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Transport / Mass transit

How did (more of) the world’s major rail terminals get their names?

Last week on these pages, I published this piece about how the world’s major rail terminals got their names.

Having pondered the matter for, oooh, minutes, at least, I concluded that there were five main categories:

  • Stations named for their location (streets, districts, compass points or landmarks);
  • Stations named for their function (Union Stations, Hauptbahnhof);
  • Stations named after their destination;
  • Stations named after the company that built them;
  • Stations named to commemorate someone or something (kings, politicians, battles and so forth).

At the end of the article, I noted that – surprising as it may seem to those who’ve had to endure my company for any length of time – I do not in fact have an encyclopaedic knowledge of every railway in the world, and that I’d no doubt missed a few. If I had, I suggested, people should write in.


People wrote in. A lot of people.

Here are some of the things they said.

Things I meant to include but totally forgot

Several people pointed out that Edinburgh Waverley is named not for a person or an event, but for Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels. Annoyingly, I knew this, and had meant to crowbar it into the “commemorative section”, but forgot. Also, in retrospect, I’m not entirely sure it fits.

A couple of people also mentioned Brussels Midi. That sounds like it should mean “central” (middle), but actually it means “south”: it’s named after the direction the sun is in at noon. So there you go.

“Functions” I’d missed

Adrian Austin noted there’s a category of stations named after functions that I’d missed:

Bradford Interchange (and, pre-Metrolink) Bury Interchange. Of course it is still called that but now on a tram line rather than heavy rail…

Nick Lester-Davis had a few of these, too:

Cardiff Central used to be known as Cardiff General, as was Reading General.   Perhaps this is the nearest equivalent to ‘Union’ or ‘Hauptbahnhof’.   Workington used to be called Workington Main and this also fits. There’s also ‘high/low level’ (Wolverhampton, Heath, Shotton, etc)

He also pointed to a number of stations called things like “Exchange” as something that didn’t fit, though I’d put it in the “function” category, too. In fact, here’s Tim Lidbetter to back me up on that:

“General” or “Exchange” was often used for an interchange station between two or more companies. I think the only survivor is Wrexham General (which also still has a Central and used to have an Exchange as well)

Tim also points out something entirely obvious that I’d missed because I was focused on terminals, not all stations: “Junction” is a modifier based on function, too.

“Companies” I’d missed

Tim also pointed towards a few more stations named for the company that built them:

Company names appear in stations such as Wigan North Western (the LNWR), Sheffield Midland, etc. When Peterborough had two stations, the “North” station was near the west gate of the city and the “East” station was near the south gate – being named after the Great Northern and Great Eastern railways respectively.

So did Nick Lester-davis:

Stations named after the company that built them: Leicester, Rugby and many others had ‘central’ stations not because they were central but because they were built by the Great Central. Gainesborough Central still exists.   Others named after their company include Bedford Midland.

Things I just got wrong

Quoth Richard Gadsden:

Bristol Parkway isn’t named for the function. Parkway stations (in the functional sense, ie out-of-town park and ride stations) are named after Bristol Parkway, but Bristol Parkway is named after the road that’s next to it – also known as the M32.

Oops.

Tim Lidbetter:

The Great Central railway’s London terminus was always called Marylebone, although the Bakerloo tube’s station serving it was originally called Great Central.

Ah.

Marcus Schodorf:

Just a point of contention with your latest article on rail terminal names. Grand Central Terminal wasn’t built to consolidate several different rail companies, it was built solely for the New York Central railway, thus Grand Central. The NY Central did later merge with the Pennsylvania RR, but that was way after they built their stations.

While we’re on the subject, from Randy Alfred of Yale:

It’s Grand Central Terminal, not “station,” because no trains run through it. This is an American thing. Grand Central Station is a U.S. post office branch.

So, there you go.

And finally…

Two vignettes about stations which don’t fit into any of my categories. This one from Kevin Montgomery doesn’t technically concern a terminal, but what the hell, it’s interesting:

One possible sub-category suggestion? Stations named after companies they were built for, rather than built by. Am thinking of the bizarre little station in Inverclyde, Scotland called IBM.

IBM was built for the company by BR with massive subsidy from Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive in mid 1970s. All part of the efforts to attract investment to deprived areas, so IBM didn’t contribute as far as I am aware

The station was odd as for years it only served the factory. You weren’t supposed to be allowed to use it otherwise. Greenock being Greenock that was untenable.

The factory is unfortunately long gone, and it’s now part of a business park. This has impact on passenger numbers and I suspect eventually it will be shut.

Then there’s this from Christopher McCanna:

Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station was previously named Spencer Street station after its location. However, after a complete rebuild, it was renamed to Southern Cross in 2005. 

A news article from the time quotes the then state premier describing the name as

“It stands for our federation because it’s the heart of our national flag… and it also stands for democracy and freedom because it flew over the Eureka Stockade, which was only two years before we had a full democracy and a vote for a government in Victoria.”

So it’s not really named after a particular event, but rather a literal constellation and a figurative concept around democracy.

Incidentally: I will, eventually, finally get around to writing the piece on the taxonomy of metro station names that I’ve been meaning to do for years. If you have any thoughts on that, you know what to do.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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