Reading railway station (formerly Reading General) is a major rail transport hub in Reading. It is situated on the northern edge of the town centre, some 5 minutes' walk from the main retail and commercial areas, and close to the River Thames. Adjacent to the railway station is a bus interchange, served by most of Reading's urban and rural bus services.
Reading is a major junction point on the National Rail system, and as a consequence the railway station is a major transfer point as well as serving heavy originating and terminating traffic. The station is sponsored by ING Direct and the University of Reading.
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 1849 the South Eastern Railway reached Reading with a line from Guildford and Reigate, initially serving a temporary station at North Forbury before moving into its own separate permanent terminal station, just to the south-east of the Great Western station, in 1855. In 1856 the London and South Western Railway opened a line from its London terminus at Waterloo to Wokingham, with its trains continuing over the South Eastern line to that railway's terminus in Reading.
At some time between 1859 and 1865, the Great Western Signal Works were constructed on lower ground to the north of the station. These works grew until by 1872 they were employing 500 men and producing most of the signalling equipment used by the Great Western Railway. The signal works continued in existence until 1984.
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.
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 2.
In 1965 Reading Southern, the South Eastern station, was closed, and the services using it diverted into a newly constructed terminal platform (4A) in the General station. A second terminal platform (4B) serving the same line was opened in 1975 for the commencement of the service from Reading to Gatwick Airport.
For some years the site of the South Eastern station was used as the station car park. However, in 1989 a brand new station concourse, included a shopping arcade named for Brunel, opened on the western end of the old South Eastern 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.
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.
Other main lines connect Reading with Birmingham (serving both New Street and International stations), northern England and Scotland to the north, 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, other than a few special summer-only services, stop in Reading.
The secondary North Downs Line connects Reading with Guildford and Gatwick Airport. Services on this line, together with local stopping services to Basingstoke, Newbury, Bedwyn, Oxford and London Paddington, are also operated by First Great Western. An electric suburban line operated by South West Trains links Reading to London Waterloo station. An express bus service operated by First Great Western links Reading with Heathrow Airport.
Plans were produced by Railtrack for a major redevelopment of the station, with rail track on two levels. Since the demise of Railtrack and its replacement by Network Rail, the status of these plans is unclear. There is sufficient space for extra through platforms on the north side of the station, and even a disused rail underpass at the junction to the east, and there have been suggestions in the press to use these for a quicker and cheaper solution. The local Unitary Council announced a scheme projected to cost £78 million early in 2006. Meanwhile the problems were mitigated by the introduction by Virgin Trains of more frequent but shorter trains (now operated by CrossCountry), which are able to use the shorter terminal platforms for reversing instead of needing to occupy one of the through platforms.
Irrespective of railway developments, but likely to be accelerated by them, local authority plans show a comprehensive redevelopment of the area between the town centre and the river, including the station, by 2020.
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.
The current plans indicate the final layout of the station will have eight through platforms on four islands: one each for 'down fast', 'up fast', 'down slow' and 'up slow'. The current platform 4 will be used by CrossCountry services in all directions. The disused underpass east of the station will link the electrified Wokingham line to the 'slow' lines at the north of the station complex, allowing for Heathrow Airtrack services. 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.
On September 10,2008 Network Rail unveiled a £400 million regeneration and reconfiguration of the station and surrounding track this included an overpass system to the West of the station; with freight and passenger trains able to transit from the Reading to Plymouth Line and Reading to Basingstoke Line to the 'slow' lines without crossing the 'fast' lines via an underpass beneath the 'fast' lines, rather than the conventional points in place. This is planned to help alleviate current delays, due to slow moving freight service passing trough the station. As well as the reconfiguration of the track, five additional platforms are planned to be added; the terminus for London Waterloo will be altered, and the Cow Lane bridge under the tracks will be made two-way and include a cycle path.
A non-existent platform, 22, of Reading station is the gateway to a magical world where armchairs and animals speak in Andrew Matthews's Dr Monsoon Taggert's Amazing Finishing Academy.