Why am I visiting a station that is already close? How can I visit a closed station using a train ticket? How can I visit a train station that has no trains? What happened for 13 years between the withdrawal of trains and closure? These are just some of the questions that possibly spring to mind when reading the title and questions which I hope to answer.
Norton Bridge railway station is located next to the village of Norton Bridge in Staffordshire. It is also located at a railway junction where the line to Manchester leaves the main West Coast Main Line. Of the stations on the West Coast Main Line, it was one of the smallest. In 2002/3 it had an annual patronage of under 5000, which dipped significantly to 341 in 2006/7 before the Office of Rail and Road stopped collecting figures for the station.
In 2004 as part of the upgrade of the West Coast Main Line, train services from the station were withdrawn in favour of a “temporary” replacement bus service. In December of that year, the footbridge was removed in order to allow bigger freight services to pass though.
Bus services continued for the next decade whilst the Department for Transport decided what to do. In 2016, along with the building of a flyover in the area, it was decided that the best thing to do was to close Norton Bridge station permanently rather than continue with the current situation. This was considered much better than re-instating train services at the station. After the consultation period ended, it was decided that Norton Bridge station would close permanently on the 10th of December 2017. However, bus services would continue to be subsidised by the government until March 2019 in order to allow the local council to decide what should happen to the bus service. This is why one can still buy tickets to and from Norton Bridge despite it being closed.
Why not re-instate Train Services?
Norton Bridge's location meant that stopping trains there always meant a lot of “conflicting moves”. IE: trains had to cross in front of a lot of other trains in order to stop there. Rather than having one platform for each railway line, or one platform for a line in each direction (as is normal with most stations), it has a single “island” platform which serves the fast line towards London, and an additional 5th line (on an otherwise 4 track railway) which trains use when leaving the West Coast Main Line and going to Manchester. The diagram below shows the situation prior to modernisation.
I mentioned that a new flyover was built at Norton Bridge at the same time that closure was proposed. This was because the new flyover would mean that trains to Manchester would take different route in order to reduce the number of conflicting moves between them and trains going south. The associated reconstruction of Norton Bridge junction would mean that the platform at Norton Bridge would only face two lines which took trains in the same direction: this direction being south to Stafford, Birmingham and London. Without reducing the overall number of services passing through the area, serving Norton Bridge in both directions would be impossible. Building new platforms was deemed too expensive. The diagram below shows the situation after modernisation.
Having negotiated peak-time in London, I arrived at Euston station ready for my train north to Stafford. A platform was advertised and I aimed myself at it. The ramps from the station concourse are used by Virgin Trains staff to check tickets for Virgin Trains service. I joined a small queue of people who were inefficiently aiming themselves at one of the five people who were waiting to check tickets. I managed to dodge around a number of them and went to one of the otherwise unoccupied members of staff who made an assertive scribble on my ticket before waving me onto my train. I settled myself for the journey up to Stafford.
Because of the tilting, I tend to feel nauseous on Virgin Trains. I dislike this because one of the many benefits I find to train travel rather than by road is because I don't feel or get sick on trains, something that can't be said for cars/buses as my family will attest with memories.
Once at Stafford, I settled myself in the waiting room. I had quite a long time between arriving and getting the bus onwards to Norton Bridge. I ate some of my lunch and charged my phone before noticing that the departure boards had advertised the bus that I was supposed to take. Having asked a member of staff where the bus stop was, I was directed to another member of staff who in turn asked a third member of staff. I then walked the 30 seconds to the bus stop outside and to the left of the main entrance. There I found a small bus waiting to operate route 13 to Stone via Norton Bridge and other small villages in the area. 3 other people also got on the bus but I was the only person using a railway ticket.
After a 20 minute trundle along various country lanes, including some parts of the road network that were simply not suitable for the bus, Norton Bridge came into view. I got off along with 2 other people, leaving the bus empty.
Norton Bridge “Station”
Despite not technically existing, Norton Bridge does have facilities: a sign and a car park. The platforms are abandoned and mostly desolate with a few station lights scattered about the place. The shelter has been demolished. With the bus stop called Norton Bridge Station Drive, I expected there to be a bit more of a road to the station, but I was wrong. The road through the village is still called Station Road, despite there not being a station anymore. There is also a now boarded up pub which was probably called The Railway Inn before most of its letters fell off.
Once I had seen the station from the village side, I decided to explore the opposite side to see if I could get a better view from there. This proved to be very difficult as there was a river which ran between the road and fields and the railway line. The railway was also slightly elevated from the ground meaning that getting any reasonable picture of the station was mostly impossible.
The bus service was at uneven intervals, meaning that I had almost 3 hours in Norton Bridge. I spent most of the third of these hours scraping mud from my shoes in the bus shelter whilst my hands slowly froze.
Back to London
Slightly early, the bus back to Stafford came into view. I hailed it and got on. I was the only person on board for the entire 20 minute run back to Stafford. There I spent another long period of time in the waiting room before I boarded my train back to London. The journey was mostly uneventful save for a 20 minute wait near Watford.
I suspect that the bus service will be withdrawn, or at least partially withdrawn come March 2019 and its review. At that point Norton Bridge should be removed from the National Rail fares database. However, the current state of limbo means that one can buy a train ticket to a station that is formally closed, and also a train ticket for a journey that involves no trains (if one buys a ticket from Norton Bridge to Stafford, it is a journey done entirely by bus). It is slightly mad that this is a thing, but situations like this is something I have got more used to since starting this blog.
Author - Felix