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.

 
 
 
 

Does it matter that TfL are renaming White Hart Lane station Tottenham Hotspur?

New White Hart Lane. Image: Getty.

Pretend for a moment that you’re travelling in the London of 1932. You’re taking the Piccadilly Line northbound and alight at Gillespie Road station. The name should be obvious: it’s inscribed in bespoke brown tiling on the platform.

But that 31 October, following an intense campaign by the eponymous football club, the London County Council changed the station’s name to Arsenal (Highbury Hill). The area’s growing association with the name “Arsenal” ended in a lengthy negotiation that changed maps, signs and train tickets alike. Football had acquired so much power that it changed the name of not just a Tube station but an entire suburb, even before the era of Wenger or the Emirates.

Now the spectre of name changes is on the horizon once again. As Tottenham Hotspur FC inches closer to completing its new stadium, the club is clamouring for a renamed Overground station. Despite the fact the new stadium is located on almost exactly the same site as the old just off White Hart Lane, and fans have long been calling the scaffolding-laden mess “New White Hart Lane”, the club’s executive director is adamant that the station’s existing name cannot stand. White Hart Lane station, on the Overground line leaving Liverpool Street, is set to be renamed “Tottenham Hotspur”, at a cost to the club of £14.7m.

Little has been made of the fact that this peculiar PR kerfuffle is tied to Spurs’ failure to convince Nike to sponsor the venue. Some sources have even claimed that the sponsorship is yet to be finalised because it is somehow contingent on the renaming of the Overground station; beyond the ridiculous Johnson-era vanity project that was the Emirates Air Line, it seems improbable that TfL will allow any more corporate-flavoured information pollution. There will be no “Nike Stadium” station on the way to Enfield, much as there is no “Emirates” on the way to Cockfosters, especially if public consultation gets a look in.

The scene of the crime. Image: TfL.

But there’s a problem with the new name, all the same. “White Hart Lane” already means “football stadium”, in the same way Loftus Road or Stamford Bridge do. Changing it to “Tottenham Hotspur” risks opening the floodgates to an “O2 North Greenwich” or a “Virgin Euston” at some point in future, names as banal as there are dystopian. The Greater London Authority has promised to spend the £14.7m fee on community programmes in the local area – but that’s not much money to set the precedent that a private company can mess about with the Tube map.


What’s more, as CityMetric has often observed, there are plenty of station names across London that could do with a tidy up. Picking one that’s perfect already and asking for £14.7m to change it is adding insult to injury. How much would it cost a community group if they asked to change the name of Goodge Street to Fitzrovia? Why does a vast corporate entity backed by international sponsors and thousands of season ticket holders get to set the standard?

Back in Arsenal’s day, changing names on the Tube must have been easy; changes could be accommodated gradually without bothering the every day traveller. But in our world of online information, maps and apps, name changes are rather more complicated.

The question is – if TfL can bring itself to balefully accept this particular proposition, why can’t it accept ours? Why sort out a single non-issue on the Tube Map when you can catch lots of real ones in one go? A day’s pandemonium might just be a price worth paying to fix the Bethnal Greens problem once and for all.