‘Railway termini are our gates to the glorious and the unknown. Through them we pass out into adventure and sunshine.’ – E. M. Forster.
Travelling by train is a great way to explore the USA and one of its incidental pleasures is the chance to explore the country’s splendid train stations. From impressive facades and church-like interiors to massive grand halls and iconic movie locations. Here are 7 of the United States of America’s most beautiful and awe-inspiring train stations…
New York City
New York’s Grand Central Terminal, known as ‘the heart of the city’, is perhaps the most beautiful train station in the world. Restored in magnificent style, Grand Central has a 25,000 sq. ft constellation ceiling studded with gold leaf, chandeliers, marble floors, frescoes, grand staircases, an iconic gilded clock, and triumphant arched windows where people walk in a wall of glass.
From outside the Oyster Bar, a murmur in the ‘whispering gallery’ can be heard in the far corners of the cavernous hall. New York’s Art Society offers tours of this wonderful building each afternoon.
Best route: Metro-North train to New Haven, Connecticut.
Union Station, Washington’s most visited destination, is built from white granite and is as grand as the city’s other public buildings (all within walking distance). The splendid waiting room was inspired by Ancient Rome’s Baths of Diocletian.
Gold leaf decorates the 96ft-high ceiling and the main concourse, with sculptures of prominent Greeks such as Prometheus and Apollo, is long enough to hold the Washington Monument horizontally.
When completed in 1908, this station was known as the ‘crossroads of America’. Major exhibitions and cultural events are hosted here and the station has many lovely shops and restaurants.
Best route: Vermonter to St Albans (for Montreal).
Chicago has been called the railroad hub of the world and Union Station, completed in 1925 by architect Daniel Burnham, remains the centre of America’s rail network.
The cathedral-like Great Hall has a barrel-vaulted skylight, massive marble columns, statues, sweeping staircases, balconies, original wooden benches and a soaring arched ceiling.
Sculptures show figures representing day (holding a rooster) and night (holding an owl). This imposing waiting room has appeared in many films, including The Untouchables.
Best route: California Zephyr to Emeryville (for San Francisco).
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles Union Station is one of the prettiest in the world. Built in the 1930s in Spanish Mission, Colonial Revival and Art Deco styles, it has a lofty wooden ceiling, leather sofas and gardens shaded by palm trees, fountains and fragrant magnolia.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the ‘last grand railroad station built in America’ has starred in movies such as Blade Runner and The Dark Knight Rises.
In adjacent El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Park, you can visit the city’s oldest house, the Avila Adobe, as well other historic buildings and cheerful Mexican restaurants.
Best route: Sunset Limited to New Orleans.
San Diego, California
San Diego’s spacious, twin-domed Union Station, also known as the Santa Fe Depot, was built in Spanish Mission and Colonial Revival styles for passengers arriving at the Panama–California Exposition of 1915.
The grand interior of this architectural gem features redwood beam ceilings and walls covered with brightly coloured tiles, in elaborate Hispano-Moorish designs.
This is an ideal starting point for a walking tour of downtown and the waterfront boardwalk from the Maritime Museum to Seaport Village. A trolley outside the station will take you to San Ysidro and across the border to Tijuana in Mexico.
Best route: Pacific Surfliner to Los Angeles.
Philadelphia’s stately 30th St Station is one of Amtrak’s largest and busiest terminals. Built for the Pennsylvania Railroad, this enormous, eight storey Neoclassical-style building features 71ft-high Corinthian columns forming impressive porticoes (‘porte-cocheres’) rendered in Alabama limestone.
The opulent main concourse stretches the length of two football fields and has a high coffered ceiling painted gold, red and cream, as well as Art Deco chandeliers, ornamented columns, cathedral-like windows and a Tennessee marble floor.
The station has featured in films such as Witness, Glass, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie. Across the Schuylkill River are the Philadelphia Art Museum and Independence National Historical Park.
Best route: Pennsylvanian to Pittsburgh.
Kansas City, Missouri
Union Station is a Beaux-Arts masterpiece designed by Jarvis Hunt, an advocate of the City Beautiful movement. The Grand Hall of this grandiose ‘Great Gateway to the West’ has an ornate 95ft ceiling with oak leaf clusters, chandeliers, a clock over 6ft in diameter, and terracotta floors in elegant geometric designs.
The station became infamous in 1933 for the Kansas City Massacre in which 5 people died when Charles Arthur ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd and others tried to free notorious underworld figure Frank ‘Gentleman’ Nash (you can still see bullet holes in the walls). The building also houses shops, restaurants, a planetarium and the Museum of Illusions.
Best route: Southwest Chief to Los Angeles.