After its first life on the shores of Lake Constance, parts of the Rorschach station concourse were transported to Glarus in 1861 where they were reused. Engraving dated 1856.
After its first life on the shores of Lake Constance, parts of the Rorschach station concourse were transported to Glarus in 1861 where they were reused. Engraving dated 1856. SBB Historic

Recycling station buildings

In the early days, the railways were viewed with some scepticism as a new mode of transport. This is reflected in the inexpensive makeshift stations which were only gradually replaced by prestigious buildings, and in turn the practice of station recycling.

Katrin Brunner

Katrin Brunner

Katrin Brunner is a self-employed journalist specialising in history and chronicler of Niederweningen.

On 15 June 1844, a train travelled from Strasbourg to Basel. No big deal, you might think, but it was the first of its kind and caused a sensation in Switzerland – although it “only” travelled two kilometres on Swiss soil. Basel Station – if you could even call it a station at the time – was a makeshift building, nothing more. And it wasn’t the only one... Before long, numerous railway lines were planned and built throughout Switzerland. But some individual halts only offered rudimentary protection from the elements for travellers and freight, often consisting of sheds separated from storage areas by basic waiting rooms and toilets. For the early railway companies, the decision to forego brick-and-mortar station buildings was driven by cost.
Basel’s main railway station, circa 1860.
Basel’s main railway station, circa 1860. Swiss National Museum
But in 1855, following the completion of the line between eastern Switzerland and Winterthur, construction of the Wipkingen tunnel, and the associated link to Zurich, the town needed a new station. Although the Nordostbahn railway company had commissioned Ferdinand Stadler to plan a new station for Winterthur, a temporary arrangement remained in place initially. This provisional arrangement – a pretty, timber-framed building with a single-storey central section and a pair of two-storey wings, designed by German architect August von Beckh – quickly became too small for the thriving transport hub. As the success of the railways as a new mode of transport took off, the design and construction of the associated buildings became more prestigious.
The old station in Winterthur was later repurposed as the Kornhauswirtschaft inn in Zurich.
The old station in Winterthur was later repurposed as the Kornhauswirtschaft inn in Zurich. Baugeschichtliches Archiv
Having sold the old station building to the City of Zurich, Winterthur got a new station in 1860.
Having sold the old station building to the City of Zurich, Winterthur got a new station in 1860. Wikimedia
In 1860, Winterthur got a station that seemed more fitting for a city than its small, timber-framed predecessor. In keeping with the times, thought was given to what the old building could subsequently be used for. It didn’t take long to find the answer, and the whole building was sold and moved to the City of Zurich. There, it became the Kornhauswirtschaft inn. The site of the former train tracks therefore became a place for beer-drinking and merriment. It was only demolished later, in 1883, to make way for the Swiss national exhibition.
Winterthur’s old station building had to permanently make way for the Swiss national exhibition in Zurich in the 1880s.
Winterthur’s old station building had to permanently make way for the Swiss national exhibition in Zurich in the 1880s. ETH Library Zurich
It was not unusual for stations to be moved about, in whole or in part, in the second half of the 19th century. For example, parts of the Rorschach station concourse were transported to Glarus in May 1861. Over time, this station also ended up being too small, and when work on the new station began in 1902, there were questions about what to do with the old building. The cost of a potential relocation seemed astronomical at the time – estimated at CHF 26,000 excluding transport. A feasibility study showed that there was not enough space in Chur or St. Gallen, that returning it to Rorschach would be even more expensive, and that in Sargans land would have to be bought first. Finally, Landquart applied to turn the old station building into housing for the growing number of staff at the Rhätische Bahn railway company. Ultimately, however, the management of the Vereinigte Schweizerbahnen refused the relocation and further use of the station for cost reasons in February 1902. Rorschach, Winterthur and Glarus are good examples of the railway station recycling which was practised in Switzerland in the late 19th and early 20th century. Even today, station buildings are moved about. For example in the summer of 2022, a 600-tonne building was moved 40 metres in Lugano. But these days, the reasons for moving buildings are different from in the early days of the railways and are usually motivated by building heritage and preservation concerns.
Relocation of a station building in Lugano, August 2022 (in Italian). RSI

Further posts

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Swiss National Museum

Three museums – the National Museum Zurich, the Castle of Prangins and the Forum of Swiss History Schwyz – as well as the collections centre in Affoltern am Albis – are united under the umbrella of the Swiss National Museum (SNM).