York railway station

Year:1877

Duration:3 years

Cost:Unknown

Country: York, UK

What did this project achieve?

In Victorian times design and build the world's biggest railway station

York railway station was the largest in the world when it opened in 1877. Built by the North Eastern Railway, the structure included 13 platforms, a train shed, station buildings and a hotel.

The track layout of the new station allowed trains to pass directly through York for the first time. The previous building, now known as York old railway station, was designed as a terminus – trains for London had to reverse out of the station to continue their journey.

York station was designed by Thomas Elliot Harrison, a former president of ICE.

Two additional platforms were added in 1909. Other later works included repairs after extensive bombing in World War 2 and changes to track layout in 1988 as part of preparations for electrification of the line.

York remains a key junction today. It's approximately halfway between London and Edinburgh. The station is about 5 miles north of routes connecting Scotland to the Midlands and southern England.

York station became a Grade 2 listed building in 1968.

Difference the train station has made

The new York station reduced journey times on many routes. Trains no longer had to stop on a platform and then reverse out to continue their journey as they had to with the old station.

The new station meant York became a busy interchange. It was credited with helping bring businesses and employment to the region and helping the local economy grow.

The station – and its hotel which opened the following year in 1878 – created jobs directly for the city.

How the work was done

The station's main structure is the train shed. The train shed is what most people would think of as the main station building – the place where trains pull in on platforms.

The York station shed is built on a sharp curve with 3 rows of cast iron columns supporting wrought iron girders. Its side walls are made of brick.

Thomas Elliot Harrison and his team used almost 100 columns in 6 different sizes to support the wrought iron girders and roof. Each column has a 685mm octagonal base with a circular shaft.

Engineers used girders with arched soffits to connect the columns. A soffit is an architectural term, here referring to the curved underside of the girders.

The project team used bowed (curved) girders – known as ribs – to carry the roof across the tracks and platforms.

Harrison designed the ribs so that every third one rests on a column. The 2 ribs in between rest on the girders which run along the same curve as the platforms.

"​‌

I believe there has seldom been any public servant who exercised so powerful and so deserved an influence over the policy of a company as Mr Harrison.

John Dent

Chairman of North Eastern Railway, speaking at the time of Thomas Elliot Harrison's death in 1888.

Fascinating facts

The success of York station reflects the growth in popularity of the railways in the mid-19th century. In the 1850s there were 13 trains a day running between York and London. By 1888 there were 294 trains every day.

The new railways also boosted communications. By the mid-1860s a letter posted in London before noon was delivered in York the same evening.

York is one of only 10 stations to get 5 stars in 'Britain's Best Railway Stations' by journalist Simon Jenkins.

People who made it happen

  • Client: North Eastern Railway Company
  • Designer: Thomas Elliot Harrison, a former ICE president
  • Architect: Thomas Prosser

More about this project

Explore more civil engineering projects

I want to become a civil engineer.

See how your studies lead to a civil engineering career

The job you end up with in civil engineering is likely to link back to what you studied at school, college or university. Here you can see your options at any age.

At school

Up to 16 years

School / college

16-19 years

College / university

18 years +

Change career

Any age