Page last updated: 31 March 2017.

Jeffrey Richards and John MacKenzie, in the first chapter of The Railway Station - A Social History, 1986, confidently offer the following definition:

The basic elements of the station ..... have never changed. These are the platforms for the trains, a reception and waiting area for goods and passengers, and the necessary offices for the issue of tickets and the dispensing of information, the accommodation of staff, and the relief of various human needs and functions.

Let us not quibble that the platforms are for the passengers or goods, with the trains running on the adjacent tracks.

The Railways Act 1993, S.83 includes the following definition:

"station" means any land or other property which consists of premises used as, or for the purposes of, or otherwise in connection with, a railway passenger station or railway passenger terminal (including any approaches, forecourt, cycle store or car park), whether or not the land or other property is, or the premises are, also used for other purposes.

This slightly circular definition was, of course, for the purposes of splitting up the railway infrastructure for privatisation and fails as a definition because it doesn't actually spell out the purpose of a railway passenger station or terminal!

In the Journal of the Railway & Canal Historical Society No. 153, March 1993, page 3, the late Michael Robbins ventured the following definition of a railway passenger station (or, as today’s parlance would - alas - have it "train station"):

A station is (a) a stopping place for trains, (b) attended by railway staff, with (c) channels for access and exit for passengers, (d) means to obtain authority to travel (normally a booking office), and (e) some sheltered area for those awaiting trains. If any of these elements is missing, then the thing is not a station but a halt or platform.

Bear in mind that the article was dealing solely with passenger stations, although some of the definition would also serve for freight or parcels depots, which often went under the heading of "station". Note that I have inserted the parenthetical sub-paragraph letters for ease of reference.

In a follow-up letter in Journal no. 157, March 1994 David Tipper suggested that all railway passenger picking up/setting down points are "stations" and as a definition Mr Tipper offered:

the place where advertised trains start or stop to pick up passengers and to allow others to alight.

In this he was mirrored by, for example, the Department of Urban & Regional Planning, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign which (at www.urban. uiuc.edu/CE/00events/GisStandards/2B2FeatureCataloguingTool.htm but apparently no longer on the net) gave:

Railway station: Building along a railway where the train stops to load and unload passengers or freight.

Wikipedia’s current definition (for its text is always subject to amendment), which seems to concentrate on the building rather than the overall facility, should be at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Train_station

In seeking to test and refine Robbins’ definition to embrace some of the changes brought about by modern railway practice and to avoid logic pitfalls, I took the step of working upwards towards a definition of "station" (each title being prefixed "railway passengers...."):

"stopping place" would be the basest facility: Robbins' (a) and (c). The County Donegal's level crossing stops served only by railcars or the additional stopping places on the Manx Electric Railway would come within this - not a vestige of passenger "facilities", not even a nameboard.

"halt(e)" would be provided at least with platform(s) (not necessarily raised - ground level would suffice for railmotors) upon which passengers join or alight and a nameboard (which, incidentally, are elements which need to be added to Robbins' list, I suggest). Often, some rudimentary shelter - Robbins’ (e) - would be provided - what today might be categorised as a bus-shelter. However, the official BTC definition of a "halt" (as quoted in R&CHS Railway Chronology Group Co-ordinating Newsletter no. 32) was: "An authorised stopping place for passenger trains for setting down or taking up of passengers but not provided with amenities. This applies irrespective of whether the halt is staffed or not, or whether staff are there for part of a day or not."

"platform": It is, perhaps, unfortunate that this term can mean either the structure upon which passengers stand to join or alight, or a complete facility, and also that, as Clinker explained in GWR - A Register of Halts and Platforms 1903-1979, even the GWR failed to make a consistent distinction between the facilities of a platform and those of a halt. Nevertheless, GWR platforms were often staffed, so all Robbins' criteria would be met - hence the illogicality that some "platforms" qualified as "stations" under his definition! I do not know whether this staffing distinction necessarily applied to platforms elsewhere, or whether they were simply halts by another name; perhaps others can say whether the term, as used by other railways, meant something particular. Apart from whatever "amenities" they might be provided with, platforms would fall under the above BTC definition of halt.

"station" would be provided with everything that has gone before, and more. As even Robbins' (e) seems already to have been appropriated I suggest that it would need to be amplified, in the case of a station, as being enclosed sheltered waiting area - as against the open-to-the-elements facilities associated with halts - and usually with heating facilities. Further, of the original qualifications (b) , (d) and (e) would have to be prefixed "normally" because the temporary absence of those facilities during hours when a station is unstaffed can surely not cause such a location to be part-time a station, part-time a halt (or platform)! When staffing - or some other qualifying feature - is finally withdrawn, however, then the facility would have to be re-categorised. Hampton in Arden, for instance, once enjoyed enclosed and heated waiting rooms on the platforms; these have since been demolished and replaced by bus-shelters so the erstwhile station now only offers (a), (b), (c) and (d) - which would put it in the "platform" category, were it on the GWR. Castlerock (NIRailways), where - until 2016 - the signalman performed "passenger commercial" (ticket selling) from the signal box (no less!) would have fallen in the same category.

This would tend to make the key distinction the availability or otherwise of an enclosed waiting area.

At this point I felt the exercise was becoming intellectually insoluble - and not helped by the fact that British Rail finally expunged the suffix "halt" with effect from the 16 May 1983 while the suffix "platform" had already been dropped from 6 May 1974 (see RAIL CHRONOLOGY : The demise of "HALTS" and "PLATFORMS" on British Rail).

Now "stations" listed in the index of the National Rail Timetable embrace everything from the scale of minimalist Muir of Ord or Dilton Marsh to that of cathedralic York or London Liverpool Street. Therefore, if a definition of "passenger station" is to be timeless it too must be all embracing. Thus, "halt" or "platform" become subsets that some railway undertakings have adopted (without any great consistency) in some eras to denote some lesser installations.

Which brings us back to Mr Tipper’s proposed definition. I feel he has the principle right, although the wording requires some honing: for example, why just "advertised" trains - this would unjustifiably exclude workmen’s trains for non-railway staff, excursion &c. trains (unless "advertised" was taken to include handbills and not just the public timetable); and "passengers" might be taken to include railway staff joining advertised trains which happen to be booked to call at locations to which the general public would have no legitimate access.

Taking these points into account, I offer the following definition:

Railway passenger station: A location which includes access to the track-side where revenue-generating passengers are tacitly invited by the railway undertaking to join or alight from passenger trains on other than an emergency basis. Such location usually (but not necessarily) comprises at least a prepared area (whether at ground level or as a raised platform) alongside the track to facilitate joining and alighting, and an identifying nameboard. Suffixes such as "stopping place", "halt(e)" and "platform" have been adopted by some railway undertakings in some eras to denote stations with minimal or modest facilities. More elaborate stations include a variable range of ancillary facilities.

Note the deliberate use of the words "revenue-generating passengers" to eliminate stopping places used solely by railway employees without excluding workmen’s stations for other than railway staff (even if the workmen themselves were not paying, charges were being paid by their employers).

There is no attempt to define what the passengers do before joining or after leaving their trains - thus embracing access/egress and interchange.

Some might argue - and it probably comes down only to personal preference - that facilities provided only on a temporary (non-emergency) basis should also be excluded; I have preferred to leave them within the above definition.

"Stopping place", "halt(e)" and "platform" are deliberately brought within the definition - it is then left to those who wish to concentrate solely on such subsets of "station" to define them for their own purposes.

There may yet be those who feel that what is defined is not what they understand to be a "station" - so what name would they give to what I have defined, and how do they define "station"?

Richard Maund

Adapted from the author’s article originally published in Railway & Canal Historical Society Railway Chronology Group Co-ordinating Newsletter no. 44, October 2005

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