by Nigel Thompson

Why do some stations have just one train a week?

Published: 28th March 2015

Which railway line is officially open when no train has run on it this century?

There are several stations on the UK rail network that are served by one train a week or just one daily service in one direction. looks at why these meagre useless services operate in todays commercially based railway.

Polesworth station, just north of Tamworth on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) has one train a day, the 635am from Northampton to Crewe which calls there at 723am. If any passenger wants to get there from the north, they have to travel to Rugby or Northampton to catch the daily early morning service because no southbound trains call there.

Its not due to a lack of a platform as the station has two 138 metre long platforms and it is platform 2 which is served by a train. Platform 1, which ironically has a waiting shelter, is bereft of trains. This is because as part of the WCML upgrade, the station footbridge was taken down and not replaced and trains stopped nearly a decade ago.

It was assumed that southbound passengers could use the road over rail bridge at the south end of the station but this was considered to be too narrow to share with traffic and therefore too dangerous to be used.

Spoilt for choice?

But Polesworth is positively well-off for trains compared with Denton and Reddish South in Greater Manchester. Both stations have just one train a week, the 0922 Fridays only Stockport to Stalybridge service! This route used to have a regular well used service until a new curve was installed in Manchester about 25 years ago meaning that the demand for the Stockport to Stalybridge line ceased as better connections were possible in Manchester Piccadilly. But running this one train a week avoids the need for formal passenger line closure proceedings. The line is regularly used for charter trains, stock movements and freight services.

Teeside Airport must be the only dedicated airport station with no trains on weekdays or Saturdays. It is served by one train each way on Sundays thus keeping the station technically open thus avoiding the need for formal closure proceedings.

Why do these apparently useless trains run?

All these trains run serving places that have no passengers because it is cheaper to operate a train than to initiate the formal closure process. When the 1993 Railways Act became law in 1994, many observers thought that the rail network would slowly shrink and wither.

But the Government, 20 years on admitted they botched the basis of rail privatisation, but they inadvertently protected the network by making closures so complicated and expensive that it is cheaper to run one train a week, the so-called Parliamentary Train.

The closure process

The process is run by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) and they ensure that the consultation process is undertaken in accordance with the closures guidance, has been carried out appropriately. They also evaluate the assessments made to ensure that the published methodology has been followed correctly and also consider whether the proposed closure represents poor or low value for money in comparison with retention. A station closure is not the same as a line closure.

Some railway anomalies

Polesworth is fortunate in that London Midland introduced the award winning Trent Valley hourly service and that enables the daily service to run as part of a well-used train which is used by just one daily commuter Jason. He returns home to Tamworth and uses Polesworth to make sure the station remains open. The Denton example is also completely useless to anybody and the train is really an empty stock movement advertised to the public to keep the station and line open.

Further east, Kirton Lindsay is served on Saturdays only a Sheffield to Lincoln and Cleethorpes train and this keeps the line at passenger status and the stations open. This line will not close though because of the huge volumes of freight that use it.

Legal closure

A passenger line is protected by law from closure unless a rigorous legal consultation process is undertaken and any objectors satisfied. A non-passenger line has to go through the same process but obviously there will be no passenger objections as no passenger services operate.

The process has to be carried out even for a new station to replace an old one such as at Abercynon North Station in the Welsh Valleys if the location is to be changed by a small distance.

The recent closure of the Folkestone Harbour line after seeing just one train a year for five years illustrates this well. A locomotive was run on this line to keep the legal side of the railway construction contract compliant preventing the land from returning to the original owner’s ancestors.

The Weymouth Quay Branch is another such line which while technically open, has not seen a train this century so is really closed despite still being fully signalled for passenger trains.

Parliamentary trains

So to avoid the lengthy expensive closure process, what is known as a ‘Parliamentary service’ is run to satisfy the legal requirements. These trains were introduced by the 1844 Railway Regulation Act which was designed to protect passengers from train companies exploiting passengers, who were travelling longer and longer distances to work and to find work, often travelling in primitive wagons. The Act’s intentions were to make train travel available and safe even for 3rd class passengers and included minimum passenger travel standards pertaining to comfort and safety.

Running one train a week is sometimes avoided by running a substitute bus service such as between Watford Junction and Croxley Green for the last 20 years or so.

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