to date, in 1931 travels the distan ...
    The rail-bound Zeppelin, still one-of-a-kind to date, in 1931 travels the distance from Hamburg to Berlin in just 98 minutes, propelled by a twelve-cylinder aircraft engine. Instead of a wheel drive system a propeller accelerates the train to 230 km/h – no train was faster for the next 24 years.
  • The first public train connection is established in 1825 between Stockton and Da ...
    The first public train connection is established in 1825 between Stockton and Darlington in North East England. The Locomotion achieves 24 km/h. Besides steam locomotives horses continue to be used for pulling trains.
  • The first locomotive was developed by Richard Trevithick. In February 1804, the ...
    The first locomotive was developed by Richard Trevithick. In February 1804, the steam locomotive that’s used to haul iron achieves a speed of 8 km/h in Wales.
Rolling giants – Schaeffler in rail transportation

As a central development partner of traction system and vehicle manufacturers Schaeffler makes rail transportation more sustainable, efficient, quieter and safer. The portfolio extends from axlebox bearings, traction motors and transmission bearings to wheels and components for vehicle articulation joints, braking and door systems. In addition, railroad operators are able to capture condition data of entire bogies using the Schaeffler Condition Monitoring System to achieve longer mileages and maintenance intervals while increasing operating reliability.

Cathedrals of mobility© Schaeffler

​Rail transportation in and between conurbations requires shorter and shorter passenger-service intervals, enhanced riding comfort and more eco-friendly technologies. We support traction system and vehicle manufacturers with increasingly powerful components and integrated systems, also, by the way, as mileage-extending retrofit solutions

Dr. Michael Holzapfel,
Vice President Business Unit Railways Europe
Forward-thinking signal

With a research team on the campus of the Chinese Southwest Jiaotong University (SWJTU) Schaeffler is intensifying its collaboration in research and development of axlebox bearings for rail-bound vehicles. SWJTU is regarded as one of the world’s leading universities in the field of railway engineering. “The challenges facing future extra-urban mobility are enormous, as interurban transportation is heavily increasing,” says Professor Peter Gutzmer, Chief Technology Officer at Schaeffler and visiting professor at SWJTU. “With its expertise in manufacturing bearings for rail-bound vehicles Schaeffler has been active in this industry for more than 100 years. The collaboration with SWJTU makes it possible for us to create solutions for interurban mobility of tomorrow. We bring together the university’s research expertise and our mechatronics know-how as well as our expertise in systems for predictive maintenance of axlebox bearings.”

Kay Dohnke
Author Kay Dohnke
Be it in Alaska or in the Himalayas: As a travel journalist and longstanding editor of the on-board magazine of Deutsche Bahn Kay Dohnke has traveled on the quirkiest trains. Ever since he started specializing in sustainability topics, the author from Hamburg has become increasingly aware of the huge future of the iron behemoths.