I like railway stations, because they hold the promise of travel to places far and near. And because they are often architectural masterpieces in their own right. But what happens when these stations are no longer needed by the railway companies? Do they fall into decline, or find another use? During my recent visit to Spain I went to two historic Madrid stations: one still very much alive, the other more ghostly…

Atocha Station, Madrid

The grand building (and tropical gardens) of Madrid Atocha Station

Madrid Atocha Station: a Tropical Garden

Our first stop was at Madrid Atocha Station. Atocha itself is still a busy terminal, serving the Metro and the cities of southern Spain. But I was more interested in the original building, now disused. Built in 1851, it was partly destroyed by fire and then renovated in the wrought iron renewal style, with a tall glass and steel roof. One of the architects was Gustave Eiffel (of Tower fame).

Atocha Station, Madrid

Atocha Station is a popular place to eat lunch and meet friends

A new terminal was built in 1992 and the original building was taken out of use. But it sprang back to life as a concourse with shops and cafés and, more remarkably, a tropical garden. Today the area is full of tall palms and hundreds of other plants. There is even a small lake with goldfish and lots of turtles.

Madrid Atocha Station

Pinnable image of Madrid Atocha Station

The whole place was buzzing with people, eating in the café or watching the turtles. Some people with suitcases were sitting on a bench between the plants, obviously taking some time out before catching a train. They looked unusually relaxed for people on a journey!

The Ghost Station of Chamberí

For something completely different we went to the Chamberí Metro Station. This is an old station on the “blue” line, opened in 1919 and closed in 1966. It reopened in 2008 as a museum called Andén 0 (Platform Zero), with the station preserved just as it was in 1919. (Look at the website for access and opening times.)

Chamberi Station, Madrid

The deserted platform of Chamberi Metro Station

We tagged on to the end of a guided tour but struggled to understand the Spanish, so we wandered around on our own and took pictures of the station with its tiled walls. It was a strange experience, being in a deserted station with its vintage advertisements, and the original signage and metro map. We even passed the old ticket office on the way out.

Chamberi Metro Station

Chamberi Station is just as it would have been in 1919

There is a glass screen between the platform and the track. I was startled by a loud roar, followed by the lights of an approaching train. It whizzed past, the faces of the passengers turned curiously towards us. Was it they who were the ghosts, or was it us?

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