Apart from studying the intricacies of timetabling, one of the other pleasures for those with a fascination for our railways is publication by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) of its annual station usage estimates, and the remarkable contrasts it highlights between our busiest and our least-used stations.
While there are no real surprises amongst the busiest – Waterloo with an estimated 94.355 million entries and exits in the year ended 31 March 2018 being the UK’s busiest and Birmingham New Street (43.741 million) being the busiest outside London – the real interest lies amongst those obscure and badly-served places that are our least used stations.
Looking at the latest bottom 20 there are a number of features to note. Slumping to bottom place is British Steel Redcar, with less than one passenger a week in 2017/8, a station which is little more than 15 miles from another well-known constituent of this list, Teesside Airport. Here passenger numbers more than doubled to 74, despite one of its platforms being declared unfit for passenger use!
Like Teesside Airport with its single Sunday call, a common feature of these stations is their hopelessly infrequent train services, which will inevitably put off all but the most intrepid travellers. Denton and Reddish South, for example, being served by the weekly Stockport-Stalybridge service, while Polesworth on the busy Trent Valley line is another place like these and Teesside Airport with a train in one direction only.
There are some other interesting groupings in the bottom 20 list – no less than three of these stations (Elton & Orston, Thorpe Culvert and Havenhouse) are on the Nottingham-Skegness route, two are on the North Highland Line (Kildonan and Scotscalder) and two being adjacent to each other in the East of Scotland just south of Arbroath (Golf Street and Barry Links), being served by one train each way per day.
Another curious pairing in this year’s list is the two stations in joint 2546th place, Chapelton (penultimate stop on the Exeter-Barnstaple Tarka Line) and Sampford Courtenay, only intermediate station on the summer Sundays-only Okehampton branch. Is it really possible that exactly 188 passengers used each of these stops last year?
Demonstrating that there is a future for at least some of these stations is Britain’s sixth least used, Breich. This poorly served stop on the Shotts route from Glasgow to Edinburgh survived a closure proposal and instead got a £2 million makeover – not bad for somewhere which only managed two passengers a week in 2017/8!
Among the countless fascinating statistics one which stands out for me, having travelled to and from the stop, is Sugar Loaf on the Heart of Wales Line. This was officially Wales’ least used station in 2016/7, but something must be going on there, because the ORR figures show a dramatic eightfold increase in passengers, from 228 in 2016/7 to 1,846 in 2017/8!
|Elton & Orston||128||138||2552|
|British Steel |
Source: ORR Estimates of Station Usage 2017-18 (published 11 December 2018)