Reading station is a key junction situated 36 miles from London Paddington on the main line to Bristol, South Wales, and the South West. Close to the point where it is crossed by the major freight and passenger route between Southampton Docks/Bournemouth and the Midlands. Passenger services on this route are diverted into/out of Reading Station but the freight trains have for long crossed the Bristol main line on the level causing significant delays to the Bristol trains. A secondary route from London Waterloo feeds into the east end of the station having in earlier days operated to the former SECR/SR station nearby. Today emus rattle in and out every 20 minutes for Waterloo and dmus a couple of times hourly for Redhill / Gatwick Airport.
The station itself and the flat junctions to the west were serious bottlenecks and both have now been relieved by the complete rebuilding of the station and the provision of a flyover separating the two major routes. Reading station has a unique feature – TWO Royal openings in recent years. The first was on 3 April 1989 when the Queen opened the new station entrance and adjacent shopping mall. The more recent was on 17 July 2014 when Her Majesty returned to open the complete rebuilt station complex.
Before its recent rebuilding the station had just four long through platforms plus a few bays at each end on the south side and a couple of further bays in the middle of the site. There are now 15 platforms in all, (four wide island platforms giving eight through platforms, a ninth through platform on the north side of the station) – plus three bays on the south side facing to both the east and the west. There are now entrances on both the north and south sides and a magnificent transfer deck links both entrances with all platforms. The deck is 30m wide and 110m long, has five significant retail outlets spaced along the centre of the deck, and is linked to every platform by means of escalators, lifts, and stairs. In all there are 19 escalators, 12 lifts, and nine waiting rooms which are placed along the major through platforms. The escalator leading from the deck to the northern concourse and platform 15 is the longest escalator on the BR network.
The station has been rebuilt to handle 35,000 passengers each weekday (15.6m in a year) and 650 trains call each weekday. The main entrance is on the south side just east of the original 1830s building and leads into a small concourse serving the three bays that are used by the Redhill / Gatwick service and the third rail electric service to Waterloo. The main ticket office lies to the right and access to the Paddington/Bristol platforms is via a row of ticket gates beyond which is a further concourse and the escalators etc leading to the transfer deck. The original building is listed but is not used by the railway today. It is leased to a pub company and there are plans to open a restaurant on the upper floor. Its centrally placed little tower holding a clock is a much loved feature of the town and is in sharp contrast to the very modern buildings on each side. Because traffic has been rising sharply further entrance gates are situated to the west of the main entrance and are for ticket holders only. On the north side of the station there is a new entrance beside a conveniently placed bus loop, a modest concourse, ticket office and ticket gates giving access to the long escalator up to the deck. A pedestrian tunnel runs under the tracks and platforms and links the growing suburb to the north with the town centre.
Many of the town’s network of bus services run to the station either to the south or the north entrance. Because of road congestion many routes cannot reach either entrance but the station is seen as being the most important way to reach London and therefore many travellers are happy to walk from the nearest point that the buses can reach. There is a multi-storey car park close to the station but this is inadequate for the potential traffic. Although several TOCs use Reading Station none has control of the operations. Instead Reading remains a “Managed Station” i.e. it remains under the control of Network Rail.