I was about three years old when I saw my first train depot. I remember staring in wonder at the vapor clouds spewing off those gigantic locomotives in the Minnesota winter while a couple, seemingly oblivious to the outside world and acutely aware that their parting may be for a long, long, time, hugged and kissed and hugged and kissed.
But for me the awe was for that giant shed of ironwork and glass, the silver rails, the growling iron beasts waiting for departure from the Milwaukee Road Depot on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis.
Looking back, I can see that the place was pretty mundane compared to the grand railway stations of the world. Even by American standards it wasn’t much, but I would only learn that later. At the time I thought traveling by train was the greatest adventure imaginable, and part of that wonder was due to the grand spaces where trains began and ended their journeys, where passengers boarded and disembarked.
Soon after, though, train travel went out of favor, the stations went derelict, many were torn down. The Milwaukee Road Depot closed in 1971, but at least it’s not gone. It’s been converted to a retail center with two hotels, restaurant, water park, and ice rink.
But train travel is making a comeback, and with it, some of those magical railway stations are being returned to their grandeur, none more so than London’s St. Pancras. In a recent essay in The New York Times, Simon Winchester takes a look at it and other stations around the world, capturing the essence of our romance with trains and creating the urge, in me anyway, to stroll through that space, making my way to a waiting train, for a journey, well, just about anywhere.