How many Waterloo stations are there in the world?

Not a lot of people know this, but although it takes nearly two hours to get from Liverpool Lime Street to London Euston, you can get from Liverpool Central to Waterloo in under half an hour. And even though the Eurostar terminal moved to St Pancras a decade ago, there are still direct trains from Brussels to Waterloo.

If you prefer, there are also two trains a day to Waterloo from Chicago. Waterloo also used to be at the end of the Hong Kong metro system, and pretty soon Waterloo will be on the Sydney Metro as well.

OK, these obviously aren’t the same station. In fact, there are lots of Waterloo Stations all around the world. How many are they, and why do so many railway stations share this weird name?

Sometime eight or nine hundred years ago, a tiny village was built on the main road between Charleroi and Brussels: Waterloo, named after the fact it was wet (“water”) and near a forest (“loo” in Flemish). No-one cared much about this village until 18 June 1815, when an alliance of British, Dutch and German troops defeated the French army in a field just outside it. With Napoleon’s hopes of ruling Europe crushed, the victors celebrated by naming towns and roads across their empires after the battlefield.

This means that there are a lot of Waterloos out there. But how many?

Main line Waterloos

1. Waterloo, London

As the Napoleonic Wars were going on, London was building a new bridge between Covent Garden and the South Bank. The original plan was for it to be called Strand Bridge, since it connects to the Strand; but then Britain went and won a battle and so it was renamed “Waterloo Bridge”. The whole area in turn took its name from the bridge, and so when a railway station opened there 30 years later, it was only natural that it too was named “Waterloo”.

2. Waterloo East, London

Formerly Waterloo Junction, this station was built because the South Eastern Railway’s line from Kent to Charing Cross ran very close to London and South Western Railway’s Waterloo station. Although the two railways were competitors, connecting the lines meant people arriving at Waterloo could change trains and get across the river to the City of London – a win for both companies.

The buildings are now connected, but they are officially different stations, and platforms at Waterloo East use letters rather than numbers to stop people mixing them up with the other Waterloo’s ones.

3. Waterloo, Merseyside

This Waterloo was originally part of the coastal town of Crosby, just north of Liverpool. A large hotel opened there exactly one year after the Battle of Waterloo, and so it was named the Royal Waterloo Hotel. The railway station at Waterloo has passed through various hands, but today it’s part of Merseyrail’s Northern Line.

4. Waterloo, Walloon Brabant

The original Waterloo that all the others are (indirectly) named after, this station is now part of Brussels’ Overground-like RER system.

5. Waterloo, Indiana

Here’s a weird one: this Waterloo isn’t named after the Battle of Waterloo at all (perhaps not surprising, since the US wasn’t involved). Instead, it was named after former owner of the land, Miles Waterman, who, it turned out, didn’t actually want a town named after him and demanded the name be changed.

Despite being a town of just 2,200, its Amtrak station still gets direct trains to Chicago, New York and Washington D.C.

6. Waterloo Interchange, Wellington

There probably weren’t any New Zealanders at the Battle of Waterloo either, but, as a part of the British Empire, it still ended up with a town called Waterloo, which is now part of Lower Hutt, which is part of Wellington (named after the Duke of Wellington, the leader of the British troops at Waterloo).

The station has signs reading both “Waterloo Interchange” and “Hutt Central”, but the Waterloo name is the official one.

Metro Waterloos

7. Waterloo, London Underground

One of the most important interchanges on the London Underground, Waterloo tube station (named after and located under London Waterloo) is notable for giving its name to two different Tube lines: the Waterloo & City and the Bakerloo. Sadly, no-one has yet suggested renaming its other lines Northerloo and Jubiloo.

8. Waterloo, Charleroi Métro

Belgium’s other Waterloo station, on the Charleroi Métro. Named after the Waterloo Gate of the old city walls, on the road that led to Brussels. Weirdly, one of the lines from this station was partially built but never finished and still sits there, unused.

Side note: Charleroi has a population of about 200,000, and about 500,000 in its wider urban area. It has a metro system with three branches and four lines. Leeds has a population of nearly 800,000, and about 1.9 million in its wider urban area. It has zero metro lines.

9. Waterloo, Hanover Stadtbahn

The British weren’t the only winners at the Battle of Waterloo. After Napoleon conquered what was then the Electorate of Hannover, its remaining soldiers joined the British Army as the King’s German Legion.

After the Napoleonic Wars, Hanover was liberated and became its own Kingdom (although one with a British monarch), and celebrated by naming a square to commemorate the battle. It’s now an important junction on the Hanover Stadtbahn system.

10. Waterlooplein, Amsterdam Metro

The Dutch were also a major force at the Battle of Waterloo, and perhaps the biggest surprise is that they don’t have more stations named after it. Anyway, “Waterlooplein” translates to “Waterloo Square”, and it’s a marketplace in the heart of Amsterdam with a Metro line running under it.

11. Waterloo, Sydney Metro (under construction)

Another former British colony, another suburb named after the battle. It currently has a station under construction, set to open in 2024.

The same Sydney Metro line also serves a station called Epping, so if you are reading this in 2024 you can annoy all your Tube-loving friends by asking them how to get from Waterloo to Epping without changing trains.

Closed and renamed Waterloos

12. Waterloo International, London

To allow Eurostar services – which are too long for the existing platforms and need special security – to serve Waterloo, a new station was built on the side.

“Surely this doesn’t count. Isn’t it just an extension of London Waterloo?” you ask. Well, not according to British Rail, who treated it separately and gave it its own station code (WIT, as opposed to WAT for the main Waterloo station). Now the Eurostar has been moved to St Pancras, its old platforms have been integrated into London Waterloo as platforms 20-24, and WIT is no more.

13. Waterloo, Aberdeen

This was the main station for trains to the North of Scotland, perched on the dockside at Waterloo Quay, and was extremely unpopular because it wasn’t connected to the rest of the railway network.

If you wanted to go from Edinburgh to Lossiemouth, for instance, you’d need to walk or get the bus between Aberdeen Guild Street and Aberdeen Waterloo – and the station managers at Waterloo would lock the doors and refuse to let passengers in if their connecting train was late. Eventually, Aberdeen’s railway companies got their acts together and built a joint station, and Aberdeen Waterloo became a goods yard.

14. Waterloo, Ontario

Although Ontario was part of the British Empire at the time, this Waterloo was actually settled and probably named by German Mennonites. It no longer has a main line service of its own, but it’s on the Ion tram line linking it to the station in nearby Kitchener.

15. Waterloo, Quebec

Kind of weird to find a celebration of a French defeat in a former French colony, but this Waterloo was named by a Brit. It used to have a gorgeous little station on the Canadian Pacific railway.

16. Waterloo, Hong Kong MTR (renamed Yau Ma Tei)

Formerly named after Waterloo Road which runs above it, this station on Hong Kong’s MTR system became Yau Ma Tei (the name of the district around it, possibly meaning “Sesame oil fields”) in 1985.

17. Waterloo, Freetown

After the British Empire officially banned the slave trade in 1808, it still forced many of the “liberated” slaves to fight in the army’s West India Regiment in the Caribbean throughout the Napoleonic Wars. When the war ended and they were finally freed from their indentures and allowed to settle in Sierra Leone, the former soldiers founded villages with names like Waterloo, Wellington and Gibraltar Town. The country’s railway lines closed in 1974, but the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum preserved the old Waterloo building.

18. Waterloo Halt, Caerphilly

A little stop on the Brecon & Merthyr Line, for the village of Waterloo on the River Rhymney. So small that it only got trains in one direction, the line was really more for transporting coal than people anyway. It closed in 1956.

19. Waterloo Road, Blackpool (renamed Blackpool South)

Is it still a Waterloo if it has “Road” on the end? The smaller of Blackpool’s two main stations, Blackpool South used to be an important interchange, but now just sees one train an hour to Preston. The name “Waterloo Road” lives on in the nearby tram stop.

20. Waterloo Road, Staffordshire

This disused station is in Hanley, part of the Stoke-on-Trent district. The station closed in 1943, and has vanished without a trace.

21-26. Waterloo, Illinois; Waterloo, Nebraska; Waterloo, New Hampshire; Waterloo, New Jersey; Waterloo, New York; Waterloo, Wisconsin

Time has not been kind to America’s railways. All these towns used to have passenger stations – visitors to historic Waterloo, NJ can catch a train to nearby Mount Olive, but anyone going to the others is just out of luck.

There are a few more tiny US Waterloos with railroads through or near them, but it’s not clear whether these ever had official passenger stations.

Other Waterloos that might not count

Twenty six Waterloos is already a lot of Waterloos. But this list could keep going even further.

When trams were at the height of their popularity, there were definitely quite a few tram stops called Waterloo. However, old tram stop names are hard to find, and most probably aren’t any more notable than bus stop names.

There are also various freight yards and heritage stations called Waterloo but, again, these are hard to find and stretch the definition of “station”. Still, we can try to count them.

27, 28, 29. University of Waterloo, Laurier-Waterloo Park and Waterloo Public Square, Ontario

Three tram stops on the Waterloo-Kitchener Ion light rail system, which opened in mid-2019. You could argue that none of them are named Waterloo though, they just include the word in their name.

30. Waterloo (Northfield Drive), Ontario

One end of the heritage Waterloo Central Railway. Since the Ion rapid transit network opened in June, they haven’t been able to run into the city itself, so their new Waterloo station is wedged rather unglamorously into an industrial estate on the edge of town. It still actually gets semi-regular service, with trains running to the nearby farmer’s market.

31. Waterloo Road tram stop, Blackpool

See above. It’s on the promenade, a fair walk away from Blackpool South station.

32. Waterloo tram stop, London

Back when London still had a huge tram network, the number 68 used to start near Waterloo station.

33. Waterloo Place, Edinburgh

Like San Francisco and Lisbon, hilly Edinburgh used to have a system of cable-car trams. Today, the only surviving tracks can be seen at Waterloo Place, the former terminus of the line.

34. Waterloo Goods, Liverpool

A cargo-only railway station built to serve the Liverpool docks. Closed in the 1960s but the Department for Transport is keeping the former track-bed free so the line can be opened if needed.

35. Waterloo, Iowa

OK, it’s another freight station (belonging to the Canadian National Railway, despite being in the USA), but at least the story behind why it’s called Waterloo is good.

When residents of the town of Prairie Rapids petitioned for a new post office, they left the name blank. The guy who took the petition to the postal headquarters decided to fill in the gap by flicking through the directory until he found a name he liked.

So there we go. Depending on how you count, there are 6, 11, 26 or at least 35 Waterloos around the world. Plot them on a map and you can see they’re mostly concentrated in a few places.

A map of Waterloo stations. Feel free to argue about which stations really count as Waterloos. Image: author provided.

There only seems to be one Marylebone though.


In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 

The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.