UKIP and the M4

Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, has tried to get to Port Talbot. For some reason he drove, rather than taking advantage of the 2hr 37minute train journey from London Paddington to Port Talbot Parkway (a rather battered station which has 509,976 users, down by 4,500 from last year for some reason).

Although the train takes under 160 minutes, the car journey is apparently advertised as 210-240 minutes so he allowed that. Alas, it took him 360 minutes and he missed his big event at Margam Park.

There are various ways to respond to such a problem when questioned about it. He could of course have said:

These things happen.

But that doesn’t sound very convincing, so he didn’t.

He could have followed the great politician line of blaming someone else:

Obviously Google’s journey planner is over-optimistic and I’ll have to look elsewhere next time.

But that would potentially be actually funny (it’s the sort of excuse Boris Johnson would come up with before suggesting xenophobia waste works), so he didn’t.

He could have followed the standard Opposition line:

The Government has been claiming to be making everyone’s lives better while presiding over a massive failure of the national infrastructure. We need to invest in getting Britain moving again!

But that might suggest some sort of support for massive infrastructure projects (like High Speed 2), so he didn’t.

He could have said something big and new:

While our Government spends billions on wasteful reorganisations of our education system, they are systemically neglecting the core national infrastructure that will allow our children to get to where they can deploy their hard-earned skills, show their enthusiasm for hard graft in a competitive world and meet the people that they need to meet if they are to be who they can be; a core networking requirement if we are to achieve true greatness for our children, for ourselves and for our dear nation!

But this would suggest some sort of suggestion that it might be possible to pour too much money into schools and he’s a politician, so he didn’t.

He could have made some over-proud Government-style speech:

While I am naturally disappointed to have missed this event, it is nonetheless wonderful to see that a free-market partnership approach to national infrastructure has helped to make our roads and railways so busy. As we approach the next election, we need to look at how we can improve our national infrastructure so as not to choke off the economy. The Assembly Government is discussing a new Newport bypass, but with growth returning we need to stop talking and work together start driving these things forward!

But that would, like the Opposition line, suggest that he likes big infrastructure projects, so he didn’t.

Instead he said:

what it does have to do with is a population that is going through the roof chiefly because of open-door immigration and the fact that the M4 is not as navigable as it used to be.

Aside from the fact that “navigable” applies to waterways (the M4 is blue on the map, but is nonetheless and alas not a canal) it also rather opened him up to humorous remarks about “perhaps he wouldn’t have taken so long if he hadn’t kept stopping to ask after the nationality of everyone else on the motorway”.

It also fails to acknowledge that the M4 is currently about as good as it ever has been on its long and dubious career as one of Britain’s less safe motorways, complete with toll bridge over the Severn, multiple non-standard junctions (25, 26, 27, 39, 41 and 42) and lengthy two-lane sections culminating in a peaceful meander around North Swansea. It is always helpful when complaining about how things are different to the past to have a memory that remembers what the past looked like.

M4 Michaelston 1 JPGWonderful old M4, looking west, easily navigated from London to Port Talbot in only a hour more than the train journey.

M4 Michaelston 2 JPGTerrible new M4 (from same bridge), impossible to navigate in less than 3 hours more than the train journey.

It also says a great deal about UKIP. The economy is sort of rising. The population is growing. We are in the most intriguing situation where employment levels can rise rapidly while unemployment levels fall slowly. Railways and roads are getting busier (except in London and the South East, where only the railways are getting busier).

The positive response is to congratulate this and attempt to improve the infrastructure to meet demand while encouraging society to ease off the immediate need for travel. (Could more of the M4 traffic be handled by people moving closer to their place of work, by flexible working, by providing alternative travel corridors or by making the option of taking the train more attractive? Trying to get through the South Wales Corridor during the evening peak is inevitably going to involve encountering some form of traffic jam because, contrary to popular opinion, the area does have an economy and job prospects these days but the M4 and the South Wales Mainline are the only east-west trunk routes.)

Not Nice Mr Farage. He just blames all those nasty immigrants and suggests that the only way out is to get rid of them. While kicking his wife out of the country would certainly reduce the population, it is curious as to how it would resolve the problem of too many of the South Welsh having jobs, cars and a desire to move around the place.

(The context:

Railway Statistics 2014

The Office of Rail Regulation have published the latest railway station usage figures. These cover all national rail stations in the country for 1st April 2013 to 31st March 2014.

Whatstandwell 1 JPGA railway station – in this case Whatstandwell on the railway from Derby to Matlock (formerly a mainline from Manchester to Derby and London). Note the rails (centre right), the platform (left), the passengers (standing on platform and crossing the footbridge) and the train (departing for Matlock in centre; it was, in technical parlance, “wedged”.) Whatstandwell experienced a decrease in passenger levels from 26,572 in 2012-13 to 23,866 in 2013-14. As Matlock and Matlock Bath had passenger levels increase to rather more than offset this fall (up by 11,000 and 4,000 respectively), it is tempting to suggest that the cause of Whatstandwell’s decline is simply that Whatstandwell passengers can no longer physically fit into the Derby-bound trains.

Levisham 1 JPGThis is Levisham station, on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. While Levisham also has rails, platforms and – occasionally – passengers and its operator appears in the National Rail Timetable, Levisham is not a railway station for the purposes of the Office of Rail Regulation statistics or, consequentially, this article. This is due to the line from Grosmont to Pickering, on which Levisham station resides, not counting as part of the National Rail Network. The exact boundaries as to what constitutes a National Rail Station are now a trifle unclear for the general public, except that only National Rail Stations are allowed to display the double-arrow railway logo on a post at the entrance.

The station usage figures are excellent fun for pouring all over to generate further and more random statistics. ORR themselves like the idea of using them for decision-making and then caution against doing this too much on the basis that these figures are only estimates. So most of what follows is based on serious subject matter (usage of a possibly Government-funded transport industry – although whether the Government funds it or not depends on how you read the figures, if industry and supply chain taxation income is allowed to offset the almost identical figure of Government investment, etc.) but is also just a bit of fun.

The general weather conditions prevailing at the beginning of the year should be borne in mind when considering these figures – two specific bouts of disruption inclined to depress figures come to mind:

  1. The eight-week disruption caused to the Western Region by the temporary loss of the sea wall at Dawlish and flooding in the Bridgwater area.
  2. The ten-month closure of the Cambrian Coast line between Harlech and Pwllheli from November 2013 to September 2014 caused by the local council’s contractors accidentally demolishing a bridge.

This should place into some context the fairly minimal 5% increase in recorded entrances and exits over the year from 1st April 2012 to 31st March 2013 – rising by 0.13 billion from 2,537,959,092 (or around 1.25 billion journeys) to 2,665,123,512 (or around 1.3 billion unique journeys).

0.13 billion (130,000,000) should be placed into further context as a trifle under double the population of the UK.

ORR have decided to be fancy this year to celebrate getting the figures out 5 months earlier than usual and produced this lovely document:

It rather takes the fun out of proudly unveiling, for the umpteenth year running, that London Waterloo is the nation’s busiest station with 98,442,742 users and by a rather scary margin. At the current rate of growth, next year it will have over 100 million users per annum. The rather scary margin between Waterloo and Victoria is some 17,086,412 users per annum, which is around a million less than two-thirds of tenth-placed Leeds – or a trifle over the 16,940,764-person annual usage levels of Brighton. (So if Brighton’s passenger levels doubled next year and all those passengers caught trains to London Victoria, this would make Victoria almost as busy as Waterloo is now.)

Waterloo 2 JPGStill Britain’s busiest station – Waterloo early one Saturday morning in 2013.

The Infographic

The main point of interest is that with Glasgow Central having been overtaken by Leeds all of the top 10 stations are now in England. London terminals will make up the bulk of the list for some years to come, but it is interesting that the non-London wonderful devolved authorities no longer have any representation.

Page 2 of the ORR’s lovely infographic provides some more interesting statistics to analyse – from the top down:

  • Edinburgh Haymarket makes a striking absence from Scotland’s busiest stations, with only a smidgen over 2 million annual users (2,142,924 to be precise). It is in what is generally a more residential corner of the city than Waverley (which has 5 times the platforms and 10 times the traffic) but there are businesses and offices relatively nearby.
  • It is in fact only about 900,000 annual users busier than the busiest Highland station, which is Inverness (inevitably and with more users – 1,282,445 – than every other Highland station put together – Fort William, Aviemore, Nairn and Dingwall make up Highland positions 2-5, being the only other stations than Inverness in the Highlands with over 100,000 users).
  • The North East stations are disappointing, with the fifth-placed station generating less than a million annual users. Figures here are generally insipid, in low 6-figures or below. The area is well populated, although the core urban area around Newcastle comes under the Tyne and Wear Metro. Evidently all this public-sector employment doesn’t actually generate enough wealth for people to become interested in travel. The heavy-rail offering, consisting largely of Class 142 Pacers for local travel, is also not especially inspiring and could do with improvement.
  • York may be encouraged to get out and about by train more in the latter half of this financial year if only to get the county city into second place in Yorkshire & Humber rankings – being beaten by only around 5% of its usage by Sheffield. Huddersfield squares in fourth with half of York’s usage. Leeds of course is top. (For reasons which nobody ever bothers to explain, the largest place in an area tends to generate the highest passenger numbers.)

York 1 JPGYork. The third busiest station in Yorkshire and the Humber is seen with a departing Edinburgh to London express passing a couple of local trains.

  • There are a further 17 stations in Yorkshire and Humberside with passenger levels in 7 figures. Perhaps all those overhead live wires powering electric trains do actually make a difference.
  • North West has the little problem that the hub stations in Manchester and Liverpool hog all the passengers. The interesting question as to which stations away from these hubs – or rather which places away from Liverpool and Manchester – generate decent numbers of passengers (Warrington, Wigan, Stockport, Preston and Lancaster all being examples of such spots) will remain unanswered by this document. (A root into the main spreadsheet reveals Moorfields as the sixth busiest North-Western station – wherever that is – followed by Preston, Chester, Southport, Bolton and Stockport.)
  • Lancashire’s region, with its more extensive electrified rail network than Yorkshire’s (the suburban network around Liverpool was mostly electrified by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway on the third-rail system), generates some 43 million-plus stations against Yorkshire’s 22.
  • By contrast, places in the East Midlands usually only have one station nowadays (most of them once had two or three, but Beeching hit hard in this region). The list is headed by Nottingham, followed by Leicester and Derby.
  • The almost entirely unelectrified and largely rural region (except for where the East Coast Mainline hurries through with minimal attention to Retford) has 10 million-plus stations – Kettering comes bottom of these, with a 14,000 drop in traffic levels against 2012-13. (Corby has gone up by 23,000, which should explain where they’ve all gone.)
  • East has the same helpful evidence of a clear-out. It will be interesting to see if the “Norwich in Ninety” campaign on the Great Eastern does anything about the small curiosity that the key Suffolk and Norfolk places Ipswich and Norwich have managed to be absent from the line-up. (Norwich is eighth, on 4,139,820, behind 7th-placed Peterborough and 6th-placed Colchester. Ipswich is 16th, beaten among other places by Elstree & Borehamwood, Bedford, Luton and Benfleet.)
  • West Midlands is of course led by Birmingham New Street, hub of the UK, which is currently undergoing a massive refurbishment. This refurbishment is easily missed, as the place is still a trifle gloomy and disorganised with no particular sign that a bomb has hit it lately.

Birmingham New Street 1 JPGBirmingham New Street with a suburban train preparing to leave platform 3. The station feels much the same as ever at platform level, except one of the platforms is currently usually occupied by an abandoned rake of tatty wooden-bodied wagons being used for rubbish removal and supply delivery as part of the platform-area refurbishment.

  • 25 West Midlands stations have a million or more passengers per annum; below Birmingham’s four stations and Coventry can be found Wolverhampton, the simply named University, Stoke-on-Trent and Selly Oak. It is regrettable that a town carrying out a major campaign for a High Speed 2 station is sandwiched between two Birmingham commuter stations built in the standard West Suburban Line style of brick and tin sheds.
  • Other notable little features in the West Midlands include Worcester Foregate Street having twice as many passengers as Worcester Shrub Hill.
  • Wales is led by Cardiff Central – that remarkable 7-platform inflexible affair with 9½ million annual users more than second-placed Cardiff Queen Street and more train movements than London Paddington. Wales is divided between the South-East, which is busy and featuring strongly in the usage list, and the rest, which apart from Swansea is neither.
  • Cardiff Bay is the sixth-placed Welsh station (which considering the size of its trains and the enthusiasm amongst various authorities for shutting it on the basis that it is badly located is an incredible achievement) and the last of the million-plus stations in Wales.

Cardiff Bay 3 JPGCardiff Bay (Bae Caerdydd) – formerly the southern terminus of the Taff Vale Railway and now Wales’s sixth busiest station. Traffic levels have therefore justified the recent replacement of the 1960-built bubble-car used on the line for some years.

  • Wales offers some notable little curiosities – for example, Dingle Road, a suburban station in the heart of Penarth, has rather fewer passengers (59,562) than Barmouth, Tywyn or Harlech, which serve small market towns on the Cambrian Coast Line. (Tywyn and Harlech, which are both on around 97,000 passengers after severe drops due to the storms and the bridge, serve local schools which the councils prefer to feed by train rather than with buses; Harlech also has a certain castle and Tywyn is the junction for the branchline to Dolgoch, Abergynolwyn and Nant Gwernol, which is not part of the National Rail Network so doesn’t feature in the usage figures. Where Barmouth’s 150,288 annual passengers come from – assuming they don’t all drive down from Dolgellau, as Barmouth is hardly the centre of the universe – is hard to say. However, next time any reader feels inclined to argue that rural rail is a dead loss and urban metros are the way forward this comparison may be worth bearing in mind. It also explains – as if any explanation were needed – why Arriva Trains Wales has bundled some of their best trains off to the Cambrian Coast. Matters may change once Dingle Road has something better than Pacers.)

Harlech 2 JPGHarlech station, in Harlech, seen from Harlech Castle, busy prompting questions about loadings on Cardiff suburban lines and not doing too much else. (To be fair, Harlech is a trifle bigger than this and mostly behind the camera.)

  • London’s top 5 consists entirely of large terminal stations. Below Euston are Charing Cross, Paddington and King’s Cross – Stratford weighs in 9th as the busiest non-terminal station (26,377,506) and Pancakes/ St Pancreas (London St Pancras International in full or simply St. Pancras in the spreadsheet) completes the London Top 10 on 26,046,982.
  • It is an indication as to how busy the stations in London are that Moorgate, with 9,051,856 passengers per annum (up from 7,997,460 last year for reasons which are given as “unclear”) was completely forgotten by officialdom and retains lightly refurbished 38-year-old trains serving stations carrying Network SouthEast branding by means of tunnels which building contractors occasionally put pile drivers through. Anywhere else in the country a two-platform station with nine million annual passengers (somewhat more than the population of Greater London) would be a cause for considerable celebration. (This is just the National Rail part of the Moorgate station complex, the rest of which is Transport for London’s responsibility.)
  • The South-East is a large region, consisting largely of the commuter stations which serve those rather busy London terminals in the previous point. Competition for the first place is busily fought between Brighton, Gatwick Airport and Reading. Guildford comes fourth and Woking fifth. Brighton and Gatwick feed into London Bridge and Victoria; Reading feeds Paddington with a small flow towards Waterloo (as well as being a commuting destination in its own right); Guildford and Woking are both exclusively the domain of Waterloo, which may explain why Waterloo has the highest passenger figures.
  • Oxford weighs in sixth amongst the South East (another place with its own commuter flows), followed by Milton Keynes Central, Southampton Central, Slough and Basingstoke. There are rather a lot of million-plus stations here. The number of stations with over a million reduced-fare exits alone is the same of stations with over a million total entries and exits in the year in the East Midlands.
  • The South West is of course led by the hub station of its capital – Bristol Temple Meads. Behind come Bath, Swindon, Bournemouth and (rather notably) Plymouth.
  • Plymouth’s spot in the top 5 is gained despite its mangled suburban network (four miles of which is a light railway and all of which is served by a broadly two-hourly service with some peak-time improvements to twice hourly on the core section westwards from the city centre), the relatively poor location of the former North Road station to the city centre (clue’s in the name), a general lack of investment and the 70,000 drop in passenger numbers caused by the impact that the Dawlish wash-out will have had on the intercity travel that the station relies on. The city is also in the middle of nowhere very much.

Plymouth North Road 1 JPGPlymouth (North Road) being used as a set of carriage sidings by three High Speed Trains plus the stock off the 09:00 Cardiff Central to Plymouth (in distance at platform on right).

  • It is no doubt greatly helped by Exeter splitting its passengers between St David’s (6th place on 2,356,204, or around 90,000 behind Plymouth) and Central (9th place on 1,943,070).
  • The Top 10 South West stations are rounded out by Bristol Parkway (7th), Salisbury (8th) and Cheltenham Spa (10th). The region includes 17 million-plus stations, which considering its reputation as a largely rural and deprived area is really quite good.
  • The South-West is a difficult region to define and includes several Network SouthEast stations (Bedwyn being the only one which it might be tempting to argue).

Least Used Stations

The infographic does not of course give least used stations, though these often unevocative names of deserted platforms are almost as interesting as the main figures. These go as follows:


Kildonan leads the losers list, with no local population and 144 users. Altnabreac has a local population of sorts but no roads; this has failed to get quite the usual interest and passenger numbers have halved to 138. Golf Street follows on 90, with Breich on 64 and Barry Links trailing on 40.

North East

For all the general lowness of passenger figures, loadings hold up well at the bottom end of the scale. Dunston has 2,336 users; British Steel Redcar has 1,418; Pegswood has 1,166. None of these would usually figure on the radar. Acklington is more notable on 176. The North East has the dubious honour of Britain’s solitary station that fails to get into double figures, with Tees-Side Airport remaining unloved, ill-used and consistent on last year’s figure of 8.

Yorkshire and the Humber

A larger area generates some very healthy and competitive figures here, but the bottom end is not terribly good. Six stations fail to make four figures so it’s only fair to mention Brigg on 922. Below this are Whitley Bridge on 864, New Clee on 348, Rawcliffe on 314, Hensall on 278 and Kirton Lindsey as the least-used station in the region of my fathers on 120 (10 per month; the station is actually in the Lincolnshire part of Yorkshire and the Humber.)

North West

Ardwick is on 568, Stanlow & Thornton on 314, Clifton on 298, Denton on 110 and Reddish South on 26. (Reddish South therefore works out at half a passenger for each of its weekly trains, while Denton manages a two and a bit passengers.)

East Midlands

Since Beeching closed all the dead-loss stations (plus a few dozen collateral damage), the survivors aren’t that bad. Four of the five worst sound like they should have gone under Beeching; the exception is Gainsborough Central on 1,220. This isn’t half bad for a station described as being like “war-torn Beirut”, Britain’s “worst” or simply “service comprises of just three trains per week”. Below this come Thorpe Culvert on 340 (obviously a very interesting culvert), Hubberts Bridge on 334 (ditto about the bridge), Havenhouse on 278 (a reasonably popular house) and Elton & Orston on 166. Last year Elton & Orston, with its one train each way per day, was the last station on the region with a 2-figure usage level; this has now more than doubled. (This remarkable achievement should be placed in the context of a 1,310 usage figure nine years ago.)

West Midlands

The West Midlands is largely the Birmingham commuter belt and so generates some rather good passenger figures – as is demonstrated by the fact that the fifth worst usage level is Hopton Heath’s 2,990 passengers. Below this are Claverdon on 2,654, Broome on 1,990, Bearley on 1,220 (double last year’s figure) and Polesworth on 702. This usage of 702 passengers is generated by one train each day, northbound only, shortly after 07:20.


Very neatly there are five stations with under 1,000 annual users. Llandecwyn has 880, Dolgarrog 828, Llangynllo 806, Roman Bridge 764 and Sugar Loaf 240.

Roman Bridge 1 JPGWales’s second least-used station – Roman Bridge. There is not a right lot of evidence of the bridge. The line – the Blaenau Ffestiniog branch from Llandudno Junction – has a service of one train each way every three hours. The timetable is still set up in such a way that if a hourly service were laid on using the current clockface departure times from Blaenau and Llandudno trains would cross at Dolwyddelan, the next station north, from which the passing loop was removed some years ago.


Berney Arms flies the flag for stations without road access on 1,510. Spooner Row has 388, narrowly beating Lakenheath on 378. Buckenham slidles in on 80. Shippea Hill has 12 annual users – one per month.

South East

Four of the five stations at the bottom of the South-East’s stack have three things in common. First, they are all the beneficiaries of a sparse service; second, they are all outside the area readily thought of as the South East (although they were on the Network SouthEast network, but then so was Exeter); third, they are all on the Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway. Regular users and operators of the line will now be able to name them, probably in order of usage: Shipton has 5,050 annual users, Swale (the honourable exception to the things in common) has 3,792 users, Ascott-Under-Wychwood has 2,856 users, Finstock has 1,920 users and Combe (one “o”) has 1,684 users. Shipton has the best service of the OW&W quartet, including trains on Saturdays; the other three have one train each way per day, Mondays to Fridays only. Said trio are also all sat by minor roads amongst fields, which may have as much to do with their usage as the service level.

Combe 1 JPGThe evening peak train at Combe, Finstock and Ascott – the 17:15 from Didcot Parkway to Great Malvern – departs Combe one fine autumn evening formed of 180108. The photographer was the only passenger using the station that evening.

The South East provides some additional opportunities to place low usage into context for stations more poorly used than Smallbrook Junction – which only exists to serve the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, only gets trains calling to connect with steam trains and got 11,408 passengers between April 2013 and March 2014. Dorking West used to save everyone face in this region by being allotted 22 annual passengers, but now has a more likely looking 56,948.


Inevitably these are stations which elsewhere would be deemed to have moderately respectable traffic levels. Birbeck has 104,110 annual users; Angel Road has 83,714; Sudbury Hill Harrow has 52,962; South Greenford has 41,338 and Sudbury & Harrow Road has 18,718. (These last two are adjacent stations on the Wycombe arm of the Chiltern line out of Marylebone. Marylebone itself deserves a side mention as the quietest of London’s mainline termini on 15,520,762, with the more suburban terminals at Blackfriars and Moorgate being the only poorer performers.)

South West

The failure line in the South West is provided by Okehampton, which obtained 3,208 passengers despite a minimal service of five trains a day, Sundays only, over the three-month summer period – combined with the fact that since 1972 the station has technically been shut. Anywhere doing less well than that, excepting possibly its smaller, also shut and equally badly served next-door neighbour Sampford Courtenay, is really not trying. Random examples include Thornford, St Columb Road and Luxulyan.

Okehampton 3 JPGThis is Okehampton, with the mid-afternoon train to Exeter on the last day of service in 2014. Okehampton station has been shut for 42 years, which is coincidentally the same number of passengers that still-open Coombe got this year. 

The five poorest all have usage levels of under 1,000 passengers per annum: Portsmouth Arms is on 844, Chapelton is on 232, Sampford Courtenay (closed 1972) is on 146, Pilning is on 88 and Coombe (double “o”) has returned to 42.

This means that in two regions of the country the least-used station has a name which translates as “Valley”. (The station which is actually called Valley, which is to be found on Anglesey, does rather more respectably on 18,236 annual users.)

Other Business

Other interesting little facts include:

  • There are 2,357 stations, from Abbey Wood (heading up on 3,282,240) to Ystrad Rhondda (52,098 – a worrying decline from last year noted in the check column).
  • The lowest placed million-plus station is South Tottenham, on 1,001,870 (up from 799,950 owing to a “continuation of recent trend in growth on London Overground services”).
  • 2,357 unfortunately divides in two to produce 1178.5 and, therefore, two median stations. Iver has 193,540 while Harlow Mill has 194,144.
  • With a total of 2,665,123,512 entries and exits we get a mean passenger usage of 1,130,726. This deftly places itself almost exactly between Motherwell on 1,135,336 and Kidbrooke on 1,125,024.
  • Reddish South has the biggest percentage fall (-76% from 122 to 26).
  • The highest percentage rise is a trifle unfair to declare. Energlyn & Churchill Parkway and Stratford Parkway were both new for this year so post infinite percentage increases on the previous year. Conon Bridge only opened two months before the end of the previous year so an increase of 387% is not unreasonable. Dalmarnock was shut for most of the previous year so a 376% rise is less a rise and more a recovery. Ormskirk went up by 183%, which is blamed on better accounting for the Passenger Transport Executive area. South Bank is therefore the highest bona fide increase, due to timetable improvements (a 167% rise from 4,704 to 12,544).
  • 17 stations can claim percentage increases of over 100% (excluding the two new ones).
  • There are a lot of very marginal variations, but Rogart (1,662) and Tees-Side Airport (8) can both claim to have had exactly the same number of passengers last year as this.
  • The biggest numerical fall is Glasgow Queen Street (down by 691,496 from 16,452,000 to 15,760,504, apparently due to improving the accounting in the Passenger Transport Executive area).
  • Liverpool Street had the biggest numerical rise – 4,555,188 – but only an 8% increase.
  • 26 stations can claim absolute passenger increases of over a million. Ormskirk and Liverpool South Parkway are on both this list and the 100% increase list, but in both cases this is put down to improving how the Passenger Transport Executive accounts for passengers.
  • The lowest-placed hundred-thousand-plus station is Starcross, down 7,000 (blame Dawlish). Atherstone rose from 83,342 passengers to be only 26 short of the 100,000 barrier.
  • The 10,000 barrier was just passed by Pleasington, on 10,022 (up from 9,490). Just below it are three falls – Morfa Mawddach (9,962), Westerfield (9,864) and Dent (9,742).
  • The 1,000 barrier was neatly passed by Kinbrace (1,092) despite having no local population to speak of. Attadale fell 2 short, Achnashellach 24 short and Duirinish 30 short. Curiously all three of these stations are on the Kyle of Lochalsh line. More curiously, Duirinish is the one of the trio which has a local population. (Were you thinking of making a journey from Attadale last year but didn’t? Its failing could be personally your fault.)

Achnashellach 1 JPGAchnashellach station, 24 passengers short of 1,000. Note cycle racks. On the 14th October 1892 the station was the centre of a rather amusing accident when a routine shunting operation saw the train of wagons and coaches run away down the hill towards Achnasheen, away from the camera. The locomotive crew duly set off into the night after them, complete of course with locomotive. The wagons had been coupled between the coaches and the locomotive, which proved fortuitous when at the bottom of the hill the loco met her train coming back again, it having failed to surmount the next hill and accordingly run back down towards Achashellach. The injury toll was much reduced by the fact that the Kyle line wasn’t very busy then either so there were relatively few passengers on hand to be injured in the ensuing collision.

  • Denton is the least-used station with over 100 passengers; there are 9 stations which officially failed to manage this.
  • The extremities are mixed. Thurso (North) has dropped again (46,024 to 43,802). Arisaig (West) has risen very slightly from 7,390 to 7,394. Lowestoft (East) has kindly attempted to compensate for everyone else by rising from 459,166 to 471,338. Penzance (South) has offset this by dipping from 562,992 to 533,258.

Elsewhere, the Isle of Wight stations have almost all posted notable and unpleasant-looking falls – the solitary exception is Smallbrook Junction. It may be time they were bought some new Tube trains. Arguably the “network” (one line, eight miles long) has been too small to be viable since the rest of it was eliminated in the 1950s. Winter storm damage is blamed for the worst falls.

Shanklin 1 JPGShanklin station, nowadays the southern end of the Isle of Wight metro, is seen with unit 483009 preparing to clatter back to Ryde. 

Ryde Pier Head 1 JPGAt the other end of the line is 483008, resting in the rather empty-looking surviving platform at Ryde Pier Head. The Class 483s arrived on the Isle of Wight to eke out a peaceful retirement after being laid off by London Underground. Owing to an accounting technicality and a curiosity of railway history, the original owner of sets 006, 007 and 008 was the London & North Eastern Railway.

Cornwall is also an interesting array of figures. The Regional Railways stations have mostly risen, often sharply. (Menheniot is the most startling, with a 75% increase. Not that this warrants anything much, as it’s still the least popular Cornwall Mainline station by 50,000 users or a trifle over 10 times its annual usage.) Even Calstock has got round to going up after many years of statistically irrelevant decline (which compounded to something more impressive, but which didn’t show up on year-to-year checks). The Intercity stations have dropped, ranging between Redruth on a fall of a little over 1% and Bodmin Parkway with a fall of 5.6%. While improvements at Looe (11% up), Quintrell Downs (58% up) and St Keyne Wishing Well Halt (39% up) are all very welcome, these are from very low usage figures and are easily offset by Truro dropping 2% of its 1.2 million annual users. (The Falmouth branch stations are all up, suggesting that the branch has a solid traffic base of students, schoolchildren and shoppers who travel independently of any need to go to Truro or connect into the mainline.)

The obvious response is to blame the disruption at Dawlish – which closed the mainline to London for two months of the year surveyed (there were no through trains from Penzance, Truro or Plymouth to Exeter and beyond from February 4th 2014 until the end of the count). This loss of true intercity operation for 16.6% of the year would however have to stop around 30% of planned train journeys during those two months at stations based largely on long-distance travel to account for a 5% fall in passenger levels at those stations (although Liskeard’s is offset by a 10% rise in Looe Valley traffic).

While Cornwall’s local traffic is mostly low-margin (a student with railcard going from Penmere to Penryn and back off-peak will contribute all of £1 to industry coffers), the traffic flows which have taken this hefty hit are predominantly the long-distance traffic which:

  1. provides the operator with fare incomes of over £100 in one hit;
  2. includes passengers who are coming down to do business or contribute to the tourist trade and who in the absence of the railway may not come at all.

The annual passenger figures thereby provide one of the first opportunities to begin calculating the cost of the Dawlish disruption to the local economy with some degree of ease and certainty.

The perfect offset from the local traffic is however interesting. (The overall percentage change across the Duchy is a perfect flatline of 0.0% – a certain former Prime Minister would have described this as “growth of 0%”, since the exact county-wide change on these figures is 6,143,560 in the year to March 2013 rising to 6,146,426 in the year to March 2014.) It suggests some sort of combination of any elements of three things:

  1. Regional traffic is entirely divorced from intercity travel and no comparison attempts should be made (this is reasonable, since by and large flooding at Dawlish had no direct impact on travel from Calstock into Plymouth);
  2. The reduction in intercity travel made trains quieter and encouraged local traffic (which would explain the increases at St Germans, Hayle and particularly Menheniot);
  3. Cornwall is experiencing a massive increase in across-the-board passenger numbers which has been hidden this year by the loss of long-distance intercity travel for two months so is only highlighted at those stations where that long-distance travel is statistically irrelevant.

None of these points remotely explains why the biggest percentage falls in Cornwall are the statistically dubious drops at Causeland and Coombe plus the rather more evident 6% (7,226) passenger drop at Newquay. But it does rather explain why Bodmin Parkway has lost over 10,000 passengers, as it has no local population and has lost its branchline (from commercial use anyway) so is dependent on intercity travel.

The upshot ranking-wise is that Truro is still Cornwall’s busiest station by some margin, but St Ives has overtaken Penzance at last.

St Ives 7 JPGCornwall’s second-busiest station – St Ives on Spring Bank Holiday Saturday 2013. The Bank Holiday Monday was marginally quieter, owing to heavy rain.

The three Severn Estuary Line stations remain tricky to track. Caldicot has celebrated a grand total of no changes to its timetable with a 5,518 increase in passenger levels (87,750 to 93,068, or 6%). Chepstow has gone up from 208,316 to 217,030 (4%). Lydney has risen from 158,702 to 172,260 (8%). This is an overall increase to 482,358 from 454,768 (6%, or just above national average). With traffic levels doing quite respectably on no investment, it would be interesting to see how this route would perform with a half-hourly stopping service (as opposed to the current mess).

It is also interesting to glance at the relative performance of adjacent stations also served by the Severn Estuary Line trains as part of their curious cross-Cardiff operation (worked for good operational reasons). Maesteg (Ewenny Road) has 3,930 annual users. Maesteg proper has 218,644 users. (This is up from 170,660 annual users last year, attributed to the station being provided with a ticket machine. Maesteg still doesn’t warrant a Sunday service.)

That’ll do for this year.

(If nothing else readers may have spent the last 5,200 words learning to be careful about how statistics get presented to them.)

Light Maths

The next post on this blog will be rather heavy, so here’s something lighter in a similarly mathematical vein to get people in the mood:


Find “x”.

(Assuming that my maths is good enough for it to work…)