This is a line which runs from Gainsborough to Barnetby, providing a reasonably direct route from Sheffield to Cleethorpes. However, it only gets passenger services on a Saturday*. This leads to very low annual patronages for the 3 stations on the route: Brigg, Kirton Lindsey and Gainsborough Central. Brigg has the highest of the 3, with ~1700 passengers last year. The other two have patronages below the 1000 mark, although Gainsborough Central has an additional 200 “interchanges” (probably people who walk to the station in the centre of town, look at the timetable, sigh, and then have to walk for a mile or so to Lea Road, which has more trains but is located outside Gainsborough).
Three trains each way run on Saturday between Sheffield and Cleethorpes via Brigg, so it is possible to visit all three stations in one go, and travel to and from Edinburgh. This is what I did.
*Gainsborough Central, the first station on the line, now has services every day since the May 2019 timetable change. I visited the stations the day before the timetable change.
My first station to visit was Kirton Lindsey, the station with the lowest patronage of the three, at fewer than 300 passengers per year. My train from Edinburgh was early, but not extreme, so I was almost awake as it spun through Northumberland and Yorkshire to York. At York, I had my first change. This train would take me the 20 minutes to Doncaster. A man sat opposite me, and started eating what I can only describe as processed baby sick (milky and lumpy) on which he drizzled something dark and red. Doncaster approached (because the town of Doncaster is now mobile) and I alighted and the station, switched platforms, and boarded the train to Barnetby.
Barnetby station has 4 platforms but a lack of passenger services. A lot of freight passes through, as I saw.
Shortly afterwards, my train to Kirton Lindsey arrived. It was some form of refurbished Pacer (bus on train wheels), and it trundled along through the Lincolnshire countryside. The Brigg Line is very much a trundle-y line, the sort of railway that Ian Hislop would travel down during a documentary on Dr. Beeching. Brigg station comes first, followed by Kirton Lindsey 10 minutes later. None of the stations are request stops, so, as the train screeched to a halt, I could walk to a door of my choice and leave, giving a wave to the conductor.
Kirton Lindsey is a single platform station located next to an industrial estate near the town of Kirton-in-Lindsey. It continues the tradition established that railway stations don't quite have the same name as the place where they are.
The facilities are fairly basic: there is a shelter, a bin, some signs, a bench and a car park. Lights also exist, but they weren't on when I was around, because it was daytime. The old station building, like so many others, is now a private house.
I took a stroll out of the industrial estate to an A road, where there was a big sign showing the existence of the station. I only had an hour, so I decided not to venture further. Returning to the station, I experimented with different lighting levels before my train to the second station of the day arrived.
The most well-used station on the line, Brigg has two platforms. When I had passed through it the first time, there had been a reasonable number of people boarding. This time, I was the only one to get on or off the train.
Brigg station has 2 platforms linked by a footbridge. On one side of the station is a big car park and the town, and the other is surrounded by fields. Each platform has a shelter, signs and a bin. The town-side platform also has a BT payphone.
With 2 hours before the next train, I decided to take a walk into and around the town. After a 30 minute stroll around the central area, I bought some chips from the local chippy. “There's a lot of aspects about a town that one can gain from visiting the chippy” is the kind of bollocks that some travel writers come up with. I try not to, because I find that sort of vacuous rubbish screamingly tedious. The only thing one can gain from a chippy is obesity if one visits too often.
Back at the station, the wildlife was coming out. A pony was wandering around the yard by the station, and a number of rabbits were scampering along the outer platform.
After I had eaten my chips, my train to Gainsborough arrived, along with more bunny action.
Bunny action aside, I had a train to catch. It went back through Kirton Lindsey, where a man got off, took a picture, and then got back off (bastard), and then Gainsborough Central. None of the trains had kept time particularly well, and we were 15 minutes late when I got off at Gainsborough Central. It is the most modern of the three stations, with more facilities, step free access, a bin which actually had rubbish in, multiple signs, and a socking great car park for a nearby shopping area. The semaphore signals and signal box keeps the slightly disused/old feel.
40 minutes later, another service back to Barnetby and Cleethorpes approached. I didn't board it, but took a picture. It was early, and some people were waiting for it on the wrong platform. They hurried across when they realised it was the Cleethorpes train.
As mentioned (in passing) earlier, Gainsborough has a second, much better used station. This is Lea Road, which is a mile from Central. I did this walk, noting the roundabout, dual carriageway and small residential street which was the route between the two stations.
As I waited for the train to Sheffield (where I could then get back to Edinburgh), another member of the “confused people in Gainsborough” community, who wanted to know what platform the train to Lincoln departed on. It was the other platform, and it had departed 5 minutes ago, with the electronic announcement speaking of the stopping point of “Sexilby” (there is a station called Saxilby between Gainsborough and Lincoln).
I'm surprised at the patronage for Brigg station. With trains for only 1 day of the week, it could well be more like Kirton Lindsey, which only manages a few hundred. What the high patronage does show is that it should get a more frequent passenger service, perhaps the novelty of a train on a day other than a Saturday would be beneficial. Gainsborough Central gained an hourly service for most of the week the day after I visited, and I expect the patronage to increase substantially, possibly at the expense of Lea Road. The position of Kirton Lindsey in relation to the town is probably a hindrance to that station. Then again, probably not as much as the lack of trains.
Falls of Cruachan is the only request stop on the Oban branch of the West Highland Line. It is also one of two stations in the UK to be seasonally open: it is closed from November to the end of March. The other station is Dunrobin Castle on the Far North Line, one which I will visit for the blog at some point. The annual patronage only really reflects just over half of a “normal” station which isn't shut over winter. That patronage remains stable at about 700 people per year. Falls of Cruachan doesn't serve any settlement as such, instead it is built for the nearby power station and waterfall. It is mainly used by walkers and visitors.
Falls of Cruachan is one of the stations on the least used stations list that has a reasonable Sunday service. In fact, with 6 trains per day on a Sunday, it has a better service on its least frequent day than most stations have on their most frequent day. That meant I could get up quite late, and aim for a 12:20 departure from Glasgow to Falls of Cruachan. The journey time was about 2 and a half hours, most of which was through the scenic beauty of Argyll and Bute. The West Highland has a reputation as being one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world, a reputation well deserved.
My 6 car train was going to Oban and Mallaig, dividing at the village of Crianlarich. I sat in the “wrong half” of the train until then, because the 2 Oban carriages were very crowded, but the Mallaig passengers had 4 coaches to sprawl across, so was less stuffed. At Crianlarich I swapped halves, and continued towards Oban.
Falls of Cruachan is advertised as a request stop. However, by the time my train had arrived at Loch Awe station (the stop before), the guard had not been down. Being the nervous person I am, I went up the train to catch him before he retreated into the rear cab again. I made sure that the train was stopping at Falls of Cruachan (the train crew had decided to make it a compulsory stop), and returned to collect my things. It is only a 5 minute run from Loch Awe station, which is a very short distance in rural Scotland. The train approached quickly, but stopped and I alighted. The train departed, and I was left on the platform of a surprisingly modern-looking station.
Falls of Cruachan Station
I say surprisingly modern because of the large shelter in the middle of the platform. This wasn't the usual little wooden or plastic thing. There are also two wooden benches, the normal series of signs, a number of flower pots, a bin, a help point, a departure board and a plaque which commemorated the re-opening of the station in 1988. On the gate, there is a plaque which states that the station is the most improved station in the Highlands in 2011.
One gains access to the station from a set of steps up from the main road. There are also some signs at the bottom of these steps. However, I didn't turn down to the road when I left the station, I turned up towards Ben Cruachan. This brought me face-to-face with a very low bridge.
After the bridge, the path ascended steeply up through the trees alongside the Falls of Cruachan.
Originally, my aim was just to get to the top of the waterfall. But, this was abandoned when I caught a glimpse of the top of a set of railings over the horizon. Interests peaked, I continued alongside the stream towards what I now know to be the Cruachan Dam, a large hydroelectric power station.
The Cruachan Dam
A rather spectacular structure, and doubly-so when I had not expected it. This trip had been planned at fairly short noticed, so my level of research had not gone far enough. It stands about 400 metres above the station and the Loch at the bottom of the valley. Its height and location means that it has some rather spectacular views across the mountains of Argyll and Bute.
I had originally planned to have 2 hours at Falls of Cruachan station, but the discovery of the dam had meant I had pushed back my departure train to the one 2 hours later. That gave me nearly 4 hours in total, which meant I could enjoy the views from the dam whilst eating my sandwiches. I then walked back down the mountain, making sure not to bust my ankles on the rocks and steepness of slope.
Back at the Station
I had about an hour before my train. This time was spent taking more pictures and waiting for my train.
The signals that you can see in the background of some of the photos are to alert drivers to rock falls. The station is located on the Pass of Brander (which runs from Loch Awe to Taynuilt stations) where rock falls from the mountains above are more common. They were originally installed in 1881, 1 year after the railway opened following a (surprise, surprise) rock fall. The system has not changed since. Along the roughly 4 miles of Pass, there is a wire fence which, if any of the wires are broken, will cause the signals to fall to “danger”. That alerts the driver to a possible obstruction on the line, and they will act as appropriate (slow down so they can stop within sighting distance). This system isn't fool-proof. Most recently, a rock fall occurred below the fence, meaning that a train hit a boulder shortly after departing Falls of Cruachan. It derailed, but nobody died. The year was 2010.
Back in 2019, no rocks had fallen. The train arrived 1 or 2 minutes late, and I hailed it down and I boarded it. The return journey was negotiated without difficulty.
The station is actually pretty poorly used. About 50,000 people visit the power station each year, which, even if all 700 passengers at the station went to the power station, adds up to a 1.4% share of the traffic from the railway. Of the many walkers I saw, all appeared to have used their cars. There were about 10 parked directly underneath the station, and all the walkers I saw at the bottom got into cars and drove away. This is bad, especially for a country which has declared a climate emergency. Perhaps a better service on the railway line as a whole would encourage more people to use public transport.
Author - Felix