An important and objective ranking of the 17 main stations on the East Coast Main Line

London King’s Cross: basically fine. Image: George Rex/Wikimedia Commons.

Ahh, the East Coast Main Line: heart of the British railway. For more than a century it has shuttled the great and the good between London and Edinburgh, and, possibly – depending on who you talk to – beyond, to Aberdeen or Inverness.

But somehow, despite the fact it’s one of the busiest lines in the country and connects some of the country’s biggest cities, there has yet to be a definitive ranking of its stations.

Until now.

Pick up your railcard, dust off your Lonely Planet guide to Yorkshire, and join us as we rank the 17 main stations on the East Coast Main Line.

17. Dunbar

I hate this place, with its smarmy, narcissistic topiary hedge, spelling out its name in the mocking and undeserved confidence that comes from being the first station properly in Scotland. (Sorry Berwick, but Scotland’s just not that into you.) I once got stuck here for two hours on a Cross Country train while that hedge laughed maniacally at my predicament. The bastard.

16. Retford

Where is Retford? What is Retford? Why is Retford? Why must my train stop in this desolate part of the country between Peterborough and Doncaster where, I have been reliably informed, nothing exists?

Where? Image: Owen Dunn/Wikimedia Commons.

Points are also deducted for having nothing to do with Robert Redford, which seems a missed opportunity.

15. Peterborough

Asbestos warnings are rarely welcoming. Even less so at a depressing concrete monstrosity where dreams go to die.

Legend has it that all evil-doing commuters live out the after-life stuck on Platform 3 of Peterborough station watching inter-city trains zoom through while they stand in the cold – Purgaborough is always seemingly 10 degrees colder than Siberia – desperately hoping their train to Retford (WHERE IS IT!?) will eventually arrive in time for the last bus home.

It will never arrive.


14. Northallerton

Why? Did anyone actually look on a map before deciding trains should stop here?

13. Stevenage

It is very difficult to come close to being as ugly as Peterborough station, but Stevenage manages it. Fans of late 1960s concrete brutalism should appreciate it, but then again those people are insane.

12. Grantham

It is such a shame that what is actually quite a pretty little station is linked so inextricably to one of the most depressing people to think about while travelling around Britain’s underfunded railway infrastructure.

Luckily, Margaret Thatcher was born here, so Isaac Newton’s links to the town through his schooling can be put to the back of your mind.

11. Morpeth

A little bit like Northallerton, it does feel like at this point route planners went, “Oh crap! There’s nothing between Newcastle and Edinburgh! Where’s a nice place for a quick cup of tea on the way?” and then chose Morpeth.

However, have you seen that station building? It is absolutely gorgeous. I want to show it to Kings Cross and tell it to listen to what St Pancras has to say and stop trying to be all rebellious and modern.

10. London Kings Cross

One of my biggest pet hates is when you are stood waiting, under the departure boards, as ‘Boarding Soon’ flashes interminably until five minutes before departure, causing a Lion King-esque stampede. Women and children become weapons of mass blockage, forcing rushing passengers to dive and swerve while stern looking suit-wearing businessmen stride past grimacing at the toddler they’ve kneed in the face just so that they can get to their seat seconds before anyone else.

This happens at many stations. But it’s particularly annoying at Kings Cross, where you can usually see the train you’re due to be on – It’s been sat there for half an hour – and there is always one smug bloke with a briefcase and an obnoxious hat who has used OpenTrainTimes to work out which train it is and has been sat smugly at an unreserved table in Coach E for twenty minutes.

9. Newark North Gate

Whatever happened to Newark South Gate? Did it take a bunch of plucky Englishmen to the semi-finals of the station World Cup and then retire into obscurity? We will never know.

8. Doncaster

“It’s a shame we’re not Sheffield,” should really be Doncaster’s motto.

Doncaster: Not quite Sheffield. Image: Stephen McKay/Geograph.org.uk.

7. Darlington

I honestly love Darlington station. Its Platform 1 is so unnecessarily wide. In winter, I’m convinced you could fit an ice skating rink and a Christmas market on there, and still have more than enough space for all the 2.2m passengers who use it every year to have a personal sofa to sit on while they wait for their train to arrive.


6. Berwick-upon-Tweed

The bridge into Berwick is one of the most beautiful parts of any journey up the East Coast mainline. The station itself is small and quirky, it has Grade-II listed buildings, and it’s in one of the most gorgeous parts of the country – even if no-one can decide if it is English or Scottish.

5. Alnmouth

Or Alnmouth for Alnwick, to give it its full title. Another stunningly situated little gem of a station in the middle of Northumbria. Alnmouth is visible from the rail line as you come into the station from the south and honestly, that view should attract more people there than the town the station seems to exist for. It is such a nothing station with a tiny main building and a pretty old signal box, but who cares, that view is just stonking.

4. Newcastle

Newcastle station is a terrible indictment of the overuse of ticket barriers. Why are there so many? Why can’t I get a pint at The Centurion if my train is delayed? I can see the sweet nectar we call beer, but those blasted plastic barriers of doom get in the way. They make the usable part of the station for those not travelling imminently so small it is infuriating.

But, Newcastle Central is such an imposing and angry looking industrial behemoth I can’t help but love it. No other station in the country manages to dominate an area in a city as much and it is glorious in its obnoxiousness.

3. Durham

Want to walk up a huge hill to get your train home? Sure you do!

Durham is a great example of an old station bound to its geography – it sits on top of a hill, overlooking the city – which has been well modernised to make the most of that fact. Durham’s cathedral naturally dominates the landscape – and frankly if you are wanting to look at anything while you wait that’ll be it.

Mmmm Durham. Image: Jungpioneer/Wikimedia Commons.

When the station was renovated in the latter part of the last decade, the ticket office moved back into the original buildings, and a transparent waiting area was installed – so if you want cover from the wind or rain, you can still see Durham.

Which is a bonus. Once upon a time, you would be staring at a brick wall as you desperately gasped for breath after dragging yourself up the never-ending hill to reach the station. Now, you get to stare at the city instead.

2. York

It’s my home station, but don’t let my inevitable bias put you off.

How many corners of the UK can you get to from York? All of them! Glasgow, Aberdeen, London, Penzance, Liverpool and Scarborough, all reachable from York. It’s the heart of the British Railway and if you disagree, fight me.

It’s also the only station stubborn enough to force Costa Coffee to paint its logo blue if it wanted to stay in the old signal box in the station, making it the only blue Costa in the country. There’s also the National Railway Museum within stumbling distance, a pub, a huge map of pre-Beeching railway in the north on the wall, and a glorious curved roof. And, when it opened in its present position in 1877 after first being moved outside of York’s city walls, it was the largest station in the world with a then impressive 13 platforms.

1. Edinburgh Waverley

Nestled in between the Old and New Towns of Scotland’s capital, with Arthur’s Seat in front of it, Edinburgh Castle behind it, and the Scott Monument effectively on top of it, Edinburgh Waverley is unique in its placement underneath a major road bridge, slap bang in the centre of a capital.

Edinburgh Waverley from the east. Image: G-13114/Wikimedia Commons.

Network Rail has now banned taxis from inside, allowing for more platforms to be built around the concourse, which lies in the centre of the station (which shouldn’t be, but is, a rarity). The station has four separate entrances and exits. One takes you directly onto the busiest shopping street in the city, Princes Street; another brings you out at the bottom of a steep staircase straight up to the Royal Mile; a third takes you out onto Waverley Bridge and in sight of Princes Gardens, the castle, and next to the Scott Monument. And a fourth takes you out to where Ewan McGregor nearly got run over by a car in Trainspotting.

It’s not the prettiest station, it’s not the most well connected station, it’s not even the busiest in Scotland – but with that infuriating talking toilet on a Virgin train as my witness, it’s the best around.

 
 
 
 

“You don’t look like a train buff”: on sexism in the trainspotting community

A female guard on London’s former Metropolitan Railway. Image: Getty.

I am a railway enthusiast. I like looking at trains, I like travelling by train and I like the quirks of the vast number of different train units, transit maps and train operating companies.

I get goosebumps standing on a platform watching my train approach, eyeballing the names of the destinations on the dot matrix display over and over again, straining to hear the tinny departure announcements on the tannoy.  I’m fortunate enough to work on the site of a former railway station that not only houses beautiful old goods sheds, but still has an active railway line running alongside it. You can imagine my colleagues’ elation as I exclaim: “Wow! Look at that one!” for the sixth time that day, as another brilliantly gaudy freight train trundles past.

I am also a woman in my twenties. A few weeks my request to join a railway-related Facebook group was declined because I – and I quote here – “don’t look like a train buff”.

After posting about this exchange on Twitter, my outrage was widely shared. “They should be thrilled to have you!” said one. “What does a train buff look like?!” many others asked.

The answer, of course, is a middle-aged white man with an anorak and notebook. Supposedly, anyway. That’s the ancient stereotype of a “trainspotter”, which sadly shows no sign of waning.

I’m not alone in feeling marginalised in the railway community. Sarah, a railway enthusiast from Bournemouth, says she is used to funny looks when she tells people that she is not only into trains, but an engineer.

She speaks of her annoyance at seeing a poster bearing the phrase: “Beware Rail Enthusiasts Disease: Highly Infectious To Males Of All Ages”. “That did bug me,” she says, “because women can enjoy trains just as much as men.”


Vicki Pipe is best known as being one half of the YouTube sensation All The Stations, which saw her and her partner Geoff Marshall spend 2017 visiting every railway station in Great Britain.

“During our 2017 adventure I was often asked ‘How did your boyfriend persuade you to come along?’” she says. “I think some found it unusual that a woman might be independently interested or excited enough about the railways to spend sixteen weeks travelling to every station on the network.”

Pipe, who earlier this year travelled to all the stations in Ireland and Northern Ireland, is passionate about changing the way in which people think of the railways, including the perception of women in the industry.

“For me it’s the people that make the railways such an exciting place to explore – and many of these are women,” she explains. “Women have historically and continue to play an important part in the railway industry – throughout our journey we met female train drivers, conductors, station staff, signallers and engineers. I feel it is important that more female voices are heard so that women of the future recognise the railways as a place they too can be part of.”

Despite the progress being made, it’s clear there is still a long way to go in challenging stereotypes and proving that girls can like trains, too.

I’m appalled that in 2019 our life choices are still subjected to critique. This is why I want to encourage women to embrace their interests and aspirations – however “nerdy”, or unusual, or untraditionally “female” they may be – and to speak up for things that I was worried to speak about for so long.

We might not change the world by doing so but, one by one, we’ll let others know that we’ll do what we want – because we can.