In Manchester, Piccadilly Station is undergoing a £27m overhaul. The station, originally called London Road, has been in business since 1842, and on its present site since 1866. Although it may look like little more than an airy shed to the casual traveller, there has been a lot of wear-and-tear over the years. Now, the station’s timber roof is being replaced by 15 000 panes of toughened glass and aluminium. Laing is in charge of the operation.
My journey ends at Westminster underground station, which is being completely rebuilt to accommodate the Jubilee Line Extension. The approaches to the station and the new ticket hall have now been completed and, as I get off my District or Circle Line train, I can see the escalators that will one day take me down to the new platforms.
The project team, including architect Michael Hopkins and Partners, had to solve some tricky engineering problems. The project involved tunnelling under the Thames, and at one point, it was feared that the work might cause Big Ben to fall down or, at any rate, rival the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The project has also involved archeological digs, with finds going back to Roman times.
When these two stations are completed, my travelling experience will, with luck, be enhanced. And this is as it should be. For if, as Robert Louis Stevenson claimed, “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”, then to travel from one attractive station to another lifts the spirits.
I may well do a Gene Kelly act in the spacious new ticket hall of Westminster Station – partly out of surprise that it is open
Who could fail to be thrilled when, after travelling along the Hudson River, the train draws into the superbly refurbished Grand Central Station in Midtown Manhattan? Pennsylvania Station, although not so breathtaking, is certainly a fine starting point for the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. Washington‘s Union Station, although partially converted into an upmarket shopping mall, is still an airy and graceful station.
Of course, some stations are ghastly. I was bitterly disappointed when, arriving at St Petersburg’s legendary Finland Station, my train drew up in a weed-ridden slum. Closer to home, Birmingham New Street is appalling, with a gloomy entrance, tacky foyer and oppressive underground platforms that induce a feeling of claustrophobia.
I have visited railway stations in every continent in the world, from Buenos Aires in Argentina to Wellington in New Zealand, from New Delhi and Agra in India to Casablanca in Morocco.
Many of them, whether crowded or little-frequented, have heightened my anticipation at the start of a journey or filled me with nostalgia at the end of one. Indeed, on the completion of a train journey from Vancouver to Toronto in Canada, only my sense of responsibility prevented my joining in an arrival dance with a group of students.
The Right Honourable Gerald Kaufman is MP for Manchester Gorton and chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.