MOVIE ICON: New York’s Grand Central Station is now known around the world
NEW YORK GRAND CENTRAL, USA
No railway station has appeared in more movies – for example Superman, The Fisher King and The Taking Of Pelham 123.
An art nouveau construction built by 10,000 workers and which opened in 1913, its glory is not the train shed part but the dramatic entrance concourse, with marble floor, four-faced brass clock and a ceiling frescoed with stars.
These days it’s a place for scurrying commuters rather than long-distance travellers and some 10,000 people come here just for lunch, in places like the original oyster bar under vaulted ceilings downstairs.
Final destination? All Amtrak long-distance trains now leave from Penn Station but there are compelling commuter journeys to be made from Grand Central, particularly out along the Hudson River all the way to Poughkeepsie, with its genteel 18th century mansions.
TAKE OFF: There are enormous glass wings at Liege-Guillemins station, designed by Santiago Calatrava
This praying mantis of a station perches on the rim of the town’s ancient centre and is a particularly audacious bit of town planning.
Cool, light and airy and designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, known for his City of Sciences in Valencia, its giant wings are carved out of glass, ready to go airborne any minute.
On chilly days it is a bit too airy however and passengers would rather wait in one of the brown bars in the pedestrianised heart of Liège nearby.
Final destination? Liège is on the Thalys high-speed route from Brussels to Cologne. The latter station also has a giant glass roof but in much more traditional style and sits right under the blackened spires of Cologne’s famous cathedral.
Its galleried entrance halls have frescos and stained glass
ISTANBUL HAYDARPASA, TURKEY
Standing proud on the banks of the Bosphorus, the strait that separates Europe from Asia, Haydarpasa’s magic is partly to do with its location, as there can be few major terminals that are best approached by sea.
The station has extra charisma for all the destinations it once offered, for example Baghdad and Damascus.
Its galleried entrance halls have frescos and stained glass but the platforms themselves are a bit of an anticlimax and in fact regular services are currently suspended pending track works.
Final destination? A high-speed service to Ankara is pencilled in; meanwhile it is still worth decamping off a Bosphorus ferry into its hallowed hallways and imagining yourself booked on to the Taurus Express – sister train to the Orient Express – that once ran all the way to Baghdad.
It’s a nimble mix of atrium, escalators and shopping centre
BERLIN HAUPTBAHNHOF, GERMANY
A gleaming confection of girder and glass that is barely a decade old, Berlin’s main station is a symbol of the city’s reunification.
It’s a nimble mix of atrium, escalators and shopping centre, part above and part below ground, with a cross-hatching of tracks on different levels going in different directions.
A selection of vantage points allow you to peer right down through to the bottom layer, marvelling at the audacity of the design and intricacy of the track-tangle.
If it was in the UK, somebody would have long since dropped a shopping trolley down through the gap.
Final destination? Both high-speed ICEs (Inter City Expresses) and suburban trains rumble through the Hauptbahnhof on the same elevated section of track, so ignore the posh trains and meander across the city at rooftop level in one of the retro-style S-Bahns.
GET BUSY: 3.5m people use Shinjuku Station daily so don’t go at rush hour
SHINJUKU STATION, TOKYO, JAPAN
OK, so it isn’t beautiful but you can’t fail to be impressed by the world’s busiest transport hub, used by 3.5 million people every day.
That’s tidal waves of people, so for heaven’s sake don’t come during rush hour.
Out on the platforms, it’s all calm and orderly, queuing in lines for trains that leave dead on time. Outside, you’ll get swept along by the crowds.
Japanese railway stations are shopping centres in disguise and this one has tentacles in all directions, so you need to research exactly which exit (of the 200) you need, or you’ll spend all day wandering around. Outside, the Shinjuku neighbourhood is an extravaganza of neon, particularly after dark.
Final destination? Bullet trains tend to be a bit sterile, so for a better, up close and personal cross-section of Japanese society, take the Yamanote loop line which runs around Tokyo.
LONDON CALLING: The imposing facade of St Pancras station
LONDON ST PANCRAS
The UK’s finest station is rightly a source of pride.
Its train shed (technical term for the huge curved roof) was the largest in the world when it was built in 1868, and its resurgence, partly thanks to poet John Betjeman and Eurostar (along with £800million), is spectacular.
Tragically, passengers are herded into the crypt downstairs and when time comes to board they barely notice the station’s glorious cantilevered roof and Byzantine brickwork arches.
So arrive early and check out the Champagne bar, the traditional railway cafe cum cocktail brasserie the Booking Office and sculptor Paul Day’s bronze couple, canoodling under the station clock.
Final destination? It has to be Paris, although Eurostar’s arrival station, Gare du Nord, in a gritty part of the city, has a fraction of the romance of St Pancras.
Mumbai’s Unesco-registered Gothic revival looks like a kind of imperial governmental headquarters
MUMBAI CHHATRAPATI SHIVAJI MAHARAJ TERMINAL, INDIA
Once known simply as the Victoria Terminus, below, Mumbai’s Unesco-registered Gothic revival looks like a kind of imperial governmental headquarters from the outside, although its grandeur is completely external: inside it’s a blizzard of humanity, some of it on wheels.
There’s a whole ecosystem in a multi-layered subculture existing at this station, and systems of operation – “up” trains and “down” trains – that require much to comprehend.
Final destination? Take the Konkan Railway south to the beach resorts of Goa. The route runs through impenetrable mountain ranges, and 76 workers were killed while making the tunnels and laying the track.
The station was built by the railway-loving British in 1910
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA
Malaysia doesn’t prioritise train travel so its showpiece station in Kuala Lumpur, built by the railway-loving British in 1910, when Malaya was a British colony, is a shadow its former self.
From a distance, this Moorishstyle building doesn’t look much like a station at all, its roofline dotted with elevated pavilions that echo palace architecture in India.
These days, it is mainly used by commuter trains.
Final destination? The international express that links Singapore with Bangkok passes through every evening, but for a Malaysian adventure set off for the Thai border via the east coast line, aka the jungle railway.
Its facade looks like a palace or a city hall
MILAN CENTRAL, ITALY
This vast, monumental station was built by Benito Mussolini and its heavy stonework was intended to convey the power and flair of the fascist regime.
Its facade looks like a palace or a city hall, and its entrance hallways are giant exhibition spaces showcasing the art deco detailing on the walls.
It opened in 1931, a particular show of magnificence in an attempt to boost morale at a time when Italy was just emerging from a prolonged economic crisis.
Final destination? From here trains head west into France and south to Rome but the most eye-catching route is east to Venice, galloping across the fruitful plains of the Veneto, through Shakespearean cities such as Verona and Padua, and finally crossing the lagoon on a causeway into Venice itself.