Not a lot of people know this, but although it takes nearly two hours to get from Liverpool Lime Street to London Euston, you can get from Liverpool Central to Waterloo in under half an hour. And even though the Eurostar terminal moved to St Pancras a decade ago, there are still direct trains from Brussels to Waterloo.
If you prefer, there are also two trains a day to Waterloo from Chicago. Waterloo also used to be at the end of the Hong Kong metro system, and pretty soon Waterloo will be on the Sydney Metro as well.
OK, these obviously aren’t the same station. In fact, there are lots of Waterloo Stations all around the world. How many are they, and why do so many railway stations share this weird name?
Sometime eight or nine hundred years ago, a tiny village was built on the main road between Charleroi and Brussels: Waterloo, named after the fact it was wet (“water”) and near a forest (“loo” in Flemish). No-one cared much about this village until 18 June 1815, when an alliance of British, Dutch and German troops defeated the French army in a field just outside it. With Napoleon’s hopes of ruling Europe crushed, the victors celebrated by naming towns and roads across their empires after the battlefield.
This means that there are a lot of Waterloos out there. But how many?
Main line Waterloos
1. Waterloo, London
As the Napoleonic Wars were going on, London was building a new bridge between Covent Garden and the South Bank. The original plan was for it to be called Strand Bridge, since it connects to the Strand; but then Britain went and won a battle and so it was renamed “Waterloo Bridge”. The whole area in turn took its name from the bridge, and so when a railway station opened there 30 years later, it was only natural that it too was named “Waterloo”.
2. Waterloo East, London
Formerly Waterloo Junction, this station was built because the South Eastern Railway’s line from Kent to Charing Cross ran very close to London and South Western Railway’s Waterloo station. Although the two railways were competitors, connecting the lines meant people arriving at Waterloo could change trains and get across the river to the City of London – a win for both companies.
The buildings are now connected, but they are officially different stations, and platforms at Waterloo East use letters rather than numbers to stop people mixing them up with the other Waterloo’s ones.
3. Waterloo, Merseyside
This Waterloo was originally part of the coastal town of Crosby, just north of Liverpool. A large hotel opened there exactly one year after the Battle of Waterloo, and so it was named the Royal Waterloo Hotel. The railway station at Waterloo has passed through various hands, but today it’s part of Merseyrail’s Northern Line.
4. Waterloo, Walloon Brabant
The original Waterloo that all the others are (indirectly) named after, this station is now part of Brussels’ Overground-like RER system.
5. Waterloo, Indiana
Here’s a weird one: this Waterloo isn’t named after the Battle of Waterloo at all (perhaps not surprising, since the US wasn’t involved). Instead, it was named after former owner of the land, Miles Waterman, who, it turned out, didn’t actually want a town named after him and demanded the name be changed.
Despite being a town of just 2,200, its Amtrak station still gets direct trains to Chicago, New York and Washington D.C.
6. Waterloo Interchange, Wellington
There probably weren’t any New Zealanders at the Battle of Waterloo either, but, as a part of the British Empire, it still ended up with a town called Waterloo, which is now part of Lower Hutt, which is part of Wellington (named after the Duke of Wellington, the leader of the British troops at Waterloo).
The station has signs reading both “Waterloo Interchange” and “Hutt Central”, but the Waterloo name is the official one.
7. Waterloo, London Underground
One of the most important interchanges on the London Underground, Waterloo tube station (named after and located under London Waterloo) is notable for giving its name to two different Tube lines: the Waterloo & City and the Bakerloo. Sadly, no-one has yet suggested renaming its other lines Northerloo and Jubiloo.
8. Waterloo, Charleroi Métro
Belgium’s other Waterloo station, on the Charleroi Métro. Named after the Waterloo Gate of the old city walls, on the road that led to Brussels. Weirdly, one of the lines from this station was partially built but never finished and still sits there, unused.
Side note: Charleroi has a population of about 200,000, and about 500,000 in its wider urban area. It has a metro system with three branches and four lines. Leeds has a population of nearly 800,000, and about 1.9 million in its wider urban area. It has zero metro lines.
9. Waterloo, Hanover Stadtbahn
The British weren’t the only winners at the Battle of Waterloo. After Napoleon conquered what was then the Electorate of Hannover, its remaining soldiers joined the British Army as the King’s German Legion.
After the Napoleonic Wars, Hanover was liberated and became its own Kingdom (although one with a British monarch), and celebrated by naming a square to commemorate the battle. It’s now an important junction on the Hanover Stadtbahn system.
10. Waterlooplein, Amsterdam Metro
The Dutch were also a major force at the Battle of Waterloo, and perhaps the biggest surprise is that they don’t have more stations named after it. Anyway, “Waterlooplein” translates to “Waterloo Square”, and it’s a marketplace in the heart of Amsterdam with a Metro line running under it.
11. Waterloo, Sydney Metro (under construction)
Another former British colony, another suburb named after the battle. It currently has a station under construction, set to open in 2024.
The same Sydney Metro line also serves a station called Epping, so if you are reading this in 2024 you can annoy all your Tube-loving friends by asking them how to get from Waterloo to Epping without changing trains.
Closed and renamed Waterloos
12. Waterloo International, London
To allow Eurostar services – which are too long for the existing platforms and need special security – to serve Waterloo, a new station was built on the side.
“Surely this doesn’t count. Isn’t it just an extension of London Waterloo?” you ask. Well, not according to British Rail, who treated it separately and gave it its own station code (WIT, as opposed to WAT for the main Waterloo station). Now the Eurostar has been moved to St Pancras, its old platforms have been integrated into London Waterloo as platforms 20-24, and WIT is no more.
13. Waterloo, Aberdeen
This was the main station for trains to the North of Scotland, perched on the dockside at Waterloo Quay, and was extremely unpopular because it wasn’t connected to the rest of the railway network.
If you wanted to go from Edinburgh to Lossiemouth, for instance, you’d need to walk or get the bus between Aberdeen Guild Street and Aberdeen Waterloo – and the station managers at Waterloo would lock the doors and refuse to let passengers in if their connecting train was late. Eventually, Aberdeen’s railway companies got their acts together and built a joint station, and Aberdeen Waterloo became a goods yard.
14. Waterloo, Ontario
Although Ontario was part of the British Empire at the time, this Waterloo was actually settled and probably named by German Mennonites. It no longer has a main line service of its own, but it’s on the Ion tram line linking it to the station in nearby Kitchener.
15. Waterloo, Quebec
Kind of weird to find a celebration of a French defeat in a former French colony, but this Waterloo was named by a Brit. It used to have a gorgeous little station on the Canadian Pacific railway.
16. Waterloo, Hong Kong MTR (renamed Yau Ma Tei)
Formerly named after Waterloo Road which runs above it, this station on Hong Kong’s MTR system became Yau Ma Tei (the name of the district around it, possibly meaning “Sesame oil fields”) in 1985.
17. Waterloo, Freetown
After the British Empire officially banned the slave trade in 1808, it still forced many of the “liberated” slaves to fight in the army’s West India Regiment in the Caribbean throughout the Napoleonic Wars. When the war ended and they were finally freed from their indentures and allowed to settle in Sierra Leone, the former soldiers founded villages with names like Waterloo, Wellington and Gibraltar Town. The country’s railway lines closed in 1974, but the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum preserved the old Waterloo building.
18. Waterloo Halt, Caerphilly
A little stop on the Brecon & Merthyr Line, for the village of Waterloo on the River Rhymney. So small that it only got trains in one direction, the line was really more for transporting coal than people anyway. It closed in 1956.
19. Waterloo Road, Blackpool (renamed Blackpool South)
Is it still a Waterloo if it has “Road” on the end? The smaller of Blackpool’s two main stations, Blackpool South used to be an important interchange, but now just sees one train an hour to Preston. The name “Waterloo Road” lives on in the nearby tram stop.
20. Waterloo Road, Staffordshire
This disused station is in Hanley, part of the Stoke-on-Trent district. The station closed in 1943, and has vanished without a trace.
21-26. Waterloo, Illinois; Waterloo, Nebraska; Waterloo, New Hampshire; Waterloo, New Jersey; Waterloo, New York; Waterloo, Wisconsin
Time has not been kind to America’s railways. All these towns used to have passenger stations – visitors to historic Waterloo, NJ can catch a train to nearby Mount Olive, but anyone going to the others is just out of luck.
There are a few more tiny US Waterloos with railroads through or near them, but it’s not clear whether these ever had official passenger stations.
Other Waterloos that might not count
Twenty six Waterloos is already a lot of Waterloos. But this list could keep going even further.
When trams were at the height of their popularity, there were definitely quite a few tram stops called Waterloo. However, old tram stop names are hard to find, and most probably aren’t any more notable than bus stop names.
There are also various freight yards and heritage stations called Waterloo but, again, these are hard to find and stretch the definition of “station”. Still, we can try to count them.
27, 28, 29. University of Waterloo, Laurier-Waterloo Park and Waterloo Public Square, Ontario
Three tram stops on the Waterloo-Kitchener Ion light rail system, which opened in mid-2019. You could argue that none of them are named Waterloo though, they just include the word in their name.
30. Waterloo (Northfield Drive), Ontario
One end of the heritage Waterloo Central Railway. Since the Ion rapid transit network opened in June, they haven’t been able to run into the city itself, so their new Waterloo station is wedged rather unglamorously into an industrial estate on the edge of town. It still actually gets semi-regular service, with trains running to the nearby farmer’s market.
31. Waterloo Road tram stop, Blackpool
See above. It’s on the promenade, a fair walk away from Blackpool South station.
32. Waterloo tram stop, London
Back when London still had a huge tram network, the number 68 used to start near Waterloo station.
33. Waterloo Place, Edinburgh
Like San Francisco and Lisbon, hilly Edinburgh used to have a system of cable-car trams. Today, the only surviving tracks can be seen at Waterloo Place, the former terminus of the line.
34. Waterloo Goods, Liverpool
A cargo-only railway station built to serve the Liverpool docks. Closed in the 1960s but the Department for Transport is keeping the former track-bed free so the line can be opened if needed.
35. Waterloo, Iowa
OK, it’s another freight station (belonging to the Canadian National Railway, despite being in the USA), but at least the story behind why it’s called Waterloo is good.
When residents of the town of Prairie Rapids petitioned for a new post office, they left the name blank. The guy who took the petition to the postal headquarters decided to fill in the gap by flicking through the directory until he found a name he liked.
So there we go. Depending on how you count, there are 6, 11, 26 or at least 35 Waterloos around the world. Plot them on a map and you can see they’re mostly concentrated in a few places.
A map of Waterloo stations. Feel free to argue about which stations really count as Waterloos. Image: author provided.
There only seems to be one Marylebone though.
This article is from the CityMetric archive: some formatting and images may not be present.