Europe's busiest railway stations - Railway Technology
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Europe’s busiest railway stations

By Magdalena Dugdale 11 Jul 2019 (Last Updated February 5th, 2020 13:22)

Rail travel offers high-speed connections across Europe, with operators working on new lines that will provide interoperability through the European rail traffic management system (ERTMS). We take a look at the busiest railway stations in Europe based on passenger traffic.

Europe’s busiest railway stations
Roma Termini station in Italy’s capital city underwent a complete rebuild in the 1940s. Credit: Szilas / WikiCommons.

Gare du Nord

Gare du Nord in Paris, France, handles approximately 214.2 million passengers each year. It is the busiest station in Europe and in the world outside of Japan.

Most passengers at the station are commuters from towns and suburbs outside of Paris, and it is estimated that only 3% of passenger traffic comes from the Eurostar service from London, UK.

The station is due to undergo an expansion in order to increase its capacity for an additional 200,000 daily passengers in preparation for the 2024 Olympic Games being held in Paris. Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF) selected the architect for the expansion in 2015, with construction expected to begin in 2020.

The original station was built in 1846 but it became too small for operations. It was demolished and rebuilt. The current building opened in 1889, with more extensions carried out between the 1930s and 1960s.

Gare de Châtelet – Les Halles

Europe’s second busiest train station Gare de Châtelet – Les Halles is also located in Paris. An estimated 179.9 million passengers use the station annually. It is the central transport hub for the Île-de-France region, providing connections for three Réseau Express Régional (RER) and five Paris Métro lines.

The station is one of the largest in the world that is located underground and incorporates the Châtelet and the Les Halles stations of the Métro network. The station was built in the 1970s following the demolition of the Les Halles marketplace.

Gare de Châtelet – Les Halles has undergone a large redevelopment project, which was completed in 2016. The project involved the construction of a shopping centre and exterior structure, as well as a new entrance to improve safety and fire regulation compliance.

Hamburg Hauptbahnhof

Hamburg Hauptbahnhof in Germany sees more than 175 million passengers every year. The current station opened in 1906 to replace four different terminals located across the city centre.

“A number of station facilities were damaged during the Second World War, including ticket counters and one of the 45m-tall clock towers.”

German railway company Deutsche Bahn classifies the station as a category one facility, which means it is considered one of the country’s main traffic hubs. It has a complete range of station facilities and a shopping centre, which was built in 1991.

Railway services operate from 20 tracks and include long-distance and regional trains, in addition to the rapid transit S-Bahn and underground U-Bahn that operate across Hamburg. International services provide connections to Denmark and Hungary.

A number of station facilities were damaged during the Second World War, including ticket counters and one of the 45m-tall clock towers. Renovations to the station were carried out between 1985 and 1991, with several features requiring a complete rebuild.

Frankfurt Main Hauptbahnhof

Deutsche Bahn’s central railway hub in Germany, Frankfurt Main Hauptbahnhof serves approximately 164.3 million passengers a year.

The terminus station has 26 tracks with 24 platforms that trains use to enter. Drivers must then reverse out of the station to continue with their journey.

Due to the inconvenience this can cause for services, proposals have been made to change the layout. ‘Frankfurt 21’ was a plan to relocate tracks underground, meaning that trains could exit in the same direction of travel using tunnels rather than reversing.

Intercity-Express runs 13 of its 24 lines through the station. Long-distance international destinations include the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Italy, and the Netherlands.

Frankfurt Main Hbf opened in 1888 as a replacement for three separate stations that provided connections across the country. Originally, plans were made for a large-scale facility with 34 platforms, with the city council intending for it to be located outside of the city centre.

Zürich Hauptbahnhof

Switzerland’s busiest station Zürich Hauptbahnhof handles more than 153 million passengers a year.

Approximately 3,000 trains use the station daily.  A number of international services run to Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Paris.

The original facility opened in 1847 and had two tracks running into the terminus station with a turntable to rotate trains so they could leave using the second track. This station was deemed too small to handle increasing traffic. In 1870, the station was rebuilt on the same site but with a larger capacity.

Zürich Hbf has tracks that run over the river Sihl, as well as tunnelled lines underneath the river. An artificial lake is located 50km downstream the Sihl from the station. It is estimated if the lake’s dam burst, the water level of the river at the station could rise by 8m within two hours. Due to this flooding risk, detailed evacuation plans have been prepared for the city, including the railway station.

Europe's busiest railway stations

Roma Termini

Roma Termini railway station the Italian capital Rome serves approximately 150 million annual passengers.

There are 33 platforms at the station, with services operating across the country, as well as to Munich in Germany, Geneva in Switzerland, and Vienna in Austria. Other modes of transport accessible from the station are two intersecting Rome Metro lines, as well as a bus interchange.

A temporary facility first opened in 1863 to provide a single terminal for two separate railway lines, in addition to a third one that was then being constructed. The permanent station opened in 1874.

In 1937, it was decided that the station would be demolished in order to rebuild it for the world fair that was set to take place in 1942 before the Second World War broke out. Construction continued in 1947 after the war and the current station opened in 1950.

München Hauptbahnhof

München Hauptbahnhof is the busiest railway station in Munich, handling more than 127 million passengers a year.

Similarly to Hamburg Hbf, it is a category one facility. Services operate from 32 platforms at the terminus station, in addition to two S-Bahn and six U-Bahn platforms that run underground through the station.

The first station in Munich opened in 1839 after the Munich-Augsburg Railway Company was founded in 1838. The wooden building received a number of complaints about being insufficient for increasing railway traffic, and three proposals were considered for its reconstruction. When a fire broke out in 1847 and caused severe damage to the station, it was decided that it would be rebuilt at the site of a former shooting range.

As the railway network grew in Germany, the station had to be expanded to handle increasing traffic. Improvements included the construction of wing stations and redirecting freight traffic to make München Hbf a passenger-only station.

During the Second World War, the station continued to operate. It suffered from heavy damage in July 1944 and services had to be redirected. In 1949, the station’s train shed was demolished due to the extent of the damage along with the remaining buildings to reconstruct the station.

Milano Centrale

Italy’s Milano Centrale station sees an average of 120 million passengers per annum. The current building opened in 1931 to replace the old station that was built in 1864.

“The building features a mix of architectural styles and has been renovated to restore artwork throughout the station in addition to general improvements.”

There are 24 ground tracks at the terminus station, with services operating throughout the region and the rest of Italy, as well as to Switzerland through the Simplon and Gotthard tunnels.

The Milan regional commuter line does not stop at the central station, using other mainline stations in the city. Milan Metro operates two lines at a stop under the railway station.

The station’s construction began in 1906. However, it was delayed by the First World War and plans were changed while work was being carried out. When Benito Mussolini came to power, he wanted the station to be a representation of Fascist rule, changing its platforms and incorporating steel canopies when construction continued in 1925.

The building features a mix of architectural styles and has been renovated to restore artwork throughout the station in addition to general improvements.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof

Berlin Hauptbahnhof in Germany serves more than 110 million passengers every year. The station is the newest on this list, having opened in 2006.

Plans for the new station were put forward after the fall of the Berlin Wall to unify the city. In 1992, it was decided that the station would be built on the site of the former Lehrter Bahnhof, which was demolished in 1957.

Located across five levels, the station has floors as low as 15m underground and has platforms on bridges 10m aboveground. Intercity and regional railway services operate from the station, in addition to international services that run as far as Novosibirsk in Russia.

S-Bahn and U-Bahn services have their own platforms, while tram services were extended to Berlin Hbf in 2014, with the M5, M8 and M10 now in operation.

Madrid Atocha

Madrid Atocha railway station in Spain’s capital city sees an estimated 108 million passengers a year.

The original building, named Estación de Mediodía, was opened in 1851. Following a fire that destroyed most of it, the station was rebuilt, opening again in 1892.

Remodelling of the station was started in 1985 as the track network expanded. The original station building was repurposed into a passenger concourse in 1992 and a modern train terminal opened next to the building in order to accommodate new high-speed AVE services. There are two Madrid Metro stops serving the station, in addition to commuter services that operate underground.

The passenger concourse features a 4,000m² tropical garden, which was installed due to the station’s iron and glass roof. A large memorial was built at the station for the victims of the 2004 Madrid train bombings, which had 191 casualties with more than 1,800 people injured.