Whitley Bridge is one of 4 stations on the Pontefract line which only receives 3 trains per day (not Sundays). It is the 2nd busiest of those 4, with a grand total of 1,236 passengers last year. This is the highest it has been for years. Whitley Bridge itself is in the village of Eggborough about 1 mile walk from the village of Whitley. There is a bridge nearby. Hence the name Whitley Bridge (I think). The Knottingley to Goole section of line has not always had such a limited service, although it has generally been more infrequent than the rest of the Pontefract Line. Timetables from the '70s and '80s see 5 or 6 trains per day in each direction, and not clumped together either. This gradually reduced down to the current 3 trains per day (in total) by the mid 2000s.
Whitley Bridge has 2 trains just over an hour apart in the evenings. This sounds perfect for boarding/alighting. Sadly, the 2nd of these services is just too late to enable me to get back to London, so I had to get a bus to Eggborough (which is the village where Whitley Bridge actually is) and get the first train of the evening back.
I arrived at Kings Cross station for my train to Leeds. It was one of LNER's new InterCity Express Trains (marketed as the “Azuma” by the ever-successful Virgin Trains East Coast). Although quite busy, there was enough room for people not to sit next to me. I consumed food and drink to prevent death, and arrived at Leeds station on time. I had a half hour change for my train to Selby, which I spent hanging around on platform 12 observing the coming and goings from the very busy station. It was busier today because there had been an electrical failure somewhere on the Airedale which meant that no electric train could leave Leeds bound for Bradford, Skipton or Ilkley. That is a significant portion of the Leeds commuter network, and so there were a large number of miffed commuters and other travellers standing around the departure boards looking with annoyance(?) at the word “delayed” next to their train.
My train to Selby wasn't delayed. It rocked up on time, and the entire population of Yorkshire attempted to cram onto the three carriages provided. This didn't work. I managed to get a seat for the 25 minute journey, but many others did not.
Selby station started to exist outside the train, so I got off, pausing only to give someone their keys back, which they had kindly left on the table. The Selby to Whitley Bridge section of travel was to be done by bus. Brum-brum. Except it was more of a purr because the bus had a hybrid engine. Whatever noise the bus made, it moved, and I arrived at Whitley Bridge at the time I expected to.
Although being poorly used, Whitley Bridge is certainly not situated in the middle of nowhere. On the south side there are a large number of warehouses. There seemed to be an endless stream of lorries to and from them. To the north is the village of Eggborough, so there are houses. The road by the station is also well-used. Thus, I didn't get the normal solitude of a least used station, which I found disappointing.
The station is a normal 2 platform one. Both platforms have a shelter, various notices a bin and a salt bin. The salt-bin to service ratio is a very high one.
Although the line has a very infrequent passenger service, there is a good deal of freight. In the one hour I was at Whitley Bridge, I saw three freight services. They were mostly operating trains to/from Drax Power Station.
Back to London
Quite a long train arrived to take me to take me to Goole. By “long” I mean three coaches.
I was one of two people in the front carriage. My route from Whitley Bridge to London involved two changes: at Goole and at Doncaster. This isn't the most direct route, but the only one possible given the lack of trains from Whitley Bridge. My train from Doncaster to London was very uncrowded, but somehow someone had managed to sit in my reserved seat. I decided to ask him to move, which he did: first to the opposite side of the carriage, and then he walked off. I was pleased that he did because he was bleating down his phone.
Whitley Bridge falls perfectly into the category of least used stations which could have a much higher patronage if there was a railway service to speak of. Although there is a train for commuters into and out of Leeds at peak times, there are no trains at any other points. Clearly, a station with only 3 trains per day is never going to have a very high patronage, because there are other transport options which are more frequent, as my bus journey demonstrates. Really, Whitley Bridge should have 1 train every other hour. However, this is unlikely to happen in the short or medium term. The reason for the service reduction is because Northern doesn't have enough rolling stock. Although Northern is getting new rolling stock, they are scrapping their Pacers and any additional rolling stock will be used on already overcrowded routes. The Knottingley to Goole part of the Ponefract Line is very low down on the list of rolling stock priorities for Northern.
Author - Felix