I have always wondered how the suffixes of railway platforms are determined. With the suffix, I mean the part after the track number. For example, platform 8a, its suffix is (a).

Example of a platform suffix

I've heard that, in the Netherlands, the platform closest to Amsterdam is given the (a) suffix. Except for station Roosendaal, here the (a) suffix is given to the platform closest to Antwerp. Could somebody confirm this?

I'd like to hear how this is determined in the rest of the world, if at all.

  • 1
    I don't even think suffixes exist in other countries, at least the ones I've travelled in.
    – Kuba
    Feb 6 '17 at 15:21
  • 7
    @Kuba: King's Cross Station Platform 9¾? Feb 6 '17 at 15:25
  • 2
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's not about travel
    – JonathanReez
    Feb 6 '17 at 16:48
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    @JonathanReez why is it not about travel? I think it is very useful to know how these numberings are derived, especially when traveling abroad. I've almost missed some trains in Germany because this was not indicated properly for trains that switched track/platform last minute.
    – Martijn
    Feb 6 '17 at 16:50
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    @Martijn I think it's far too broad, especially that you mention some strange conventions like "platform closest to Amsterdam", I don't think I'd know where Amsterdam is while being in hurry and looking for my train. I'd guess it's different in every country/city.
    – Kuba
    Feb 6 '17 at 18:06

In the UK, the suffix is chosen arbitrarily. Sometimes "a" and "b" refer to different parts of the same platform, or sometimes they refer to completely different platforms! (See Stratford for perhaps one of the worst examples of platform numbering; 10 and 10a are on different islands!).

Sometimes trains "double dock" infrequently enough that no specific suffix is used, and announcements are made that the coaches "at the front" of the platform is the one you want (at a terminus station), or (for example) "furthest from the steps". Other platforms use abbreviated compass directions (I can't think of any examples right now but I could have sworn there are a few). Other times, as I said, it's pretty arbitrary when and how suffixes are applied. At stations where the platforms are most often operationally separate they can even get separate numbers for the same platform face!

On some lines the numbers (as opposed to the suffixes) tend to start at "1" for the platform on the far "up" side (usually towards London), but other lines apply different schemes.

  • 1
    Many small stations in the UK, with only two platforms either side of a single line, don't have platform numbers at all, but there should be clear signs showing the destination of the trains from each platform.
    – alephzero
    Feb 6 '17 at 19:53
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    Factoid: Haywards Heath station (HHE) is numbered the wrong way round: Platforms 4 and 3 are Up, 2 and 1 are Down. No other station on the Brighton Main Line is numbered that way. Feb 6 '17 at 21:11
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    For a moment, I thought you meant they are literally on different islands (as in, separated by water). Now that would be an impressive example of awful platform numbering.
    – tomasz
    Feb 6 '17 at 21:42
  • @Tomasz that would be a great concept idea for a train station in Venice, Italy. Feb 6 '17 at 22:54
  • Haha! Love that idea.
    – Muzer
    Feb 6 '17 at 23:03

In the United Kingdom at some larger railway station platforms are split into sections.

It was introduced to enable multiple trains to use the platform at the same time.

Depending on the station the platform may have a letter suffix (such as Birmingham New Street station) or may actually be split numerically (Bristol Temple Meads has platforms that are identified with two numbers. Eg 3 at one end, 4 at the other) the designations are so that people then get on the correct train.

Historically trains were much longer in the uk. 12 or 14 carriages long. But many trains in the UK today are much shorter, so this enables better usage.

In addition it's worth noting that some of the U.K. Operating companies also have colour zones on the stations they use (this seems to be diminishing but is worth mentioning) These were introduced so you can identify the section of the platform to wait for your correct carriage. (I.e. Carriages A and B will be ajacenent to the red zone)

To answer the question. In the UK it seems to be allocated arbitrarily.

  • AFAIK in the UK the a/b split tends to be platforms which sometimes have two short trains and sometimes one long one, while the numerical split is for things which are always different platforms. So you never have one train at platforms 3 and 4, but a long (peak time?) train might use all of platform 3, while shorter ones are at 3a or 3b.
    – djr
    Feb 6 '17 at 18:03
  • @djr Does seem like a good guess, though I do suspect it's not always totally consistent. I can't think of any counterexamples off the top of my head right now, except perhaps stations that only ever get particularly short trains.
    – Muzer
    Feb 6 '17 at 23:06

Well. I think this answer is rather broad, not being country specific, but here goes what I can say from Austria (and AFAICT Germany does the same or similar):

The suffixes in the platform numbers are to segregate the platforms into "numbered" segments (A - D) so that you know where to stand yourself for a certain train.

E.g. A regional two-coach train might be labelled to stop at platform Xa (or Xd) so you know it will stop at the very start or end of a platform.

I find it more commonly used for long-distance trains that span a whole platform (section A - D fully): Announcements will, e.g. state "Intercity from X to Y arriving on platform 7. 1st class and restaurant car is in section B, ..."

The sections are also labelled on the coach plans on the platforms, so you have an easier time locating the right spot to wait if you have a seat reservation.

  • The platform sections are not always the same as platform suffixes (although suffixes in Germany are typically S or N for South and North). E.g. Augsburg central (Hbf) used to clearly separate a South platform from a North platform (they have a few more through-running trains now so it’s not quite as obvious anymore) but the platforms for long-distance trains would still have A to E sections.
    – Jan
    Feb 6 '17 at 23:54
  • @Jan - what shall I say ... amazing? Never seen S/N suffixes before. Then never been to Augsburg by train either. :-)
    – Martin Ba
    Feb 7 '17 at 21:36

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