“Before the railways were built, what took the place of stations in people’s dreams? Perhaps cliffs or wells or a blacksmith’s forge? Like a tram or a bus this question is a way of approaching the railway station.
Of all nineteenth-century buildings, the mainline railway station was the one in which the ancient sense of destiny was most fully re-inserted. Stock exchanges, banks, hotels, theaters, courts were built as pretenses, or, to put it another way, they were already dreams. The railway station—whatever the extravagances of its ‘decorative’ architecture—remained stark. And it remained so because it was a site of arrival and departure, where there was nothing to muffle the significance of those two events. Coming and going. Meeting and parting. Dreams welcomed the railway station so readily since it was already—in other forms—a familiar. The Greek word for ‘porter’ is metaphor. And this is a reminder of how deeply the act of transporting, of despatch and delivery, is intrinsic to the imagination.
Seaports are more moderate than mainline railway stations for, although the distances involved are usually longer, the sea has not been laid down, like the railtracks, for the sole and unique purpose of transporting. Airports are too polite; reality is always at one remove in an airport.
In a railway station the impersonal and the intimate coexist. Destinies are played out. The trains run regularly, according to printed timetables. The lines are inexorable. But for each passenger or for each person who comes to meet or see off a traveler, the train in question has its own portent. The portents can be read close-up, in faces, in details of luggage, in the welcomes and partings as people embrace on the platform.”
— John Berger, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos