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How to Read the Train Station Board

How to Read Train Board
Written by Jeff

I can’t get enough of train stations and I love airports. I always make a point of stopping to read read the departures screen in an airport to see where all these random people are headed to- do I even know where that is? If you’re a fan of airports, watching all those people running around to catch their flight to be whisked off to far away places, train stations will scratch the people-watching itch!

Bangkok Train Station
Hua Lam Phong Railway Station – Bangkok Thailand

If you’re in a train station, you’re most likely catching a train, and the novelty of hearing trains roll in while surrounded by people hustling to make it on in time can be far less satisfying if you’re not sure how to read the train board. Missing your train is not a relaxing experience.

Most train stations have at least one large board that everyone watches for arrival and departure information. In large stations, these used to be commonly split-flap displays but have largely been replaced with digital displays.

Milano Centrale Railway Station
Milano Centrale Railway Station

If it’s your first time, especially the board isn’t in English, it can be intimidating. It’s large, there’s a lot of information, and there’s typically a lot of people milling around it. Worry not, they’re actually quite easy to follow!

Typically, there are two sides to the train board, departures and arrivals.

Train Station Board
The Board at Railway Station Keleti – Budapest, Hungary

Though they may differ, the most common layout for a train board is:
(From left to right)

  • Train departure/arrival time
  • The company servicing the train
  • Where the train is going to/coming from and major stations it will stop along the way
  • What track the train will be departing/arriving on
  • Remarks (more on this below)
  • Delays

Most of these are pretty self explanatory. If you arrive early to the station, as you should, it’s not a bad idea to wander around the station to get an idea for the track layout and how they are numbered. Tracks and corresponding numbers aren’t always shown in a single sign, so figuring out the layout ahead of time will help when your train information shows on the board and it’s time to board your train.

Tip: Trains leaving soon will be at the top, with new departures showing up at the bottom.

Remarks can be just about anything, but they typically note things like first, middle, and last. While the train you leave on may be long with many cars, if your journey passes through other cities, it’s likely that your train will be broken up along the way. Some cars will be attached to other trains to get passengers to different destinations.

Train Station
Milano Centrale Railway Station

The first, or front section of the train may be going to Milan, the middle section might be detached at some point and rejoined with another train to get the passengers to Vienna, and the last section of cars may be going Zurich. Despite the varying destinations, many people might be boarding the same train at the station you’re in.

If you’re familiar at all with the departures and arrivals screens of an airport, a train station board is essentially the same thing. It’s just gigantic and commonly there’s only one of them. If you have an idea of the station’s track layout and are keeping an eye on your departure train showing up on the board, train stations offer amazing people watching and are a great spot to watch the world go by.

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