1. Transport
  2. Rail
January 14, 2020

Here’s everything we learned from the Office of Road & Rail’s new station usage statistics

By Jonn Elledge

Ignore all the PR nonsense about “Blue Monday”: it’s the most wonderful time of year. Why? Because today is the day Britain’s Office of Rail & Road release their station usage statistics, and if you can’t find joy in that then why are you even reading this website?

Anyway. Here’s everything we learned from some station names with numbers next to them.

London is by far the busiest bit of the rail network

The ten stations which saw the highest passenger traffic – measured in combined entrances & exits – in 2018-19 include eight London terminals and one big station in outer London. Outside the capital, only Birmingham New Street makes the list, in fifth place.

Busiest by far is London Waterloo, which serves a huge swathe of southern England, with just over 94 million users across the year. Here’s the top 10, in gif form:

Stratford is the busiest station in outer London

The odd one out on this list is Stratford station, which is in the wilds of East London rather than a major rail terminal. It’s so busy, one assumes, because it’s a massive interchange, served not just by mainline trains but the Central and Jubilee lines of the London Underground, two branches of the DLR, one of the London Overground and TfL Rail, a suburban railway line which will one day turn into the Elizabeth line/Crossrail.

All this means that if’s a useful change for many journeys within London (some of which, since they involve National Rail-owned lines, will show up in these figures). It’s also, if you’re coming from Essex or East Anglia, a great place to change from your train to local transport to Docklands, the South Bank or the West End.

All of which makes me wonder if London Liverpool Street would be topping the chart were in not for the incredibly useful interchange one stop up the line. But that is of course unknowable.

London also dominates the list of busiest interchanges

Four out of five – again, Birmingham New Street the only exception.

The fact Stratford isn’t here gives some pause for thought, since it’s obviously the station’s role as an interchange that makes it so busy. (There can’t be that many people going to Westfield.) My guess: it’s because many of those changes involve changing from rail to tube or DLR services, and so the ORR classifies them as entrances and exits rather than interchanges.

Even outside London several of the busiest stations are still basically in London

Gatwick Airport is in Sussex, but is still on the London Rail map because it’s a London Airport and only a few miles outside town. Reading is now on that map, too, served by TfL Rail, because it’s going to be on the Elizabeth Line. Brighton is a bit further out – but it’s still in the commuter belt.

Basically: rail travel is something you’re a lot more likely to do if you’re in the bit of the country that looks towards London than the geographically much larger bit that doesn’t.

Birmingham New Street has got busier

Here’s an animated chart showing how the top 10 stations have changed over the past decade. Glasgow Central has dropped out; Clapham Junction appears and then vanishes…

…but the main pattern is that Birmingham New Street is quietly climbing the rankings. The massive rebuild of the station, which has made it much more user friendly – and the long period in which it was a nightmare because said rebuilding was still underway – are presumably to blame.

Liverpool’s busiest station isn’t the one you’d think

The big station in Liverpool is Lime Street: that’s where all the intercity trains end up. But that doesn’t make the top 10. Instead, Liverpool Central – an underground station served by the Merseyrail metro network – is.

LimeStreet only has 400,000 or so passengers fewer than Central, so is probably only just missing ranking here. Nonetheless, these figures, combined with London’s dominance, suggests that, if you really want people to use your station, what you need is for it to be useful to commuters and other local passengers, not the regional or national networks.

The ORR doesn’t know what Edinburgh Waverley is called

“Edinburgh” station? What’s that? Bloody hell.

Some stations get fewer than a passenger a week

Three stations had fewer than 100 users in 2018-19. Two of them, Stanlow & Thornton in Cheshire and Reddish in Greater Manchester, had just 46 each.

The second of this is only served by a smattering of what are known as “parliamentary trains” – those that stop there entirely to meet a legal requirement, because closing the line is a faff – and since it gets precisely two trains a week it’s no surprise that nobody uses it. The former actually gets several services a day. It’s just that not many people bother to visit the refinery it serves, whose staff, one assumes, all drive.

Anyway: one fun thing about this is that, as the Guardian’s Alex Hern has noted on Twitter, it’d be incredibly easy for train nerds to juke these numbers by all visiting Denton for a laugh. If they wanted to, for some reason.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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