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7. Stations

Gateway to the city

At the beginning of the railway era, city councils and military authorities refused to allow stations and railway tracks to be constructed within the city walls. This is why the Brussels-Allée Verte and Brussels-North stations were built outside the city walls. In 1840 however, the first Brussels-South station was erected within the city walls. The Brussels city council even exempted the railways from the toll that normally should have been paid. This patent law was only generally abolished in 1860.
Mechelen station was also built outside the city walls. Not long afterwards, a new residential district was built between the city gates and the station, which soon became as important as the city itself. Engineer Gustave De Ridder had housing for railway personnel built around the first Central Workshop. Street names such as Locomotiefstraat (Locomotive Street) still bear witness to this today.
  • "Panorama von Mecheln. Panorama de Malines", Anton Ditzler, presumably 1840
Until the beginning of the 20th century, city planning was largely linked to the development of the railways. Stations were generally built on the most prominent side of each city. They became the most important access route and were sometimes referred to as the new city gates, by analogy to the city gates of the Middle Ages.
The same development happened again at the start of the 21st century. Stations were enlarged, renovated, modernised or rebuilt. This generally led to a metamorphosis of the station environment and even a redevelopment of the surrounding neighbourhoods. The new, futuristic-looking railway temple in Liège and the successful restoration of Antwerp-Central station are the most striking examples of this. There are still a number of other big station projects underway, such as Mechelen, Gent-Sint-Pieters and Mons.

  • Liège-Guillemins station

  • Antwerpen-Centraal station

Architectural masterpieces

The stations had a prominent place in 19th-century architecture. They were often erected in a monumental style. Through the application of new materials – wrought iron, glass and steel – some stations and their immense glass roofs became imposing architectural works of art.
The stations' architectural style, initially neo-classical (Leuven 1840, Brussels-Quartier Léopold 1855) or neo-renaissance (Brussels-North 1846), evolved at the end of the 19th century into neo-gothic (Bruges 1886, Binche 1910). Other stations, such as Antwerp-Central or Charleroi-South, did not follow this trend and developed a more eclectic style
In the countryside, the style is generally more uniform. Stations were constructed in line with an almost invariable floor plan: a central building of two storeys, with single-storey outbuildings on either side. These stations are made of brick. A number of these buildings still remain and have been renovated or repurposed. Others were knocked down and replaced by new station buildings.

Functionality first

Today, NMBS/SNCB invests in functional standard stations. The focus lies on a welcoming reception for train passengers. This translates into better accessibility for the platforms, a rise in the number of available parking spaces for cars and bicycles, diversification of the commercial service offering and the necessary adaptations for persons with limited mobility. To make the transfer to other forms of public transport smoother, extra attention is being paid to the location and siting of bus and tram stops in all station projects. Furthermore, extra investments in safety are being made by means of cameras and security staff (Securail).

 

  • Train guard, J. De Wilde, 2016

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