2020: the year that there are two least used stations. Both Denton and Stanlow & Thornton saw 46 passengers last year. I decided that I wanted to visit Stanlow & Thornton first, because it seems the most interesting. Stanlow & Thornton sits on a lesser used railway line which runs from Ellesmere Port to the junction at Helsby. Although the stations at either end have regular rail services, the two stations in between get 3 trains per day in each direction. They are clumped such that there are 4 in the morning between 6 and 7:30, and then 2 in the evening between 6 and 6:30. Stanlow & Thornton is fairly inaccessibly because it is located about 1 mile from any public road inside the Stanlow oil refinery area. The other station on the line, Ince & Elton, gets more passengers because it serves the villages of Ince and Elton.
I started a lot earlier than I had to because I wanted to do a bit of rail enthusiast travelling around Cheshire before I visited the station. We pick my day up on the relatively new service from Liverpool to Chester via Runcorn. I took this lightly loaded train to Helsby. I walked for 5 minutes to a bus stop to board the bus which would take me to the edge of the oil refinery. The bus was late, and the driver appeared confused when I asked for a ticket to the 'Thornton Science Park'. Instead, I went for 'Elton Green', and then underpaid when he sold me a ticket to 'Elton'. Anyway, the bus trundled to the roundabout by the Thornton Science Park where I got off. I then walked along a slightly muddy embankment, while the incredibly pungent manure wafted across from some nearby fields. I got to the roundabout that the private refinery road leads from. The signs were very clear that it was private, and that there were no unauthorised vehicles allowed. I wasn't in a vehicle (shoes don't count), so I walked on.
The walk down Oil Sites Road is very tedious. It was cold, damp, and HGVs passed me frequently. I was glad that a pavement existed. Parts of the site seem to have fallen into disrepair. About 1 mile into the site, the massive footbridge at Stanlow & Thornton station honed into view. For a moment I was a little nervous because it looked as if the entrance had been fenced off. This turned out to be premature, because there was another one just around the corner.
Stanlow & Thornton
The footbridge links the station to the Stanlow Refinery (north) and Thornton-le-Moors (south). However, the bridge to the south has been fenced off. Therefore, the walk from Thornton to their railway station is about twice as long as it could be. At the bottom of the steps are some signs and a light. On the platforms, there are the usual set of signs. The former booking office on the Ellesmere Port bound platform has been boarded up. All of these are at one end of the platforms by the footbridge. At the other end , there are some brick 'egg-box' shelters. Some of them even have benches inside. The lights at the station are very temperamental.
The station has some interesting sign fails. Although some signs correctly say Ellesmere Port, others incorrectly advertise westbound services to Hooton, Birkenhead, and Liverpool.
While I was at the station, there was a very sudden hailstorm, which was fun. I also managed to perfectly time my visit during fading daylight, which meant my pictures deteriorated dramatically as the visit went on.
About 90 minutes after I arrived at the station, the last train of the day to Ellesmere Port did. Although Stanlow & Thornton is not a request stop, I decided to put my arm up briefly to make sure that the train stopped. It did, along with some toots from the horn, probably because the driver realised I was a rail enthusiast. I took the train to Ellesmere Port, took some pictures of it, then returned on the same train to Warrington Bank Quay.
There I sat in the waiting room for 20 or so minutes before my train to Edinburgh arrived.
Once I got back to Edinburgh, I picked up a pizza on my way home. Just as luck would have it, I timed my walk from the takeaway home just in time for a vicious hailstorm to come from on-high. The cardboard box held up remarkably well, with the crusts being slightly soggy the only noticeable difference with the pizza.
I had about an hour and a half at the station before the train to Ellesmere Port arrived. In that time, nobody else came to the station. Regular readers will know that I thoroughly enjoy visiting stations in industrial parts of the country. That and super-rural Highland stations are my favourite ones to visit. The thing that surprised me about Stanlow & Thornton station was how long the platforms are. Most lesser used stations have rather short platforms, certainly in comparison to their counterparts. Stanlow & Thornton's platforms seemed longer than those of all the nearby stations. I haven't measured them, so I can't state that as a fact.
Usually published in December, this year's set of statistics on annual station usage from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) was published in January. The Estimates of Station Usage are published around this time every year and provide a large spreadsheet of the number of people who either boarded or alighted trains at each station across Great Britain. The statistics are estimates as the UK rail network is not fully gated. It also does not include ticketless travel (fare evasion). This short post examines the least used stations for the year, as well as looking at the stations I visited in the period and how I contributed to the figures.
The Least Used Stations List 2018-2019
There are still 54 stations with an annual patronage below 1000. The least used station spot is tied for the first time since records began (as far as I can tell) with both Denton and Stanlow & Thornton recording 46 passengers in the past year. In 3rd place is Reddish South, which is the only other station to record a patronage below 100 this year.
British Steel Redcar, the least used station last year, increased its patronage by 800%. It went from 40 to 360. IBM Halt, which closed during the period, saw a patronage of 506. Scotscalder and Kildonan shuffled places again, with the latter re-gaining its position as the least used station on the Far North Line.
Sugar Loaf, which saw a massive gain from ~200 to ~1800 in the last period, dropped back to a more normal 708, a decline of 61.6% (the 2nd highest in the country). This is still very high for the station. It has re-gained its position as the least used station in Wales. The highest decline was found at Lochluichart (which I visited), going down by 71.5%.
Barry Links and Golf Street both saw fairly significant increase. This is mainly down to people buying season tickets between the 2 stations to get free first class travel around Scotland on weekends. For context, because of a poor service following the introduction of the December 2018 timetable change (which I predicted here), ScotRail offered season ticket holders free weekend travel on certain weekends for the affected routes. Of course, that meant people could buy weekly season tickets between two stations that were very close by and get free travel. I bought a weekly season from Greenfaulds to Cumbernauld for about £7, and managed to visit Stranraer, Aberdeen, and Falls of Cruachan over the weekend, racking up nearly 860 miles. That's roughly 0.8p per mile.
How My Trips Effected the Figures
For this period, I visited 30 stations of which 12 saw patronage for that year below 1000. Of those 30, I accounted for more than 1% of all visitors for that year at 4 of them. Buckenham was the highest (1.86% or 4 of 215), followed by Kildonan (1.19% or 2 in 168), IBM (1.18% or 6 in 506) and Lochluichart (1.11% or 2 in 180). Kildonan was also the station I visited which recorded the lowest patronage for the period.
The list below shows the stations visited, the date, and my effect on the patronage.
Polesworth 19th of April 2018 – 1 in 185
IBM Halt – 4th of May, 19th of November, and 8th of December 2018 – 6 in 506
Duirinish – 9th of May 2018 – 2 in 856
Angel Road – 15th of June 2018 – 1 in 35570
Buckenham – 1st of July 2018 – 4 in 215
Berney Arms – 1st of July 2018 – 2 in 442
Bordesley – 11th of August 2018 – 1 in 20688
Causeland – 16th of August 2018 – 1 in 1620
Sandplace – 16th of August 2018 – 1 in 1274
St Keyne Wishing Well Halt – 16th of August 2018 – 2 in 1334
Coombe Junction Halt – 16th of August 2018 – 1 in 204
St Budeaux Ferry Road – 16th of August 2018 – 2 in 3092
Kildonan – 15th of September 2018 – 2 in 168
Lochailort – 27th of October 2018 – 2 in 1546
Breich – 10th of November 2018 – 2 in 342
Battersby – 20th of December 2018 – 10 in 1520
Kildale – 20th of December 2018 – 2 in 1468
Norton Bridge – 4th of January 2019 – No Official Figures
Roman Bridge – 11th of January 2019 – 2 in 1094
Tal-y-Cafn – 11th of January 2019 – 2 in 1392
North Llanrwst – 11th of January 2019 – 2 in 2572
Stromeferry – 19th of January 2019 – 2 in 1274
Lochluichart – 19th of January 2019 – 2 in 180
Thorpe Culvert – 9th of February 2019 – 2 in 258
Hopton Heath – 15th of February 2019 – 1 in 1510
Pen-y-Bont – 15th of February 2019 – 2 in 1854
Pilning – 9th of March 2019 – 1 in 458
St Andrews Road – 9th of March 2019 – 2 in 4724
Last time I visited the North Highlands in the depths of winter, I was described as “crazy”. One of the reasons I like visiting these least used stations is the remoteness and aloneness that one experiences, especially for the many Highland request stops that are scattered around. The Far North Line is one of my favourite lines in the UK (and the world), but I haven't visited it since September 2018. I wanted to visit again. Altnabreac station is one of the most remote stations in the country. Most least used stations are located in small settlements or near a settlement. Altnabreac is so small that I didn't notice it existed when I was there.
As I was used to, I had a very early start to catch the first train of the day from the Central Belt to Inverness. I got to Stirling in time for the 07:35 north. A refurbished HST turned up, which I was excited about. I have used this train a lot over the past year, and this is my first experience of it with a refurbished unit, and I enjoyed it.
Anyway, 3 hours later, I was at Inverness and I had another train to catch. It looked train flavoured (I didn't actually lick it, so I don't know).
Once the conductor had come around and I'd requested Altnabreac, I settled down for the 3+ hour journey. The Far North line is not the most scenic line in the world, but I find it a good combination of super-rural, scenic, and quick-ish. As we scampered up towards Caithness and Altnabreac, we stayed on time and didn't stop at any of the request stops. Until mine...
Altanbreac came, and I got off, waving to the conductor as I did so. The train departed, and I looked around the station.
It has a wooden shelter, some signs, some bike racks, a departure board, a bench, a help point, and a bin which had blown over. I helped the situation by putting some rubbish in the bin so it was stable. I am helpful.
The remoteness of the station is not truly appreciated at the station. This may sounds weird, but, Altnabreac station is located in what I later found out was Altnabreac. That sentence may sound silly, but there was one house by the station with a generator on. A second house (the ex-school) was nearby. I had assumed that this was just the tiny collection of houses that spring up around a station when it is built, and that Altnabreac proper was somewhere else. As far as I understand, this is not the case. The station and the two houses nearby is about as close as one can get to Central Altnabreac. So it is really only once one leaves the station area that one can properly appreciate just how remote this station is.
There are no roads for miles. By miles, I mean 6 miles straight line, but this doubles to 12 miles for actually getting there on foot. Instead, there are mud and gravel 'Forestry Commission' tracks. The closest proper settlement is 15 miles away. I left the station, turned right, and went down to a signpost. One way pointed to 'Altnabreac', the other pointed to 'Loch Dhu'. I had already been to Altnabreac, so I went to Loch Dhu.
The first thing I came across was an abandoned house. I'm only assuming it was abandoned because it was partially boarded up, some of the windows were broken, and the interior was seriously unmaintained (I didn't enter the building).
I continued along the forest track, passing a couple of small, iced up ponds. I entertained myself by skimming pebbles across the ice and enjoying the sound they made.
Further on, I came to a break in the forest, and then the Loch Dhu. This is a fairly nondescript body of water with a socking great hunting lodge on its edge. It is called Lochdhu Lodge, named by the same person who named David Davis.
I decided to continue through the forest. About 5 minutes after leaving the loch behind, I approached a large fence and the edge of the forest. The endless sprawl of bleak, harsh, but wonderful Highland terrain spread out in front of me. This is what I meant when I said that “the remoteness of the station is not truly appreciated at the station”. Despite being possibly the most remote station in the country, it is nestled in the forest with 5 houses within a 10 minute walk from the station. Once one leaves the forest, the world just stretches out. The freedom one feels from being the only person around is immense. I catalogued this on my Urination Freedom Scale. Essentially, the more free I feel, the happier I am to have a pee. In this case, I could do so on the side of the track into the grass without being worried that a car or other human would see. In fact, it will remain a secret, barring someone telling the rest of the world via a railway blog.
The one disadvantage of going to the Highlands in winter is how short the day is. Sunset for the area was quarter to four when I went, which means it is totally dark by quarter past. That limited the time I wanted to be out in a place I didn't know very well, so I retreated to the safe confines of the station for the final hour before the train. Both lights worked for a bit, but then one stopped working. As the train approached, I flagged it down. The driver poked his head out, greeted me, and commented about the lack of lighting. I boarded, and settled down for the journey home.
I slept on trains and listened to podcasts. It was totally dark, so the scenery was invisible. This is a technique which has helped the matrix save 28% of its power since 1995 as part of its zero net emissions target by the year 2039.
As far as I can tell, the station probably spawned the area. It was most likely built for operational convenience. It is almost exactly mid-way between Forsinard and Scotscalder (the first stations south and north respectively), and serves basically nothing. The Lochdu Lodge, and the school (IE: the two main things nearby) were built after the station. It's a slightly weird state of affairs, especially when one considers that Altnabreac wasn't closed by Beeching, but stations like Evanton, Beauly (which actually serve towns and villages) were.
Altnabreac is a station I want to revisit because of the location. The true seclusion of it is difficult to describe and capture in pictures, but something I thoroughly enjoy. I'd want to go in summer when the day is longer.
This time last year I visited a station that was closed, but still served by a rail replacement bus. This time, I decided to return to the area to tick off two more stations that are only served by buses. Wedgwood and Barlaston both had their train service withdrawn in 2004 for upgrades and wasn't reinstated. They do not appear in the statistics for station patronage either.
I had quite a leisurely start for an 11:20 from London Euston. This took me all the way to Stoke-on-Trent. There, I had a wait for the roughly hourly bus that acts as the rail replacement service. This bus was about quarter of an hour late. It took a fairly direct route down from Stoke, arriving at the bus stop near Wedgwood about 20 minutes later. After I got off, I took the 5 minute walk over the canal to the railway where Wedgwood station is.
Wedgwood station is rotting. Network Rail have fenced off the platforms for safety reasons. Some signs still remain, including information posters about the bus timetables. Some temporary boards have been placed over the most disintegrated parts of the platform. Lights exist, but I'm not sure if they work.
Barlaston is only 1 mile south. I had quite a nice walk down the canal before arriving in the village.
The station is located right in the middle of the village, so the area is quite busy. The station is much more substantial than Wedgwood. It is made of bricks, concrete and tarmac; there are station buildings; and it isn't in a noticeably bad state. Apart from the boarded up station buildings, the facilities are much the same as Wedgwood.
The bus stop for Barlaston station (and the rest of Barlaston) is only a few minutes walk from the station. I spent 15 minutes before the bus was due hanging around the green by the bus stop.
The journey to Stone only takes 10 minutes. Stone was also served by replacement bus services from 2004 for the same reasons as Wedgwood, Barlaston and Norton Bridge (visited last year). But, in 2008, the station re-opened. Apart from a fairly impressive ex-station building, Stone is fairly boring. I wanted to catch a train to Stoke-on-Trent from Stone, but it was cancelled. Instead, I caught a train to Stafford, and another one to London, arriving 30 minutes later than I was supposed to. I hope LNWR gives me my money back.
There are plans to serve one of the two, but close the other. This hasn't happened yet. Instead, both remain open, but not served by any trains. Having visited both, my vote would go for Barlaston, given that it is more immediately surrounded by people.
The Selby Line runs from Leeds to Hull via Selby. Although it links a number of fairly large settlements, there are a number of smaller stations on the line which have low patronages. 2 of these are Broomfleet and Wressle. Broomfleet's patronage tends to hover around 1500. Wressle's has diminished significantly from 1500 to 370 in the most recent set of statistics. That makes Wressle the least used station in the area. Broomfleet has a limited service, but gets roughly 1 train every 2 hours in each direction (Hull to Doncaster). Wressle gets 7 trains per day: 3 between 6 and 9:30am, 3 between 5:30 and 8:30 pm, and another one at lunchtime. I had also wanted to visit Eastrington and Saltmarshe stations which are also in the area, but the sporadic timetable that all these stations receive meant that such a plan was impossible to do, certainly in one day from Edinburgh.
A semi-early train from Edinburgh took me to Doncaster. At Newcastle, some bloke got on bellowing into his phone about “meeting you later mate”. 5 minutes later, he was on the phone to somebody else on speaker. Tinny versions of the other end of the conversation aurally stank up the carriage. Bear in mind that this was the quiet coach. At one point, he was asked to move or end the phone call, and responded “you do you and I'll do me”. In much the same way as a toddler being sick on somebody else's bag is just the toddler “being the toddler”. Essentially, he was going to keep bleating down his mobile in earshot of everyone else. Absolute tit.
At Doncaster, I changed trains. I moved over to platform 0 to board my train to Broomfleet. The train departed slightly late, and lost 20 minutes on the journey to Goole. I got off at Broomfleet, and settled down to enjoy the 2 hours in the grey, wet station.
Broomfleet station is a fairly standard 2 platform station directly adjacent to a level crossing. There is an old signal box at the level crossing. Paths lead from the road that crosses the railway to the platforms. Each platform has a shelter, a bench, a bin, and various signs.
Trains pass through the station quite regularly. There are about 5 trains per hour each way, plus some infrequent extra services. The level crossing went up and down quite often and stayed down for extended periods of time.
Because I had a couple of hours, I decided to take a walk down to the Humber estuary nearby. It was very grey and very wet, so the pictures were fairly awful.
Back at the station, I sat in the shelter and ate some pasta before my train arrived.
Messing Around to Wressle
I had about 3 hours between my train from Broomfleet and my train from Selby to Wressle. That meant I had a bit of time to mess around. I took the train from Broomfleet to Goole. There, I swapped platforms and took another very late train back to Hull. Because of the delay, it ran non-stop. I sat in a coffee shop by the station enjoying a hot drink and sandwich. Eventually, I decided I should go to the platform to catch my train to Selby. It arrived quite late, and then another train arrived at the same platform. We had to wait for 10 minutes for the first train to leave before we could. Once that happened, the train charged to Selby. I got off, switched platforms, and waited for the service that would take me one stop back to Wressle.
Wressle is another standard 2 platform station. It is made of bricks, gravel and concrete rather than the skeletal timber affair that is Broomfleet. The old station house sits on the Selby-bound platform. All platforms have a shelter and the usual array of signs and bins.
Again, I had 2 hours between trains. I decided not to go for a walk because it was still wet and had got dark. Instead, I sat around in the shelter listening to music and podcasts.
Slightly late, at 19:30, my train to York arrived. I changed at York and Newcastle to get me back to Edinburgh.
Broomfleet station is a fair distance outside Broomfleet village. The village is fairly small, and so it wouldn't get a particularly high patronage anyway. The fact that the station is a walk from the village reduces it and the very limited service reduces it still further. Wressle is much the same, although the station is in the village. It has almost the same population as Broomfleet (~300) and has 4 fewer services per day. Why the patronage is so low must purely be down to the lower level of service. Given that the population is almost the same, and that Wressle station is actually in the village, it would follow that the patronage would be about the same, if not slightly higher for Wressle. I'm always supportive of small stations serving small settlements that wouldn't otherwise have public transport.
Author - Felix