Embodying the timeless romance of rail travel, the runners and riders for the largest train station in the world are remarkably complex feats of construction, engineering and planning. From the architectural marvels of the Art Deco stations of the 1930s to today’s cutting-edge designs, these temples of transit encapsulate the best of human endeavour and technological innovation.
The inaugural steam-powered passenger train journey on a public railway occurred in 1825 on the Stockton and Darlington Railway in the northeast of England, reaching speeds of up to fifteen miles per hour. Since that groundbreaking moment, countless billions of train journeys have been made, traversing single stations as well as entire continents, with the world’s fastest trains now reaching astonishing speeds exceeding 350 miles per hour.
The world’s great rail terminals are cathedrals of travel and are so much more romantic than the world’s biggest airports or bus terminals. So where is the biggest railway junction in the world and in which cities can the largest railway stations be found?
The world’s largest railway station can be measured in terms of daily or annual passenger numbers, physical size, or number of arrivals and departures. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to determine the largest train station in the world by a static metric, the number of platforms.
Location: West Bengal, India | Opened: 1854 | Platforms: 23
The oldest, biggest and busiest rail terminal in India, Howrah is one of the world’s largest railway stations and serves around 365 million passengers every year.
Around 600 passenger trains pass through Howrah every day, as well as over 250 mail trains and 500 EMUs, or electric multiple units. These are carriages that don’t require a locomotive. Most are single-unit passenger trains.
Location: London, UK | Opened: 1848 | Platforms: 24
In the London Borough of Lambeth, London Waterloo is the UK’s busiest station. Around 90 million passengers pass through its doors every year, and it was one of the last major London termini capable of operating steam trains.
To accommodate increasing passenger numbers, the original station was rebuilt in 1853 and again in 1922 when it was opened by Queen Mary, the wife of King George V. The station’s main entrance (known simply as Exit 5) is home to the magnificent Victory Arch. It was designed by James Robb Scott, the chief architect of the London & South Western Railway, to commemorate the railwaymen and women who fell during World War I.
Central Railway Station
Location: Sydney, Australia | Opened: 1906 | Platforms: 28
The first iteration of Sydney’s Central Railway Station comprised a single, thirty-metre wooden platform. Today, Australia’s busiest station and a contender for the biggest railway station in the world, it services around 86 million passengers a year.
One of Sydney’s most iconic buildings is the station’s clock tower, one of the tallest in the world. It stands 75 metres high, each of the four clock faces is 4.7 metres in diameter and there are 302 steps to the top. It started working at 10.22am on March 12th, 1921.
Location: Beijing, China | Opened: 2022 | Platforms: 32
Fengtai railway station opened in 1896 but closed in 2010 for a full renovation. The new hub, believed to be the largest in Asia and one of the biggest train stations in the world, reopened in 2022.
The uniquely-designed station has twelve platforms for high-speed trains sitting directly above twenty platforms for regular-speed trains. The 400,000 square metre terminus can service around 14,000 passengers per hour.
Location: Rome, Italy | Opened: 1862 | Platforms: 33
A contender for the biggest railway station in the world, Rome’s busiest terminal serves around 180 million passengers a year and is named after the Baths of Diocletian (Terme di Diocleziano), built around 300 AD, which are across the road from the station.
As well as serving all of Italy’s major cities, there are regular services to Munich, Vienna and Geneva. The station serves as the city’s main public transport hub, with Rome Metro lines and the main bus terminal in front of the station at Piazza dei Cinquecento.
Location: Tokyo, Japan | Opened: 1885 | Platforms: 35
While Tokyo’s Shinjuku may not be the biggest railway junction in the world in terms of platform numbers, it is by far and away the world’s largest railway station by passenger numbers.
Every year, the station – which has approximately 200 exits – serves something like 1.3 billion passengers at a rate of approximately 3.5 million per day. To put that number into perspective, it takes Shinjuku just ten days to reach the annual passenger number for London King’s Cross!
Gare du Nord
Location: Paris, France | Opened: 1846 | Platforms: 36
Europe’s busiest train station with over 200 million annual passengers, the Gare du Nord – literally ‘north station’ – is one of the largest railway stations in the world. It is also France’s main Eurostar hub, with daily trains to the UK, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany.
The original station that stood between 1846 and 1860 was redesigned by famous French architect Jacques Ignace Hittorf, and his stunning facade was inspired by the triumphal arches of ancient Rome.
Grand Central Terminal
Location: New York, USA | Opened: 1913 | Platforms: 44
By number of platforms, Grand Central, on 42nd Street and Park Avenue in Manhattan, is the world’s largest railway station. Not only is it perhaps the most famous station in the world, the Beaux-Arts terminal is one of the most beautiful. It’s affectionately known by New Yorkers as ‘the world’s loveliest station.’
The station serves around 67 million passengers a year – interestingly, New York Pennsylvania Station serves over 100 million passengers annually on just eleven platforms – and it’s one of New York’s most popular tourist destinations, with over 20 million non-travelling visitors a year.