Letter from Europe

Changing trains

Issue no. 2020/26

Picture above: Sagliains station in Switzerland (photo © hidden europe).


Railway stations where passengers were able to change trains, but which could not be used to start or end a journey, were common in the past. They were often called exchange platforms or exchange stations. Few exist today, but we track down working examples at Sagliains in Switzerland and Manulla in Ireland.

Dear fellow travellers,

Have you ever tried to buy a train ticket to Sagliains? Or, for that matter, to Manulla Junction? It is, we think, simply not possible. Even though both stations are there in the public timetables and are served by plenty of trains.

Twice each hour, a pair of red trains arrives almost simultaneously at Sagliains. A handful of passengers change trains and then, after barely a minute at the platform, the two trains depart. After they have left, the platform at Sagliains remains empty until the next pair of trains arrives when the ritual swapping of passengers is repeated. This is Swiss precision.

Across the way, there is also a car train terminal at Sagliains with regular departures through the Vereina Tunnel to Klosters. This dedicated shuttle service is valued by motorists wanting to avoid the difficult Flüela Pass road, which can be treacherous in heavy rain and snowy conditions. But the car train is just that: strictly for cars, their drivers and passengers.

Since 1999, when the Vereina Tunnel opened, so improving rail access to the Lower Engadine, the railway platform at Sagliains has given sterling service to passengers wanting to change trains there. But it is not possible for the regular rail traveller to start or end a journey at Sagliains. We visited Sagliains a year or two back and realized that, having alighted on the platform, there is simply no pedestrian route out of the station. The only way to leave Sagliains station is by train.

Sagliains station is an excellent example of an exchange platform - a stopping point which exists purely for the purpose of allowing rail passengers to change trains. And it’s a rare example of a relatively new exchange platform.

Change at Manulla Junction

We changed trains at an Irish exchange platform last year, but as at Sagliains the timetable doesn’t give one much chance to look around. Seven times each day a train leaves Ballina for Manulla Junction. It’s a pleasant half-hour ride across peaty Mayo countryside before the train pulls into the island platform at Manulla Junction, where there are onward connections to Westport and Dublin.

Manulla Junction railway station is just south of Manulla village, but it seems the residents of Manulla are effectively barred from starting a train journey at their local station. Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail) tell us that the station is only for passengers transferring between trains, and it’s not permitted to start or end a journey at Manulla.

There are very many remote railway junctions which were constructed first and foremost to allow passengers to change trains. Three British examples still in use are Georgemas Junction, Dovey Junction and Smallbrook Junction - in Scotland, Wales and England respectively. But there is no bar on passengers starting or ending their journeys at those stations. It’s perfectly possible to book tickets to these stations. So these are not really exchange platforms in the true sense of the word.

Long closed exchange platforms

Historically Britain had many exchange platforms. We know of none that are still in use. Boscarne Exchange Platform in Cornwall was one. There was an interesting example at Hope in North Wales, where two railways crossed each other, and a split-level interchange allowed passengers to transfer between the two lines.

Scotland had a fine example at Killin Junction which closed in 1965. It was on a remote hillside in Perthshire traversed by the railway from Callander to Crianlarich. Five times each day a train ran from the junction down to Killin village at the head of Loch Tay. Our 1960 Bradshaw timetable has the advisory note that Killin Junction functions only as an exchange platform. Connections at Killin in those days were by no means as slick as those found today at Sagliains or Manulla Junction. Passengers arriving on the weekly night sleeper from London (which reached Killin Junction at 07.11 on a Saturday morning) had a full 57 minutes to savour the Highland air and enjoy the views of the Perthshire countryside before joining the one-carriage train to Killin.

We would be interested to hear from readers who know of other examples of railway stations in Europe which still function only as exchange platforms.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

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