diamond geezer

 Thursday, November 25, 2021

Anorak Corner [National Rail edition]

It's time once again for the annual splurge of passenger data from across Britain's railway network, this batch covering the period April 2020 to March 2021. That's pretty much an exact match for the most atypical twelve months of railway usage ever, thanks to the pandemic, so expect entirely unrepresentative freakish outcomes. City centre commuting collapsed, trains often ran almost empty and various outlying lines were temporarily mothballed so there might even be some zeroes.

None of what follows is either normal or consequential, so best read nothing definitive into any of it.

London's ten busiest National Rail stations (2020/21) (with changes since 2019/20)
  1) ↑6 Stratford (14.0m)
  2) -- Victoria (13.79m)
  3) ↑1 London Bridge (13.76m)
  4) ↓3 Waterloo (12m)
  5) ↓2 Liverpool Street (11m)
  6) ↑5 Highbury & Islington (9m)
  7) ↑6 Clapham Junction (8m)
  8) ↑13 Barking (6.8m)
  9) ↑4 East Croydon (6.7m)
10) ↓4 Euston (6.6m)

For the first time in living memory, Britain's busiest railway station isn't a central London terminus. They've all slumped in usage due to millions of commuters working from home, which leaves Stratford in East London to take the crown. It benefited from being a major interchange in a residential area so was still well used by key workers, and was also the most used station on the tube network last year. Victoria and London Bridge nearly beat it - both were only a couple of hundred thousand passengers behind. Four other non-terminus stations make the top 10, the biggest upward leaper being Barking, again in East London.

The UK Top 10 looks exactly the same as this but with Birmingham New Street in eighth place (it's more usually a couple of places higher).

London's ten busiest central London termini (2020/21)
  1) Victoria (14m) ↓60m
  2) London Bridge (14m) ↓49m
  3) Waterloo (12m) ↓75m
  4) Liverpool Street (11m) ↓55m
  5) Euston (7m) ↓38m
  6) Paddington (6.4m) ↓38m
  7) St Pancras (6.3m) ↓30m
  8) Charing Cross (5.4m) ↓24m
  9) King's Cross (4.7m) ↓28m
10) Fenchurch Street (3.2m) ↓15m

How the mighty have fallen. London Victoria would normally have 60 million more passengers than it had in the first year of the pandemic, and London Waterloo an additional 75 million! With these diminished figures none of London's rail termini would have made last year's Top 30.

London's ten least busy Overground/Crossrail stations (2020/21)
  1) Emerson Park (94,000) ↓71%
Acton Main Line (126,000) ↓64%
South Hampstead (165,000) ↓60%
Headstone Lane (173,000) ↓59%
Hanwell (182,000) ↓60%
South Kenton (214,000) ↓61%
Hatch End (215,000) ↓68%
Penge West (218,000) ↓67%
Stamford Hill (218,100) ↓58%
Cambridge Heath (252,000) ↓67%

Emerson Park on the runty Romford-Upminster line remains at the bottom of the heap, while Acton Main line is still London's least attractive Crossrail station. All of these stations lost about two-thirds of their usual passengers last year.

London's ten least busy National Rail stations (2020/21)
  1) * Heathrow T4 (162)
  2) ↑2 Sudbury & Harrow Road (6300)
  3) -- Drayton Green (7100)
  4) ↓2 South Greenford (8800)
  5) -- Sudbury Hill Harrow (14600)
  6) -- Castle Bar Park (26800)
  7) -- Morden South (37900)
  8) ↑2 Birkbeck (33900)
  9) ↑9 Reedham (36300)
10) ↑13 Woodmansterne (37700)

Heathrow Terminal 4 is London's new least used station, by some distance, because all flights from Terminal 4 ceased in May and so the station was closed, resulting in a paltry 162 annual passengers. The next six stations in the list are exactly the same six as last year, confirming that little-used stations remain little-used even in a pandemic. The Greenford branch makes its usual pitiful appearance.

Last year's least used station, Angel Road, has since been replaced by a new station at Meridian Water a short distance to the south. This attracted a creditable 80,000 passengers in the last year, so we probably won't be seeing it in the least used list again.

But enough of London.

The UK's ten busiest National Rail stations that aren't in London (2020/21)
  1) -- Birmingham New Street (7.4m)
  2) ↑2 Leeds (5.9m)
  3) ↓1 Glasgow Central (5.3m)
  4) ↓1 Manchester Piccadilly (5.2m)
  5) ↑2 Brighton (4.1m)
  6) ↑4 Liverpool Central (3.6m)
  7) ↑4 Liverpool Lime Street (3.5m)
  8) -- Reading (2.9m)
  9) ↓4 Edinburgh (2.9m)
10) ↑4 Cambridge (2.3m)

Passenger totals were also well down outside London (with decreases generally in the order of 80%). Birmingham New Street retains top position beyond the capital, with Leeds leapfrogging Glasgow Central and Manchester Piccadilly into second. Although most of the Top 10 are the same as last year but in a different order, the big loser was Gatwick Airport which slumped from 6th to 18th place due to lack of flyers. Only 50 provincial stations saw over a million passengers during 2020/21, whereas during the previous year 350 stations managed that.

Six National Rail stations with NO passengers in 2020/21
0) Stanlow & Thornton [last year 82]
0) Sugar Loaf [last year 156]
0) Sampford Courtenay [last year 240]
0) Beasdale [last year 324]
0) Abererch [last year 2148]
0) Llanbedr [last year 11716]

This too is astonishing. Some stations usually manage miserably low passenger totals but it's never normally zero. All are for pandemic-related reasons as stations (and in the case of Stanlow & Thornton entire lines) were closed to passenger traffic. At the three Welsh stations - Sugar Loaf, Abererch and Llanbedr - the platform is so short that social distancing between passengers and the guard was deemed impossible so trains didn't stop. As for Sampford Courtenay this usually only saw trains on summer Sundays but didn't get any last summer... and has since been permanently closed (to enable this week's reopening of the line to Okehampton).

The UK's ten least busy (open) National Rail stations (2020/21)
  1) Teesside Aiport (2) [last year 338]
  2) Tygwyn (4) [last year 1062]
  3) Okehampton (6) [last year 6434]
  4) Llandanwg (8) [last year 3884]
  5) Kirton Lindsey (10) [last year 272]
  6) Elton & Orston (12) [last year 68]
  6) Denton (12) [last year 92]
  8) Kildonan (16) [last year 214]
  8) Cilmeri (16) [last year 1214]
10) Reddish South (18) [last year 158]
10) Scotscalder (18) [last year 232]
10) Ince & Elton (18) [last year 740]

Several of these are the usual suspects, but passenger numbers are still abnormally titchier than usual. None of these averaged more than one passenger a fortnight (or if you consider return journeys, more than one a month). Teesside Airport only has one train a week and even this was suspended for much of the survey period (a reader claims that the entire annual complement of two passengers was down to him). Denton and Reddish South also suffered from weekly service/suspension issues.

Okehampton is a mystery given it saw no scheduled trains between September 2019 and November 2021. The official database admits "There is uncertainty around the estimated entries and exits at this station" and "Possible over-estimate", but that hasn't stopped them going ahead and publishing an entirely implausible passenger total of 6. Tygwyn's 4 is also described as a "Possible over-estimate", so is quite possibly another zero, but maybe someone got off there before social distancing closed the station in June.

Meanwhile last year's least used station, Berney Arms, has piled on the passengers and is no longer in the Bottom 100. This has made a lot of people very excited, whereas really it's because last year's figures were entirely uncharacteristic thanks to the station being closed for 47 weeks due to signalling upgrade works. Open it for 52 weeks, even during a pandemic, and passenger numbers rocket from 42 to 348. Remember this in 2022 because you should never read too much into what happens the year after something wholly abnormal, which is precisely what next year will be.

» Rail passenger data here (total annual entry and exit frequencies)
» Previous updates: 19/20, 18/19, 17/18 16/17, 15/16 14/15, 13/14, 12/13, 11/12, 10/11, 09/10, 08/09, 07/08, 06/07, 05/06

» Anorak Corner [tube edition]
» Anorak Corner [bus edition]

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