A brief tour of Britain’s least used stations

Empty tracks at empty stations: British Steel Redcar station. Image: Red-Oktober/Wikimedia Commons.

Those among you who haven’t yet received your copy of the Office of Road & Rail Estimates of Station Usage 2016-7 (don’t push, now) might not quite realise the scale of disparity in exactly how many people use Britain’s various stations. Of the 2.9bn rail journeys made in Britain that year, just over 500m started or ended at one of London’s ten busiest stations. If you travelled from or to anywhere smaller than Orpington, congratulations: you’re in a minority.

But there are 57 stations in mainland Britain (the statistics don’t cover Northern Ireland) where fewer than 1,000 people embarked or disembarked. I was surprised to learn, on digging into the data, that they’re not all request stops in the Highlands – although, as it happens, 21 of them are Scottish.

So where are these tiny stations? What purpose do they serve? And why should you definitely buy the first ticket out?

British Steel Redcar

Situated on the scenic Bishop Auckland to Saltburn line, this is, as the name suggests, a station built solely to serve the gargantuan Teesside Steelworks which, prior to its closure in 2015, employed thousands locally. In 2015-16 the station served a small but semi-respectable 740 passengers. By 2016-17, that had dropped to 50. It’s noteworthy for still receiving a decent number of trains (four per day, six days a week) – making it look like Clapham Junction next to some on this list.

If you’re thinking of visiting and aren’t thrilled by views of an abandoned steelworks, you might want to take a book. While the station is owned by Northern Rail, there’s no public access in or out, as it sits within land owned by British Steel. If you miss the 8:25 to Saltburn, it’s another eight hours on an empty platform before you can leave.

Falls of Cruachan

This originally caught the eye with a name because sounds like an area in the game Dark Souls, but it turns out to be moderately interesting in its own right. As the name suggests, the station serves Ben Cruachan mountain and Britain’s second-biggest hydroelectric power station, Cruachan Dam, which spans the Cruachan Reservoir.

Falls of Cruachan station. Image: Rosser1954/Wikimedia Commons.

There’s been a station there since 1893, although it was closed between 1965 and 1988, when it was rebuilt by chucking together some old sleepers and calling it a station. Despite only operating during the summer months, it served a healthy 734 passengers in 2016-17. That footpath to the power station Visitors’ Centre comes in handy.

Teesside Airport

With just one train a week calling, at mid-afternoon on a Sunday, it would hardly be surprising that this station served just 30 passengers last year, if it weren’t for its name. While Durham Tees Valley Airport still manages to serve 120,000 passengers a year, its website does not even mention the railway station. It’s slightly depressing that two of the stations on this list are served by the same line – and that a closed industrial site is both more popular and has more trains than a regional transport hub.

Even fewer passengers than normal today. Image: Felix Saward/Wikimedia Commons.

All the references to the station online reference its distance from the terminal, which is over egging it a bit – it’s about a mile on foot. A proposal to move it closer formed part of the Tees Valley Metro scheme under Labour, but that has since been scrapped by the government on grounds of cost. Maybe Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen can include it in his planned nationalisation of the airport.

Reddish South and Denton

As one of the Labour Party’s campaign co-ordinators, Andrew Gwynne MP must be used to banging on about trains. And with good reason – his Denton & Reddish constituency contains two of the country’s least well served stations. While Reddish North, a 20 minute walk away, serves 196,000 passengers yearly, its southern neighbour manages just 94. It’s a request stop served by two trains a week (doubling its service as of May this year); and if you’ve ever wanted to travel to Stockport before returning 50 minutes later, you’re in luck every Saturday morning.

The forgotten Denton line. Image: TfGM.

Denton is in a similar situation although, perhaps in out of respect for its 136-year history, it at least has a bench. It too received a return service as of this May – you can now, if you really want to, take a four minute train journey from Denton to Reddish South and back again. These are mostly interesting for the context – instead of being in the middle of nowhere adjacent to a mountain, Greater Manchester is a place where, I have heard, people actually live.

Portsmouth Arms, and other pub

There are three stations in the National Rail network which are named after pubs – Portsmouth Arms, a request stop in Devon, is the only one to make it under the 1,000 passengers a year mark, with 518.


The Berney Arms, in Norfolk, is a novelty in providing one of two methods for accessing its eponymous pub, as the station and pub are not connected to any roads.

A slightly concerning detail interrupts this rural train-based drinking idyll, and might explain its low rider numbers (1,126). The last train back on most days is at midday (4pm on a Sunday) meaning unless you’re into a pick me up in the morning, you’re in for a pissed boat ride through the Norfolk Broads. Try not to drown.

The last of the pub-based stations is the comparatively popular (100,000 uses) Craven Arms in Shropshire, which serves a small village named after an old coaching inn. This one’s basically a major urban centre, by virtue of having both regular services and passenger access.

Robin Wilde tweets as @robin_CG.

 
 
 
 

London’s rail and tube map is out of control

Aaaaaargh. Image: Getty.

The geographical limits of London’s official rail maps have always been slightly arbitrary. Far-flung commuter towns like Amersham, Chesham and Epping are all on there, because they have tube stations. Meanwhile, places like Esher or Walton-on-Thames – much closer to the city proper, inside the M25, and a contiguous part of the built up area – aren’t, because they fall outside the Greater London and aren’t served by Transport for London (TfL) services. This is pretty aggravating, but we are where we are.

But then a few years ago, TfL decided to show more non-London services on its combined Tube & Rail Map. It started with a few stations slightly outside the city limits, but where you could you use your Oyster card. Then said card started being accepted at Gatwick Airport station – and so, since how to get to a major airport is a fairly useful piece of information to impart to passengers, TfL’s cartographers added that line too, even though it meant including stations bloody miles away.

And now the latest version seems to have cast all logic to the wind. Look at this:

Oh, no. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The logic for including the line to Reading is that it’s now served by TfL Rail, a route which will be part of the Elizabeth Line/Crossrail, when they eventually, finally happen. But you can tell something’s gone wrong here from the fact that showing the route, to a town which is well known for being directly west of London, requires an awkward right-angle which makes it look like the line turns north, presumably because otherwise there’d be no way of showing it on the map.

What’s more, this means that a station 36 miles from central London gets to be on the map, while Esher – barely a third of that distance out – doesn’t. Nor does Windsor & Eton Central, because it’s served by a branchline from Slough rather than TfL Rail trains, even though as a fairly major tourist destination it’d probably be the sort of place that at least some users of this map might want to know how to get to.

There’s more. Luton Airport Parkway is now on the map, presumably on the basis that Gatwick is. But that station doesn’t accept Oyster cards yet, so you get this:

Gah. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

There’s a line, incidentally, between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey, which is just down the road from St Albans City. Is that line shown on the map? No it is not.

Also not shown on the map: either Luton itself, just one stop up the line from Luton Airport Parkway, or Stansted Airport, even though it’s an airport and not much further out than places which are on the map. Somewhere that is, however, is Welwyn Garden City, which doesn’t accept Oyster, isn’t served by TfL trains and also – this feels important – isn’t an airport.

And meanwhile a large chunk of Surrey suburbia inside the M25 isn’t shown, even though it must have a greater claim to be a part of London’s rail network than bloody Reading.

The result of all these decisions is that the map covers an entirely baffling area whose shape makes no sense whatsoever. Here’s an extremely rough map:

Just, what? Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

I mean that’s just ridiculous isn’t it.

While we’re at it: the latest version shows the piers from which you can get boats on the Thames. Except for when it doesn’t because they’re not near a station – for example, Greenland Pier, just across the Thames to the west of the Isle of Dogs, shown here with CityMetric’s usual artistic flair.

Spot the missing pier. You can’t, because it’s missing. Image: TfL/CityMetric.

I’m sure there must be a logic to all of this. It’s just that I fear the logic is “what makes life easier for the TfL cartography team” rather than “what is actually valuable information for London’s rail passengers”.

And don’t even get me started on this monstrosity.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.