Royal Reading

Written by: TrainSim-James

Main photograph above, copyright Geof Sheppard.

Train Sim World: Great Western Express, which is available now, not only features the iconic London Paddington station, but also represents the bustling hub that is Reading station.

Opened in March 1840, Reading railway station marked the final step for the Great Western Railway’s third phase out of London, where previous phases brought the line to Maidenhead and Twyford respectively. Reading welcomed the arrival of the railway, as Brunel’s Billiard Table slashed journey times to an hour and 5 minutes, stagecoaches of the day took significantly longer.

As the Great Western Railway was further extended, Reading station was considered and treated as a standard intermediate halt of Brunel design, where both the ‘up’ (to London) and ‘down’ (from London) platforms were on the down line, causing bottlenecks whenever services met. Despite this, however, Reading quickly became one of the major towns outside London as commuters flooded in, being only so far away from the capital.

Reading’s Great Western Hotel was opened in 1844, a sign of the station’s popularity, and the structure still stands today, making it one of the oldest surviving railway hotels. New travellers continued to arrive year-on-year as the GWR network extended far beyond the reach of any other transport. In 1849, the Reading Guildford and Reigate Railway (later absorbed into the South Eastern Railway) also reached Reading from Redhill of the Brighton Main Line, forming what is today known as the North Downs Line.

By the 1860s, popularity warranted a new station building, and so one was constructed from Bath Stone and featured pristine detailing; this however did not solve the bottleneck issue for services, and so a totally new, conventional station layout was eventually built in the 1890s. Thanks to the recent standardisation of railway gauge and quadrupling of the Great Western Main Line, Reading was given up, down and relief platforms.

The Great Western and South Eastern Reading stations had always been adjacent to each other, however confusion was seldom a factor when operated by different companies. When the ‘Big Four’ were nationalised into British Railways, the Great Western station was renamed ‘Reading General’ to differentiate it from the nearby terminus. This notion would only last until 1974.

In order to improve interconnectivity and accessibility for passengers, it was decided in 1965 to close the former South Eastern station and build a new terminating platform at the General station. This was a success, although a second platform for the Gatwick Airport-bound services was soon required and opened in 1975. After 135 years since the first trains reached Reading, the station itself is starting to resemble how it is laid out today.

The next major change for Reading station came in 1989 when a new concourse was opened by InterCity. The new facilities utilised space left by the old South Eastern terminus, and a new connecting footbridge was added. The site of the former goods yard and signal works of days gone by became the home of a much needed multi-storey car park, and for good measure, the old 1806’s station building was converted into a pub. On April 4th 1989, Queen Elizabeth II reopened Reading.

In recent years, passenger numbers have been consistently increasing, and so has the number of services as a result. Reading was still struggling to cope, a lack of through-platforms meant many trains would get stacked up outside the station awaiting a platform, and any train heading west via Westbury had to cross the original main line, holding up the flow of traffic. Reading needed another new lease of life.

In 2009, Network Rail commenced a regeneration of Reading station that would alleviate congestion by relaying track, reconfiguring the station layout and improving accessibility for passengers. Five new platforms provided an extra bay platform and through lines, the 1989 footbridge was replaced and a new ticket-holder-only entrance was added. Platform canopies were replaced, and old subways were converted into through-passages under the station. The crossing lines west of the station were replaced with a fly-over, which would carry the original GWML as the line to Westbury passed under.

During the redevelopment works, many services were unable to traverse through the station, and so HSTs were directed to London Waterloo during the interim. It was first believed that the work would cost £400 Million, however this had risen to £897m by the time the renovations were complete. In contrast, Network Rail achieved the work a year ahead of schedule, and Queen Elizabeth II got to reopen Reading station, for the second time of her reign, in July 2014.

With Train Sim World: Great Western Express, you’ll be able to explore Reading station as it stands today, a busy transport core that is home to inter-city and local services. It’s almost time to serve the Thames Valley, so make sure you head to the Store as Train Sim World: Great Western Express is available now!

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Above and below, Reading station as captured in 1865 and 1900 respectively. Photographs in public domain.

Above, Reading station is seen here, as renovated by InterCity, in 2005 with a Thames Trains-liveried Networker Turbo occupying a platform. Below, the view from Platform 4 in 2007, looking west. Image above copyright Chris Wood, image below copyright mattbuck.

Above, a HST set approaches Reading on a westbound service. It’s 2010, renovation has been approved, and is projected to take a few years. Below, Reading station became something of a construction site as major works took place, by 2013, the new footbridge is visible. Image above copyright mattbuck, image below copyright James Petts.

Above, Reading station, nearly completed and ready for a whole new generation of the Great Western Main Line, February 2014. Below, the fully completed and opened Reading station in August 2014, seen from an aerial perspective. Image above copyright Bill Nicholls, image below copyright John Fielding.

We’re always happy to receive your comments below but please ensure they are related to the subject of the article, we’ll remove any that appear to be unrelated.



  • Wow I love that 1865 photo.
    What is that loco class?

    • Possibly Stothert Hawthorne Class, going by the horizontal rail on the smokebox, Roland

      GWR Hawthorne Class Broad Gauge 2-4-0

  • Thanks for this, I was wanting some light Reading.

    HA! Get it? 🙂

    • Great one Albie! 😀

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