Train station or railway station?

16 May

photo044.jpgI am reading a very recent English crime fiction novel at the moment and did a double take when I saw the words train station. I am sure Sherlock Holmes would have been most displeased. Point is, when did we stop saying railway station?

Naturally I am not the first to ask. Christopher Howse deals with it in his London Telegraph blog.

“I’m sitting in the railway station,” sang Paul Simon, inspired, some say by Widnes. Others say he was waiting at the now disused Ditton station, on the Cheshire-Lancashire border…

Railroad station used to be common in Britain, as anyone who has read Trollope knows. It is never used now in British English, but train station is definitely becoming the preferred form over railway station.

One of his commenters gets huffy about it all:

The trend of hearing ‘train station’ more than ‘railway station’ in recent years is another example of the lazy use of language being perpetuated to an even worse degree now by texting ‘shorthand’. ‘Railway station’ is more traditionally correct (i.e a station on the railway system); ‘train station’ is a lazy modern alternative, probably deriving, as the blogger suggests, from ‘bus station (i.e. where you catch buses/trains). The use of ‘invite’ as a noun (it is a verb!) instead of ‘invitation’ is another example of lazy modern language appalling to us who love our language…

That of course is utter nonsense; I can’t see laziness having anything to do with it. I am always amazed at how many people run to moral judgement over such things. I must say, however, that the trend of hearing landed in my ear with a thud. Why is that, I wonder?

Back to the issue at hand. I can only recall train station in the past decade here in Australia. Of course most often we just say station, which probably indicates how dreadfully lazy we Aussies must be! Certainly we never said depot, but then neither do Americans these days, apparently. See World Wide Words.

Until recently, as I said, the almost total separation of terms between British and American English would have applied also to train station. But it appears that the term is relatively new even in the USA, where railroad station was once the norm. But train station is old enough there for us to be sure of the direction in which it has travelled, and vigorous enough to oust the older term. Perhaps its introduction followed the logic of one of my younger staff. When I pointed out some years ago that she used train station, she replied that of course that was the right term: she caught a bus at a bus station, and so she would expect to board a train at a train station. Obvious really. Why didn’t we all think of that before?

I’m sticking to railway station. Sutherland never had a train station, not while I was living there anyway.

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3 responses to “Train station or railway station?

  1. Thomas

    May 16, 2007 at 9:56 pm

    To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never said railway station, and was always taught that it was a train station.

    After all, doesn’t a train station at the platform?

  2. ninglun

    May 16, 2007 at 10:20 pm

    Yes, the change happened in the 90s, it appears. Language is always changing.

  3. David Smith

    May 17, 2007 at 2:35 am

    After an intense bout of mental searching, I can’t ever remember using “railway” or “train” before “station,” except maybe in an essay about World War I. I only ever recall using specific names of stations, usually Kogarah Station. Central, of course, is just Central, and we neglect “station” altogether. I suppose I have just never talked in the abstract about railway stations.

    Incidentally, I have never heard anyone use the term “train station” in three years of living in the US, but I think that’s because the intercity rail service is so lousy that even if people use it, they don’t like to have to talk about it.

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