Reading railway station

This article is about the main railway station in Berkshire. For other stations named Reading, see Reading station (disambiguation).
Reading National Rail

Aerial view of Reading station in August 2014
Place Reading
Local authority Borough of Reading
Coordinates 51°27′32″N 0°58′20″W / 51.4590°N 0.9722°W / 51.4590; -0.9722Coordinates: 51°27′32″N 0°58′20″W / 51.4590°N 0.9722°W / 51.4590; -0.9722
Grid reference SU714738
Station code RDG
Managed by Network Rail
Number of platforms 15
DfT category B
Live arrivals/departures, station information and onward connections
from National Rail Enquiries
Annual rail passenger usage*
2010/11 Increase 14.400 million
2011/12 Increase 15.267 million
2012/13 Increase 15.413 million
2013/14 Increase 15.673 million
2014/15 Increase 16.340 million
Original company Great Western Railway
Pre-grouping Great Western Railway
Post-grouping Great Western Railway
30 March 1840 Opened
National Rail – UK railway stations
* Annual estimated passenger usage based on sales of tickets in stated financial year(s) which end or originate at Reading from Office of Rail and Road statistics. Methodology may vary year on year.
UK Railways portal

Reading railway station is a major transport hub in Reading, England. On the northern edge of the town centre, near the main retail and commercial areas and the River Thames, it is next to a bus interchange served by urban and rural services.

Reading is the ninth-busiest station in the UK outside London,[1] and the second busiest interchange station outside London, with over 3.8 million passengers changing trains at the station annually.[2] Reading is one of 19 stations managed by Network Rail.[3]

The station is served by three train operating companies: Great Western Railway, CrossCountry and South West Trains.


Great Western Railway station (right), South Eastern Railway station (left) in 1865

The first Reading station was opened on 30 March 1840 as the temporary western terminus of the original line of the Great Western Railway (GWR). The time taken to travel from London to Reading was reduced to one hour and five minutes, less than a quarter of the time taken by the fastest stagecoach. The line was extended to its intended terminus at Bristol in 1841. As built, Reading station was a typical Brunel-designed single-sided intermediate station, with separate up and down platforms situated to the south of the through tracks and arranged so that all up trains calling at Reading had to cross the route of all down through trains.

In 1844, the Great Western Hotel, was opened across the Forbury Road for people visiting the town. It is thought to be the oldest surviving railway hotel in the world.[4] New routes soon joined the London to Bristol line, with the line from Reading to Newbury and Hungerford opening in 1847, and the line to Basingstoke in 1848.

In 1860, a new station building, in Bath Stone and incorporating a tower and clock, was constructed for the Great Western Railway. In 1898 the single sided station was replaced by a conventional design with 'up', 'down' and 'relief' platforms linked by a pedestrian subway.

Access to the station from Broad Street was not direct, until Queen Victoria Street was built in 1903. This provided a route through to Friar Street and Station Road.[5]

Platform one at Reading railway station in 1945

The station was originally named Reading and became Reading General on 26 September 1949 to distinguish it from the ex-South Eastern Railway station nearby.[6][7] The "General" suffix was dropped from British Rail timetables in 1973, but some of the station nameboards still stated "Reading General" in 1974.[8]

Combined Station

(Before redevelopment) A train stops at Reading on its way from Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads

From 6 September 1965, services from the former Reading Southern station were diverted into a newly constructed terminal platform (4A) in the General station.[9] This was long enough for a single eight coach train, which was later found to be inadequate,[10] and so a second terminal platform (4B) serving the same line was opened in 1975[11] for the commencement of the service from Reading to Gatwick Airport.

In 1989 a brand new station concourse was opened by InterCity, including a shopping arcade named after Brunel, opened on the western end of the old Reading Southern station site, linked to the platforms of the main station by a new footbridge. At the same time a new multi-level station car park was built on the site of the former goods yard and signal works to the north of the station, and linked to the same footbridge. The station facilities in the 1860 station building were converted into The Three Guineas public house.

2009–2015 redevelopment

Reading station platforms showing new footbridge
Long demolished staff huts behind the former Platform 10

By 2007, the station had become an acknowledged bottleneck on the railway network, with passenger trains often needing to wait outside the station for a platform to become available. This was caused by limited number of through-platforms, the flat junctions immediately east and west of the station and the need for north-south trains to reverse direction in the station. The Great Western Main Line at Reading has two pairs of tracks – the main ('fast') lines on the southern side and the relief ('slow') lines on the northern side. Passenger and freight trains transferring between the Reading to Taunton Line and Reading to Basingstoke Line and the relief lines had to cross the Main lines and block express trains.

In July 2007, in its white paper Delivering a Sustainable Railway, the government announced plans to improve traffic flow at Reading, specifically mentioned along with Birmingham New Street station as "key congestion pinch-points" which would share investment worth £600 million.[12] On 10 September 2008 Network Rail unveiled a £400 million regeneration and reconfiguration of the station and surrounding track. The plans included an underpass to allow freight and passenger trains to transit from the to the Relief ('slow') lines without blocking the Main ('fast') lines. This was planned to help alleviate current delays, due to slow moving freight trains passing through the station.[13][14] The following changes were made:

The redevelopment was designed to provide provision for future Crossrail and Airtrack services at Reading station.

The improvements have allowed capacity for at least 4 extra trains in each direction every hour and 6 extra freight trains a day (equivalent to 200 lorries). The local council has also planned developments of the surrounding area in association with the developments at the station.

The cost of the project rose to £850m, but it was completed a year earlier than expected.[15] Network Rail are also examining options to improve the station concourse, provide new facilities such as improved ticketing and enhance cycle facilities. The rebuilt station was reopened by Queen Elizabeth II on 17 July 2014.[16] The Queen had reopened the station when last refurbished on 4 April 1989.

Motive power depot

The GWR built a small engine shed in the junction of the lines to Didcot and those to Basingstoke in 1841. This was enlarged and rebuilt in 1876 and again in 1930. It was closed by British Railways in 1965 and replaced by a purpose-built Traction Maintenance Depot.[17] This was subsequently relocated by Network Rail, during the redevelopment works in the early 2010s, to the northern side of the tracks to the west of the station.

Accidents and incidents

Extreme weather was the cause of an early casualty in the station's history. On 24 March 1840, whilst the station was nearing completion, 24-year-old Henry West was working on the station roof when a freak wind (described at the time as a tornado) lifted that section of the roof, carrying it and West around 200 feet (61 m) away; West was killed.[18] On the wall of the main station building there is a brass plaque, commemorating the event.

On 12 September 1855, a light engine was dispatched on the wrong line. It was in a head-in collision with a passenger train. Four people were killed and many were injured.[19]

An accident occurred at Reading on 17 June 1914, and was witnessed by the railway historian O. S. Nock, then a schoolboy. The driver of a train to Ascot moved off even though the signal was at 'danger', and into the path of an oncoming train bound for London Paddington; the only fatality was the driver of the Paddington train.[20]

T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) lost the 250,000-word first draft of his Seven Pillars of Wisdom at the station when he left his briefcase while changing trains in 1919. Working from memory, as he had destroyed his notes after completion of the first draft, he then completed a 400,000-word second draft in three months.

German aircraft tried to bomb the lines into the station during the beginning of World War II.

On 23 October 1993, an IRA bomb exploded at a signal post near the station, some hours after 5 lb (2 kg) of Semtex was found in the toilets of the station. The resulting closure of the railway line and evacuation of the station caused travel chaos for several hours, but no-one was injured.

Current station


The InterCity 1989 station entrance, built on the site of the old Southern station

The station plays a key role in serving the Great Western Main Line, the line which runs west from London Paddington station to Reading. To the west of Reading station, the line splits into two branches, allowing it to serve a variety of communities in the West and South West of England and onward into South Wales. The main branch proceeds to Bristol Temple Meads, via Bath Spa, Chippenham and Swindon. The South Wales Main Line diverges from the main branch at Swindon with trains running via Bristol Parkway, Newport, Cardiff Central, Bridgend, Port Talbot Parkway, and Neath to and from Swansea. Some services on the Great Western Main Line terminate at Bristol, while others continue on the Bristol to Exeter Line towards the West Country. The other branch to the west of Reading station is the Reading to Taunton line (the "Berks and Hants" line), which serves communities in Berkshire and Wiltshire. High speed services on this line do not normally call at all stations along the route, and some express services from the South West operate non-stop to and from Taunton. The Reading to Taunton branch joins services travelling south from Bristol on the Bristol to Exeter line at Cogload Junction, to the north of Taunton. The line proceeds to serve the stations of Taunton, Exeter St Davids, Plymouth and onward to stations in Cornwall such as Par where the branch to Newquay diverges where some trains terminate whilst most terminate at the terminus of Penzance. Both high-speed intercity services and local services are operated by Great Western Railway. Nearly all services are timetabled to stop at Reading.

Other main lines connect Reading with Birmingham New Street, Birmingham International, northern England and Scotland, and with Winchester, Southampton and Bournemouth to the south. Through services from north to south on these lines are operated by CrossCountry, and all services stop in Reading, which requires the trains to reverse. The main routes offered by CrossCountry are to Newcastle Central and Manchester Piccadilly to the North and Bournemouth and Southampton Central in the South. There are extensions to Edinburgh Waverley and Guildford once daily in each direction.

The secondary North Downs Line connects Reading with Guildford, Reigate and Gatwick Airport. Services on this line, together with local stopping services to Basingstoke, Newbury, Bedwyn, Oxford and London Paddington, are also operated by Great Western Railway. An electric suburban line operated by South West Trains links Reading to Richmond, Clapham Junction and London Waterloo. Pending the construction of the direct rail route to Heathrow Airport, an express bus service, RailAir, links Reading with London Heathrow Airport. Alternatively one may proceed by train to Hayes & Harlington, changing there to a Heathrow Connect train to London Heathrow Airport.

Railways around Reading
Great Western Main Line
to London Paddington
Waterloo to Reading Line
to London Waterloo
North Downs Line
to Redhill via Wokingham
Kennet and Avon Canal
Reading East Junction
Reading Southern
formerly Reading General
Coley Goods
Kennet and Avon Canal
Caversham Road Junction
Reading TMD
Reading West
2 Oxford Road Junction
1 Reading West Junction
Southcote Junction
Great Western Main Line
to Didcot
Kennet and Avon Canal
Reading Green Park
Reading to Taunton line
to Newbury
Reading to Basingstoke Line
Preceding station National Rail Following station
Guildford   CrossCountry
Basingstoke   CrossCountry
Bournemouth-Manchester or Southampton to Newcastle
Terminus   CrossCountry
Terminus   Great Western Railway
North Downs Line
London Paddington   Great Western Railway
Night Riviera
Twyford or Maidenhead   Great Western Railway
Commuter services
Great Western Main Line
  Tilehurst or Didcot Parkway
Slough or
London Paddington
  Great Western Railway
Main Line services
Great Western Main Line
  Didcot Parkway or
Swindon or
London Paddington   Great Western Railway
Main line services
Reading to Taunton Line
  Newbury or
Twyford or
Slough or
London Paddington
  Great Western Railway
Semi fast peak time services
Reading to Taunton Line
Terminus or
  Great Western Railway
Local services
Reading to Taunton Line
  Reading West
Terminus   Great Western Railway
Reading – Basingstoke
  Reading West
Earley   South West Trains
Waterloo to Reading
  Future Development  
Preceding station   Crossrail   Following station
Elizabeth line
towards Abbey Wood or Shenfield

Rail and sea corridor to Ireland

At either Cardiff Central or Swansea connections with the Arriva Trains Wales boat train to/from Fishguard Harbour railway station are available. This in turn connects with the Stena Line ferry to Rosslare Europort in Ireland. An integrated timetable and through ticketing is offered between Reading and Rosslare on this international rail-sea route[21] with a daily morning and evening service in both directions. This route has been in existence since 1906, enabling connections to Dublin Connolly.

Station layout


Until 2013, to serve the traffic described above, Reading station had four through-platforms and eight terminal platforms.

Track layout prior to 27 December 2011
Main (Bristol-Paddington) lines
Westbury lines Goods lines
Relief lines Other lines

The station layout immediately prior to 27 December 2011 was as follows:


On 27 December 2011, the new platform 4 was opened, with all higher numbered platforms re-numbered.[22] Main Line platforms 4 & 5 became 7 & 8 while Relief line platforms 8 & 9 became 9 & 10, with the North bay becoming 11. Bay platform 6, which would later be removed in the redevelopment, was renumbered 16. Platform 5 (old 4b) opened on 23 April 2012.[23] with platform 6 (old 4a) following on 12 July.[24] The Easter 2013 blockade resulted in the opening of new platforms 12 to 15 and the closure of the old East bay no 16. Work then commenced to rebuild platform 11 into a through platform, following which the adjacent platform 10 was rebuilt to match.

The station now has nine through platforms numbered 7 to 15, split into 'a' and 'b' sections, with 'a' being the east end and 'b' the west end. 7 to 11 are on the Main lines, whereas 12 to 15 are on the Relief lines. The disused underpass east of the station links the electrified Wokingham line to the 'slow' lines at the north of the station complex, allowing for through services, such as XC to Guildford, and GWR North Downs services at service start and finish. Crossrail could also be accommodated at the new station with little work beyond electrification, as new sidings have been planned to the west of the station.

In March 2013 the subway reopened as a public right of way from the north to the south of the station, with no platform access. This enabled removal of the old footbridge to commence, starting with the two sections nearest the car park which were lifted out in the first two weeks of that month. On 29 March 2013 the new transfer deck was opened, ready for the opening of the new platforms on 2 April. By 7 April 2013 the old footbridge had been completely removed.

Further work saw the completion of the final layout:[25][26]

Recycling of infrastructure

During the station's major reconstruction, and the associated moving of locomotive stabling and the servicing depot from south of the Great Western Main Line to its north, a number of major components either became redundant or were no longer needed. Network Rail offered these out to museums and the railway preservation movement, for a zero price, but subject to the cost of delivery being recompensed. In April 2011, the pair of former 17 metres (56 ft) road bridges to the west of the station were delivered to Loughborough Central on the Great Central Railway for future use on their bridging project.[27] In January 2014 one of the 22,500 imperial gallons (102,000 l; 27,000 US gal) water tanks was moved to Bishops Lydeard on the West Somerset Railway.[28]

Reading station was intended to be the western terminus for the proposed Heathrow Airtrack rail service. This project, promoted by BAA, envisaged the construction of a spur from the Waterloo to Reading Line to Heathrow Airport, creating direct rail links from the airport to Reading, London Waterloo, Woking and Guildford. Airtrack was cancelled by BAA in April 2011[29] but, in October 2011, Wandsworth Council announced a revised plan called Airtrack-Lite.[30]

More recently, the Government has committed to the construction of a rail route from Heathrow Terminal 5 to the GWR main line between Iver and Langley, with a west-facing junction there, thus providing for a direct route from Heathrow to the West. See Western Rail Link to Heathrow.


In May 2011 First Great Western exercised an option to terminate the franchise in March 2013, avoiding £827 million in premium payments to the Department for Transport.[31][32] In April 2012 the franchise was put out to tender to the four shortlisted bidders, Arriva, FirstGroup, National Express and Stagecoach,[33][34][35] but the process was paused and later cancelled after the collapse of the InterCity West Coast franchise competition,[36] and the existing franchise extended.[37] In October 2013 a new 23-month franchise running to September 2015 was awarded directly to First Great Western.[37][38][39]

The Great Western Main Line from London to Bristol is due to be electrified by 2017, which will see most services transferred to electric traction using new BR Class 800/801 trains as part of the Intercity Express Programme.[40] It was announced in November 2013 that Network Rail would take over management of the station from First Great Western as of April 2014.[41]



  1. Steer Davies Gleave. "Estimates of station usage 2013–14" (XLSX). Office of Rail and Road. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
  2. "Estimates of Station Usage 2013–14". Office of Rail and Road. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
  3. "Commercial information". Our Stations. London: Network Rail. April 2014. Retrieved 12 April 2014.
  4. "Building the Great Western Railway". Reading History Trail. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
  5. "Victorian Urban Development". Reading History Trail. Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
  6. Butt 1995, p. 195.
  7. Slater 1974a, Western's last "General", p.361.
  8. Slater 1974b, Western "Generals", p.520.
  9. Slater 1974a, New Southern platform at Reading, pp.362–363.
  10. Matthews 2006, p. 30.
  11. Forster, Mark (15–28 August 2007). "Rebuild will unblock Berkshire Bottleneck". Rail. 572: 46–7.
  12. Station's £400m revamp unveiled, BBC News Berkshire.
  13. Network Rail's plans.
  14. "Reading rail station's £850m upgrade to finish early". BBC News. 18 May 2011. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
  15. Queen opens revamped Reading station BBC News 17 July 2014
  16. Griffiths, Roger; Smith, Paul (1999). The directory of British engine Sheds and Principal Locomotive Servicing Points. 1. Oxford: Oxford Publishing Co. p. 40. ISBN 0-86093-542-6.
  17. Waters 1990, p. 11.
  18. Kidner 1977, p. 48.
  19. Nock & Cooper 1987, pp. 128,130.
  20. "Rosslare to Fishguard". Stena Line. n.d. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  21. "New platform 4 opens at Reading 31/12/11".
  22. "New platform 5 opens. April 2012".
  23. "New platform 6 opens at Reading station 12/7/12. First train arrives.".
  24. "£425M transformation planned at Reading". Railnews. Retrieved 26 December 2013.
  25. "Reading Station News, November 2011". First Great Western.
  26. "Old Reading station bridge joins Great Central Railway". BBC News. 7 April 2011. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  27. Paul Conibeare (10 January 2014). "A new water tank for the West Somerset Railway locomotive department arrives from Reading". West Somerset Railway. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  28. "Heathrow Airtrack Waterloo rail link shelved by BAA". BBC News. 11 April 2011. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
  29. "Wandsworth Council – New Airtrack plan to connect Heathrow". London Borough of Wandsworth. 14 October 2010. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
  30. FirstGroup to quit Great Western deal early The Guardian 12 May 2011
  31. FirstGroup gives up First Great Western rail franchise early, saves £800m in payments to the government The Telegraph 12 May 2011
  32. Haigh, Philip (18 April 2012). "First leads a field of seven bidding for rail franchises". RAIL magazine. Peterborough: Bauer Media (694): 8–9.
  33. "Great Western franchise to be extended". Railnews]. 19 July 2012. Retrieved 19 July 2012.
  34. "New Great Western franchise to deliver new express trains" (Press release). Department for Transport. 27 July 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2012.
  35. "Great Western London to south Wales rail contest scrapped". BBC News. BBC. 31 January 2013. Retrieved 31 January 2013.
  36. 1 2 "First Great Western awarded new franchise". Railway Gazette International. 3 October 2013.
  37. "First celebrates last-minute Great Western deal". Railnews. 3 October 2013. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
  38. "First Great Western retains Wales and west rail franchise". BBC News. BBC. 3 October 2013. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
  39. "Modernising the Great Western" (PDF). Network Rail. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  40. "Reading railway station to be managed by Network Rail". BBC News. BBC. 18 November 2013. Retrieved 26 November 2013.


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