The term railway platform can also mean any type of freight platform beside a rail siding for loading/unloading freight to/from rail cars.
A tram stop is often in the middle of the street; usually it has as a platform a refuge area of a similar height to that of the sidewalk (eg. 10 cm), and sometimes has no platform at all. The latter requires extra care for the boarding and unboarding passengers and for the other traffic to avoid accidents. Both types of tram stops can be seen in the tram network of Melbourne. Sometimes a tram stop is served by ordinary trams (with rather low floors) as well as metro-like light rail vehicles with higher floors, and the tram stop is provided with a dual height platform. An example can be found in Amstelveen, Netherlands. Similarly a train station may be served by heavy-rail and light-rail vehicles (with lower floors) and also have a dual height platform. This applies for example on the RijnGouweLijn, Netherlands.
Platform types include the bay platform, through platform, island platform, and the side platform. A bay platform is one at which the tracks terminate, i.e. a dead-end or siding. Trains serving a bay platform must reverse in or out. A through platform, conversely, is the more usual type of platform, located alongside tracks where the train may simply pull into the platform from one end, and leave passing the other end. Finally, an island platform has designated through platforms on both sides; it may be indented on one or both ends, with bay platforms. For passengers to reach an island platform, there may be a bridge, a tunnel, or a level crossing. The climb up to the bridge or down to the tunnel may use stairs, ramps, escalators, lifts, or a combination of the above.
Usually platform numbering is actually a numbering of the boarding areas in the station (hence one island platform, for example, may have several numbered platforms). In some cases, tracks without platform access, used for through traffic, also have a number.
Platforms usually have some form of warnings or measures to keep passengers away from the tracks and moving trains. The simplest measure is markings near the edge of the platform to demarcate the distance back from the platform edge that passengers should remain. Often a special tiled surface is used as well as a painted line, to help blind people using a walking aid, and aid in preventing wheelchairs from accidentally rolling too near the platform edge. A dangerous practice that sometimes occurs is sitting on the edge of the platform, which requires being fast enough in withdrawing the legs when a train arrives.
Platforms should also be sloped upwards slightly towards the platform edge to prevent wheeled objects such as trolleys, prams and wheelchairs from rolling away and into the path of the train.
In high-speed rail passing trains are a significant safety problem, as the safe distance from the platform edge increases with the speed of the passing train. Several countries have laws that prohibit trains passing platforms above certain speeds (usually 200 km/h (124 mph)). For stations on high-speed lines this leaves two alternatives unless all trains stop there: Either a speed limit for passing trains is introduced or the station has to be rebuilt to include tracks that do not pass platforms.
Some metro stations have platform screen doors between the platforms and the tracks. They provide more safety; also they allow the heating or air conditioning on the station and the ventilation in the tunnel to be separated, thus being more efficient and effective. They have been installed in most stations of the Singapore MRT and the Hong Kong MTR, as shown in the photos below, and the newer stations forming the Jubilee Line Extension in London.
Many platforms also contain an area underneath the edge of the platform so people who by any chance fall off the platform can seek shelter from incoming trains.
Ideally platforms should be straight or slightly convex, (although in the UK recent rules require new platforms to be straight) so that the guard can see the whole train as he prepares to close the doors. Platforms that have great curvature have blind spots that create a safety hazard. Mirrors or closed-circuit cameras may be used in these cases to view the whole platform. Also passenger carriages are straight, and so doors will not always open directly onto a curved platform – often a gap is present. (Usually such platforms will have warning signs, possibly auditory, such as London Underground's famous phrase "Mind the gap"). In some cases, sections within the platform may be movable, so as to cover any gap; moving away again to allow the train to leave.
The longest railway platform in the world (1,072 metres, or 3,538 feet) is at Kharagpur, West Bengal (India). The longest in Australia is at Flinders Street Station, Melbourne. Though spread over 4 stations, the longest platform in the US on a metro line is on the Red Line in the State Street subway in Chicago, Illinois.