• A Little Musing on Language

  • General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.
General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.

Moderator: Robert Paniagua

  by 2nd trick op
Just wondering......

if any other of the older members of this form can remember how the phrase "train station" crept into our vocabulary.

When I was growing up in the late 1950's and 1960's, you met a train at the "railroad station". It wasn't until I'd finished my education that I began to notice the phrase "train station" in use, usually from younger people, or those who'd acquired English as their second language.

And it wasn't until sometime in the early 1980's that I can recall seeing the exact wording "train station" on a highway sign; in Ohio, if memory serves me correctly.

The change in grammar would make sense, since in Spanish, for example, the phrase "estacion del tren" is commonly used.

Just wondering if anybody else noticed this trend.

  by jwb1323
These are probably regional differences. In some parts of the country, people talk about the "front room", others talk about the "living room", others talk about the "parlor", but in the UK they say "the lounge". Growing up in New Jersey in the 1950s and 1960s I heard "train station" pretty often, but "station" probably most frequently. After all, it was a commuter town, and the "station" was a very important place. So I wouldn't read much into it -- any more than I would think someone was "wrong" to talk about the "front room" (Packanack Lake, NJ) versus the "living room" (Chatham, NJ) -- a difference of 20 miles or so, but I always thought my cousins talked wrong!

  by MissisquoiValleyRR
I'm a Canadian who thought that Americans had a thing for "depot".

  by updrumcorpsguy
By the time I came along, the passenger trains were pretty much gone, but we still had lots of facilities around town. It seemed to depend on the rail line. Omaha had Union Station, and Burlington Station, but down the street from my grandmother's house in Council Bluffs was the Rock Island Depot and either the Milwaukee Road or CNW depot (can never keep those two straight). Generically, the Omaha stations were "railroad" stations, and the ones in town were more "train stations"

But I come from the land of Iowa, where a woman still goes to the "beauty parlor" and has her hair "done" by a "beauty operator". We also "run the sweeper" in the "front room". If it's a special occasion, we sweep under the "davenport"
  by bill haithcoat
I never thought too much about the difference between railroad station and train station. I grew up in Tennessee and now live in Georiga.

But the writer from Canada struck a nerve by saying "depot". I realize, on reflection, that my parents and grandparents said "depot".

It is also an military word, both for storage of supplies and a station for assembling recruits for training or combat purposes (I am getting this out of a dictionary). It also refers to train station.

Could be my parents, and grandparents, growing up with WW11, got acclimated to the then-commonly-heard military term. They were of the same generation which always talked about the great Depression. (wish I had listened more)

  by JoeG
To my ears, "train station" still seems wrong, even though I have no logical reason to object. I call the place the railroad station. I can't quite bring myself to say "train station." Maybe it's because trains are now run by Amtrak or various commuter agencies, which don't seem to people to be "railroads."

  by meh
I wonder whether it's of any significance that contemporary trains are almost never operated by the railroads on which they run. (There are a few exceptions to that, such as BNSF- and UP-operated commuter trains in Chicago, and Amtrak trains serving Amtrak-owned stations that postdate the host railroad's passenger operations.) Thirty-five years ago, however, most trains and railroads would have had a shared identity.

Now most Amtrak trains serve stations whose heritage lies with some other railroad. Perhaps that results in stations today being associated with the train whereas they once were associated more specifically with the railroad that (historically) operated the train.

In addition, far too many places now have only one train serving the town, and multiple stations have been consolidated to a single local "train station." Back then, many different trains might have served a given station (making it illogical to refer to a station as "the Southwest Chief train station," for instance, when several different trains also served "the Santa Fe station"), and you could have missed your train (or your arriving party) had you simply gone to "the train station" when there might have been (e.g.) distinct CB&Q, Santa Fe, and Rock Island stations all within a town. You had to know which railroad's station to go to.

Curiously, this probably never has been a significant issue with airlines. Was there ever a place where "the Pan Am Terminal" was in a fundamentally different location in town than "the TWA Terminal?" I guess that in a sense it's true in a few places; you can only fly Southwest from Chicago's MDW, for instance, not from ORD. But municipalities have taken a much larger role in providing passenger facilities for airlines than they ever did for railroads, making the idea of "the airport" far more relevant than "the United airport."

  by EastCleveland
While I was growing up on the hot, steamy streets of New York City during the 50s, even spectacular buildings like Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station were commonly referred to as "train stations."

The same applied to the subway system. Even in the distant wilds of Brooklyn, when you walked a visiting friend to the Brighton Line or Sea Beach Line so they could catch the subway home, you always walked them to "the train station."

Unless they're either tourists or new transplants from Minneapolis, most citizens of New York continue to do the same.

  by Irish Chieftain
"Train Station" is a bit international, at least as far as the English-speaking world goes; it is more rapid to say and avoids the tripping up of dialects such as between "railroad station" and "railway station".

Not to mention, what about when it comes to bus stations? Are they highway stations, roadway stations...?

Should we also get into why "boat stations" (pardon the pun) are called "ports" now...?

  by JoeG
I grew up in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. To me, there were SUBWAY stations, EL stations and RAILROAD stations. I believe that when I was a kid in the fifties, my usage was the most common. In more recent years, the generic train station has become more popular, but I think people in NY still refer to the underground rapid transit stations as SUBWAY stations.

  by EastCleveland
JoeG wrote:To me, there were SUBWAY stations, EL stations and RAILROAD stations.
Hey, maybe it's a neighborhood thing.

The earliest EL lines in Manhattan (3rd Avenue, 6th Avenue etc.) disappeared by the mid-1950s. But though I've lived within earshot of three later, outer-borough ELs at various times (Jamaica Avenue, McDonald Avenue, and 31st Avenue in Astoria), I can't say I've ever heard one of their stations referred to as an "EL station."

Then again, several of Brooklyn's oldest subway lines run mostly outdoors, and began as privately-owned steam railroads during the 1800s. Many current stations stand on or near the sites of their steam-era predecessors (and a few original stations still survive). Naturally, older residents of the adjacent neighborhoods called them what they originally were -- "train stations" -- a tradition that survives among many current residents today.

Case in point: I was in deepest Brooklyn late this afternoon, visiting the still-heavily Italian neighborhood called Dyker Heights, along the N (Sea Beach) subway line. During the course of my stay, I asked for directions three times (once to find a supermarket, the second time to find a bakery, the third time to find a particular pizzaria).

All three times, locals pointed me toward "the train station," where I found what I was looking for.

What's this got to do with Amtrak? The N (Sea Beach) subway line will take you to within a block of Manhattan's (and Amtrak's) much larger, much-maligned "train station" at 33rd Street and 7th Avenue.

But if you ask the average New Yorker on the street where "the railroad station" is located? It's a safe bet you'll initially receive a blank, baffled stare.
Last edited by EastCleveland on Thu Jun 17, 2004 11:34 pm, edited 2 times in total.
  by 2nd trick op
Come to think of it, one of the first places I can remember seeing the phrase "Train Station" was a popular State College, Penna. eatery of the 1970's.

Lots of Philiadelphians and Jerseyites live (temporarily) in Happy Valley, so maybe that explains it.