Stations with the personal touch

There’s little doubt that the modern transport age has brought some incredible innovations. We gasp at the new King’s Cross roof. We appreciate being able to book our tickets online. We expect slick branding, 21st-century customer service, and mocha-frappe-lattes on demand.

But sometimes, it’s the exact opposite of all this that makes a travel experience memorable.

Think of the stations where, instead of a faceless chain, there’s a cafe where staff know the regulars and have their favourite brew waiting for them to grab and take onboard each morning.

Or the stations which display artwork from local artists in their waiting rooms – the sort of initiative that I assume comes not from head office, but from station staff having links with the community.

The personal touch might seem like something from a bygone age, but some stations are using very modern means to acheive a similar aim. Consider Stafford railway station. Like many operators and stations, they have a page on Facebook. They don’t just use it for adonyne updates on delays, though: they have genuine conversations with their followers, sometimes funny, sometimes asking for help or opinions.

Here’s one of my very favourite examples of the personal touch, something, it seems, that can be found in bus and train stations all over the world, and not always the ones serving quiet backwaters. It’s the institution of the communal bookshelf – a place where you can put books you don’t want any more, and pick up one that takes your fancy.

A quick browse through Creative Commons on Flickr showed the following pictures. Can you add any more stations to this list?

West Ealing

West Ealing Station Bookswap

Image by Chris Gilson


Cheam Station book club

Image by Kake Pugh


Train station library

Image by Lars Plougmann

And internationally…

Kamppi bus station in Helsinki, Finland

Books for free

Image by Matti Mattila

Union Station in Denver, Colorado, USA

Union Station Library

Image by Jessamyn West

Lamy, New Mexico, USA
lamy, nm train station books

Image by Elly Jonez

Hinsdale, Illinois, USA

Why Americans are cool

Image by Francesco Minciotti

If there’s nothing like this at your local station, would be a great way to request it, and gather the support of other local people.

Also see Books for London, a campaign to start book-swapping schemes in London’s tube and railway stations – it turns out the West Ealing picture, above, is a result of that scheme.  Books for London was apparently inspired, in part, by – a fun way of swapping books without the need even for shelves.


  1. Myfanwy says:

    To kick the list off, I’ve heard there’s a similar bookshelf in Lewes, East Sussex, though I couldn’t find a photo of it.

  2. Amy says:

    Downham Market not only has a lovely cosy little waiting room lined with second hand books, but also a little pub! Best station ever.

  3. Dick van Tol says:

    A full service public library for commuters is in the beautiful art deco train station of the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands. The ambition is to build a network of train station libraries in the whole country, together with Dutch Railways. Haarlem is the “pilot store”.
    You can take a look at the photo albums at for some photos of the library.