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Bhoun Station in Pakistan is a spectacular example of an abandoned train station. From war to dying industries, there are many reasons train stations became disused. Photo: Shutterstock

From war to dying industries, abandoned train stations have stories as varied as the structures themselves

  • From the US to Australia and Singapore to Pakistan, abandoned train stations provide atmospheric windows to the past, and evoke ‘pride in the railway heritage’
  • Whether ravaged by war or no longer needed because of industrial decline, there are many different reasons railway stations become abandoned

There’s something captivating about abandoned spaces, especially abandoned railway stations. Constant movement has been replaced by an eerie stillness; a portal to elsewhere has become a window into the past.

“Abandoned stations are quite a strong topic among railway-minded people,” says David Ross, author of several books on railways. “It’s digging back into a past that is very interesting, full of mechanical things that aren’t used any more.”

Ross’ latest effort is Abandoned Train Stations, a photo book with more than 200 compelling images of abandoned stations around the world. Ross researched the stations to find out why they were abandoned and what they were like when they were in service.

For that, Ross delved into his extensive home library, as well as his own experiences as a fan of railways. It is an interest that goes back several decades to his childhood in Scotland.
David Ross, author of Abandoned Train Stations. Photo: David Ross

“When I was a small boy in primary school, in a small village, my best friend was the son of the local stationmaster. We had the run of the station together,” he says.

That led to a lifelong interest in railways that has taken him around the globe. One of his most memorable rail journeys was the overnight train from Mandalay to Yangon in Myanmar. “The train had no air conditioning or anything like that, so you’d want to open the windows if only to get a draught coming in,” he says.

But it was Thingyan, a water festival held in honour of the Burmese new year, “so the tracks were lined with small boys tossing water wherever they saw an open window. Others were running along the roof of the carriage – you could hear their feet.

“I got a face full of water when I tried to shut the window.”

The ghosts of such voyages haunt the places in Ross’ book. There are spectacular ruins like the imposing stone arches of Bhoun Station, the terminus of a defunct line that once ran through Pakistan’s Potohar district.
Bukit Timah Station originally opened in 1903 on Singapore’s first railway, the Singapore-Kranji Railway.
But there are also carefully restored stations, like Impi Station in Jeollabuk-do, South Korea, with its low-slung structure and traditional tile roof, which now serves as a railway museum; Bukit Timah Station in Singapore, built in 1903, is slated for a similar transformation.
Station 6 in Sudan is being reclaimed by the surrounding desert in spectacular fashion; Jersey City Terminal was a grandiose entry point for immigrants who had passed through Ellis Island before catching a train to other parts of the United States.
“It’s the atmosphere of these places,” says Ross. “Sometimes it’s interesting, like in Helensburgh in Australia, which is being engulfed by semi-tropical plants and looks like it’s in the middle of the jungle. But it’s not always a pleasant atmosphere – some of them are quite eerie, particularly if the station has been damaged by war.
The abandoned Helensburgh Railway Station and tunnel near Sydney in New South Wales. Photo: Dreamstime/Miroslav Liska

“There are stations in Croatia, like Vukovar, which were shattered by fighting in the 1990s. People were killed there. Trains still run past, but the station has been left as a ruin.”

The stories of why stations were abandoned are as varied as the structures themselves. “There was a time when every village in the UK had its train station,” says Ross. “Then these stations were less and less used because of the rise of the bus and the motor car and so on.

“While the actual railway lines from city to city retained their viability, these intermediary stations were seen as unnecessary stops that slowed the train down.”

The cover of Abandoned Train Stations shows Jersey City Terminal in the United States. Photo: David Ross
In Ireland, many railways were built to serve industrial ventures like iron mines, and then abandoned when the businesses closed down. Across the Atlantic, abandoned stations reflect the decline of railway travel in Canada and the United States, although Ross was interested to discover that many former train stations have become cherished historic buildings, home to restaurants and cafes.

“There’s quite a great pride in the railway heritage,” he says.

There is still a lot of that heritage to explore. Ross says “there’s a very good likelihood” of a sequel. When it comes to abandoned spaces, it seems, there’s always more to explore.