Train travel - "track" vs "platform"

I have seen these terms (“track” and “platform”) used interchangeably when referring to a train’s departure point. Is “platform” more a non-North American term?

In a major station, I think of a “platform” as a piece of concrete with a track on the left, and another on the right. Each track will be assigned a “track number”, and boarding can be done onto either from the same “platform” (and only from that platform - there’s another track on the other side of the train).

European stations usually show train “X” departing from “platform Y”. That may be referring to the North American equivalent of “track Y”. Am I correct?

Grand Central (NY) departure boards showing “track”.

Euston station (London) departure boards showing “platform”.

In the US I’ve seen “track” most often, but you’ll also see “gate” or occasionally “platform”.

I think the track is what the train sits on, and the platform is where the people stand. You can instruct people where to go using either, but i think it’s more common to give track numbers.

Brits definitely will say/use “platform”, as in Harry Potter’s famous “Platform 9-3/4” for the hidden train to Hogwarts.

For what it’s worth, in my area the commuter rail lines announce everything (and the trains are indicated with signage) by “track” not “platform”. As long as there is no ambiguity to resolve (like a center platform that has tracks on both sides), they should basically be equivalent.

Same here at Boston North Station - they announce & display a track number. Each platform serves 2 tracks, but they also stagger things so once you get onto the platform there’s only one train waiting. Plus a conductor shouting “Lowell 5:15!” or “Haverhill 5:35!”

Most of the places where i catch a train, there are tracks on both sides of the platform.

I’ve never seen departure boards listing ‘track’ - it’s always platform. The track is the physical bit of metal the train sits on, and any station is going to have either 1, 2 or multiple tracks - some where you can’t alight a train from as a passenger, as they may be a track for goods trains, or ‘parking’ for trains that sits between two other tracks, or for trains to pass straight through without stopping. One track may serve two platforms.

Tracks also run for hundreds of miles, so might be called things like ‘LN115’ - imagine trying to find that as a passenger in a busy station. Whereas in a station, the platforms are going to be 1, 2, etc.

This rather fascinating live train tracker (I think that’s what it is) shows the tracks going into London’s King Cross Station, and the platforms therein. No Platform 9 3/4 I’m afraid.

Actually, now that I think about it, this is also true for my commuter rail lines at the terminal (if not at most of the stations along the line). Another reason to call trains by “track” as the trains themselves only face a platform on the one side, but the platforms each have two sides.

======= track 01 =======
%% unnamed platform %%
======= track 02 =======
======= track 03 =======
%% unnamed platform %%
======= track 04 =======

If they alternated tracks and platforms, fewer trains could be in the terminal at any given time since platforms are wider than trains.

Plenty of stations I’m familiar with have two tracks, and two platforms with tracks on one side only. Pretty much the default for most Metro systems.


In the UK, a platform serving two tracks would have one side labelled Platform 1 and the other side Platform 2, probably with seats and kiosks running down the centre. Like this:

If you look at that, you’ll see Platform 3a, Platform 3b, etc. In other words, those are the tracks on either side of Platform 3.

Your link goes a picture of a station in the Netherlands, and says “Spoor 2” and “Spoor 3”, which translates to “Track 2” and “Track 3”.

Here’s a picture from Boston North Station, which neatly avoids the issue by just putting a number on the sign, no verbiage.

I think they’re different segments of the same track. The other side of the same physical platform is numbered 2.

Here’s a picture of the entrance to the platforms at North Station. Each doorway is labeled “Track 5”, “Track 6”, etc, but they both lead to the same platform. The sign says “Track”, not Platform, as well.

Correct. They’ll all be on the same “track” but at different places along the platform. I’m guessing that it has to do with increasing capacity at stations - especially terminal stations - that are not easily expanded.

The platform is what the commuters will be standing on, the track is what the train rides on. In the US, the signs refer to “Track #” because you can have two tracks on either side of the same platform, like this pic of Penn Station:

Practically speaking, the track is the important designator. You’re waiting for the correct train, which means you’re waiting for that train to arrive at the correct track. Since the platform may serve two tracks, identifying the platform may not be sufficiently unique.

The Long Island Rail Road is internally consistent in its conventions, and they use both terms, not interchangeably.

The majority of stations have platforms on either side of the two tracks, so you have Platform 1 where passengers stand and wait and get on and off the train, then Track 1 where the train parks itself to let them do so, then Track 2 (which is most often for trains headed the other direction), then Platform 2. The exceptions make it more obvious why tracks and platforms need to be distinguished from each other:

a) Stations close to where the routes divide will often have more than two tracks, and may have multiple platforms as well. For example, the Floral Park station:

Your westbound train may be coming in via the track on the far left and picking you up on the platform at far left. Or it may be pulling in on the tracks to the immediate right of those and picking you up from the center platform on the left side. Or it may be coming from your right, and picking you up from the center platform on the right side, the side where the camera shot is aimed. These are three different tracks and two platforms which can vary depending on schedule and circumstances. During rush hour, more of the tracks will be used to run trains in the rush-hour direction; the vagaries of scheduling may have track one occupied by a train so they always have your train on track two, whereas an hour earlier a similar train would be using track one. Or a stalled train will cause them to reroute your train over track two. Or construction and track work will do the same. So you need to know which platform and which track your train will come in on, or you’ll board the wrong train.

b) The big stations such as Jamaica and Penn Station and Atlantic Terminal will have a whole slew of platforms that can board on either side, with tracks splitting around platforms.

b) Some small stations have a single platform and the tracks run on either side of it.

That’s the local/express configuration you’re describing, I think. The configuration the NYC subway system uses.

The local trains run on the outside tracks and stop at the outside platforms. In the NYC subway systems, there is typically a local stop every 5-10 blocks.

The express trains run on the inside track and stop at the center platforms. The center platform express stops are much less frequent, the express trains run at a faster speed and pass the local trains.

Passengers can exit either train and switch to the other platform at any express stop. Many commutes include a combination of express and local trains.

Deutsche Bahn, the national rail company in Germany, uses the terms synonymously: The bilingual announcements at stations say “track” (Gleis) in German but “platform” in English. Where the platform is an island between two tracks, the two halves of the platform will have separate numbers, so the German “Gleis” number is always equal to the “platform” number in English.

If this was intended as reply to me*, it’s actually not that.

  • (Discourse is notifying me I had a reply to my post in this thread, but nobody is quoting me; your reply is right under mine, so it seems reasonable but not obvious)

Anyway, this one is more complicated than local versus express.
The tracks east of the station shown divide. The track on the far far right in the photo is always for passengers whose next eastbound stop is on the Hempstead branch, and they get on by standing on the platform at distant far right. The left side of the middle platform, and the track to its immediate left, is usually for eastbound trains whose next eastbound stop is on the other branches which aren’t forking here (Oyster Bay, Huntington/Port Jeff, Ronkonkoma/Greenport). But the left side / middle platform can be used for westbound trains.