Bangkok’s century-old Hua Lamphong station makes tracks towards railway history

After more than a century serving passengers, Thailand’s largest railway hub will reach the end of the line this year.

If Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob gets his way, the Bangkok Railway Station (aka Hua Lamphong) will fall off the network map as soon as the shiny Bang Sue Grand Station opens in November.

Hua Lamphong won’t just be shunted into memory, though. Slowly gathering steam are plans to welcome visitors onboard its new journey as a museum.

Heritage from King Rama V’s reign

Construction of the grand Bangkok Railway Station edifice began in 1910, in the final year of King Rama V’s reign. Its European neo-renaissance design was the brainchild of Italian architect Mario Tamagno, who also dreamt up the magnificent Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. Dominated by its Italian-style dome, Hua Lamphong looks a lot like the Frankfurt Train Station. According to one story, King Rama V became enamoured with the German train station during his trip to Europe.

Construction of Bangkok’s temple to rail travel was completed in the reign of King Rama VI, with the first train drawing up to the station’s platform on June 25, 1916.

The Bangkok Railway Station now sprawls over a 120-rai plot in Rong Mueang, Pathum Wan district, surrounded by Mahanak Canal to the North, Rama IV Road to the South, Rong Mueang Road to the East, and Phadung Krungkasem Canal to the West.

Seen by thousands of passengers and passers-by each day, the big clock over the entrance was made to order and spans 1.6 metres in diameter.

The original Hua Lamphong

At the mention of Hua Lamphong, Thais today automatically think of the Bangkok Railway Station. But decades ago, Bangkok and Hua Lamphong stations were two different places.

The original Hua Lamphong was located on the traffic island in front of the current station and marked one end of Thailand’s first railway line, built in 1893. The privately operated line stretched about 30 kilometres to Samut Prakan’s Pak Nam until it was shut in 1960.

The new Bangkok Railway Station was nicknamed Hua Lamphong after the original was demolished.

Strange name rooted in history

The railway station took its name from the old district on which it was built. History books indicate it was once a vast field where cows grazed beneath the shade of datura trees. In Thai, the word for datura is “Lamphong”, while cows are called “Wua”. The pronunciation changed slightly over time, and the area ended up being known as Hua Lamphong – a name that transferred to the old railway station that rose on the spot.

Heyday of rail

The Bangkok Railway Station also marked Thailand’s entry to the modern era under the forward-thinking King Chulalongkorn. This was at a time when motorcars and airplanes were still a rare sight in the country.

Over the years, Hua Lamphong has been refurbished to keep pace with growing demand and modern trends. Capacity of its platforms and ticket counters has been boosted, and more than 200 trains now serve well over 100,000 passengers daily at peak periods.

Turning a new page

The State Railway of Thailand confirmed last month that parts of Hua Lamphong will be converted into a museum. No details have been provided, but there is little doubt that the station’s artistic decor and heritage architecture merit conservation. Moreover, the station already houses a time capsule of train history.

The Thai Railways Museum boasts fascinating exhibits that showcase Thailand’s long love affair with rail travel. Featured are old tools from the steam age, cardboard train tickets, signalling lamps and benches made from decommissioned sleepers. Visitors can even journey back in time at a re-created platform to experience train travel as their ancestors knew it.

 

Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS)