diamond geezer

 Wednesday, November 02, 2022

London's shuttliest train services

As Crossrail prepares to join up, what about the London train services that still operate in tiny chunks? These, I think, are the shortest shuttles in the capital.

2 stations

Bank - Waterloo
No London rail service is shuttlier than the Waterloo & City line. The Drain has been nipping back and forth beneath the Thames since 1898 because it wouldn't be easy to skip from Surrey to the Square Mile otherwise. The line's a mile and a half long with no other connections, indeed so disjoint they have to winch the trains in and out when they need repairs. The trains are platform-cloggingly busy in the peaks, in one direction only, and a vacant zippy luxury at other times. Since the pandemic the W&C's been closed at weekends and may never return to 7-day service, but it remains the shuttliest train service of them all.

No longer shuttly: Finchley Central → Mill Hill East, Holborn → Aldwych, Acton Town → South Acton
Not in London and no longer shuttly: Chalfont & Latimer → Chesham
Not a train: Dangleway North → Dangleway South

3 stations

High Street Kensington - Kensington Olympia
The tube's only three-station shuttle is the District line horseshoe pootling round Kensington. These days it operates a barely worthwhile service on weekdays - early morning and early evening only - and a more useful 20-minute frequency at weekends. It's so insignificant a service that there are signs at Earl's Court recommending you go to Olympia via West Brompton and the Overground instead, and unless there's an exhibition on you can generally count on having half the train to yourself. Long may it linger, although it's hard to argue why it still does.

Romford - Upminster
Ah, it's the Overground's lowliest outpost. All the rest of the orange lines go somewhere useful in an interconnected way, but this lone train just shuttles up and down its single track through the duller parts of Havering. When they close it at weekends for engineering works, which is surprisingly often, they just tell people to take the 370 bus and hardly anyone suffers. Intermediate station Emerson Park is regularly the Overground's least used station, and we love it all the more for that.

Grove Park - Bromley North
This is southeast London's contribution to the shuttle list, a proper spur off the mainline to deliver folk to the less useful side of Bromley town centre. The journey takes five minutes and is generally timed to connect with a fast train to/from London Bridge, because otherwise what would be the point? They run it every 20 minutes in the peaks and sometimes half-hourly inbetween if that connects better, and not at all on Sundays. How grand the entrance to Bromley North looks, and how disappointing what lies beyond.

Paddington - Heathrow Terminal 5
The Heathrow Express is a technically a three-station shuttle. The first stop costs an eyewatering amount and the second stop is free, because that's airport tariffs for you. Tourists and the time-poor pay up happily, but those flying from T4 or T5 discover it's not particularly 'express' once you get to Heathrow, and my god the station architecture is downright depressing throughout. Once Crossrail starts running through central London next week let's hope it dies a slow death.

4 stations

I don't believe there are any four-stop London shuttles. Maybe there never were.

5 stations

Greenford - West Ealing
Here's GWR's west London oddity, lopped off from the rest of their network in 2016 in preparation for Crossrail. It was never well-frequented, this sideshow through the backside of Ealing, and is even less so now you have to change at West Ealing to get any further into town. Things might improve next week when that single change can now deliver you to the West End, but don't count on it.

Woodford - Hainault
The Central line is no longer a full Hainault loop, they separated off the Woodford to Hainault section in January 2020 so they could run four-car trains back and forth. Officially it's only while they upgrade all the Central line rolling stock but that could take ages so expect severedness for some time to come. It's only what used to be the norm back in the 1980s, and probably all that the least section of the Underground deserves. And yes, technically the three intermediate stations are in Essex but the shuttle starts and finishes in Greater London so I've included it in my list anyway.

Meridian Water - Stratford
I wasn't sure whether to include this one either, given that these half-hourly trains are interleaved with services going all the way to Bishops Stortford. But they do rattle back and forth serving just five stations, so let's say yes. It's not been a particularly long list anyway.

...and I additionally wondered...

Britain's shuttliest train services

2 stations: Cardiff Queen Street → Cardiff Bay, Slough → Windsor & Eton Central, Stourbridge Junction → Stourbridge Town
3 stations: Brockenhurst → Lymington Pier, Lancaster → Morecambe
4 stations: Marks Tey → Sudbury, Twyford → Henley-on-Thames
5 stations: Exeter Central → Okehampton, Guildford → Farnham, Ipswich → Felixstowe, Maidenhead → Marlow, Ormskirk → Preston, Oxenholme → Windermere, Reading → Basingstoke, St Erth → St Ives, Sittingbourne → Sheerness, Stockport → Stalybridge, Swindon → Westbury

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