Railway Geography: Winners and Losers

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willgreen

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I thought this'd be an interesting question - which towns/cities receive a better or worse service than they deserve based on population, due to their location on the railway?
I'll start with a couple of northeastern examples. Sunderland gets a pretty awful service, with 1tph to Newcastle and Middlesbrough plus a few daily departures to London (alongside the Metro, but even that isn't exactly a great service for the city's size). On the other hand, Durham sees most trains stop there, with around 5tph each way. There's plenty of demand from students and it does act as a railhead for the area, but based purely on population it's better served than it arguably deserves due to its position on the ECML.
What other examples are there? Try not to look at travel patterns too much - e.g. most Mackems working in Sunderland, so there doesn't need to be a good service. The question is which towns lose out or gain based on their respective locations on the network.
 
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OldNick

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I'd say Bristol Temple Meads is a winner - owing to its location it's almost a hub - you can go north, south, east and west plus the Severn Beach line.
 

Stuwhu

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Oxenholme must be a winner. Tiny village with trains to the capitals of England and Scotland, and the major cities of Glasgow, Birmingham and Manchester
 

stuu

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Castle Cary. A village of 2000 with regular fast trains to London and the South west, whilst other nearby larger towns lost their railway altogether or have a worse service
 

LNW-GW Joint

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Places like Crewe and Swindon always crop up as places that hardly existed before the railway arrived.
Crewe still dominates the railway at the expense of much bigger places in the area like Stoke and (now) Telford, and this will be further enhanced with HS2.
In the 1840s when the main lines were being built, Chester was by far the biggest place in Cheshire, and Birkenhead hardly existed as an urban area.
Now Chester is on a par with Wrexham and much smaller than Stockport and Warrington, with Ellesmere Port fast catching up.
It's the same with Milton Keynes and Northampton, the former only exists because of the railway, while the latter deliberately refused to be on the main line.

Closures and downsizing over the years also often favoured the distant "junction" station rather than the town centre.
Places like Cheltenham and Oswestry both lost their central stations as a result.
Oxenholme is one of those (adjacent Kendal being a much bigger place).
 

Mcr Warrior

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Agree with @LNW-GW Joint. Crewe as a strategically located railway junction town still has direct services to London and Scotland, Manchester and Liverpool, the North Wales coast, Shrewsbury and South Wales, Stoke-on-Trent and Derby, and Birmingham / Reading. Not bad for a relatively small place, population c. 70thd.
 

PTR 444

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Brockenhurst - small village with a population of 3,552, but served by 4tph on the mainline owing to its four platforms and location at the junction of the Lymington Branch.

Totton - much larger settlement with a population of 28,970 but only served by 1tph. This should increase if passenger service is reinstated on the Fawley branch, but even so is unlikely to ever see the high service intensity that Brockenhurst gets.
 

DelW

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As well as places largely created by the railways, like Crewe and Swindon (and I'd suggest Doncaster), there are places where two routes happened to cross, like Newark and Retford.

It's the same with Milton Keynes and Northampton, the former only exists because of the railway, while the latter deliberately refused to be on the main line.
I'm not convinced that the WCML was much of a factor in the creation of Milton Keynes. At the time it was being planned, railways were largely considered old fashioned and even obsolete, while the car was king. This was shown by the early construction of the grid system of main roads, while for years the only railway stations were on the fringes at Bletchley and Wolverton. I think the nearness of the M1 would have been a much bigger influence.
 
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Hadders

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Milton Keynes station was an afterthought, the town was designed around the car, not the railway.
 

ac6000cw

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Also MK was planned from the beginning to become large enough for it to be a viable self-contained city, without needing commuting to London for work.

I think Worcester rather lost out when the Birmingham & Gloucester railway bypassed it well to the east, largely cutting it off from direct long-distance north-south services to this day.

Ely is the junction of five fairly busy lines, but is relatively small (18,000 population).
 
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Several towns and one city with substantial populations have services inadequate to tap the full potential: Burnley, Lincoln, Mansfield, Barnsley and Rochdale being obvious examples. Why does Huddersfield not have a regular service to London? What is the travel time between Halifax and Sheffield?
 

LSWR Cavalier

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MK was planned as a city to live and work, the railway is on the fringe, MK Central was opened later. But lots of people commute from there to London now, what went wrong?
 

Hadders

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MK was planned as a city to live and work, the railway is on the fringe, MK Central was opened later. But lots of people commute from there to London now, what went wrong?
People regularly move jobs these days to further their development and careers. The days of staying with one employer for life no longer happens. London will always be attractive from a work perspective due to the opportunities it provides and so it's hardly surprising that people will travel there.
 

Ianno87

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People regularly move jobs these days to further their development and careers. The days of staying with one employer for life no longer happens. London will always be attractive from a work perspective due to the opportunities it provides and so it's hardly surprising that people will travel there.

And, to be frank, nobody in their right mind wants to spend ever waking minute of their lives in one town (and especially MK)
 

Glenn1969

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Bradford. An express railway backwater with both its stations on dead ends. I have always thought it gets the worst service for a city of its size in England

Think stations like Retford, Newark and Grantham are obvious winners
 

Western Lord

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MK was planned as a city to live and work, the railway is on the fringe, MK Central was opened later. But lots of people commute from there to London now, what went wrong?
The same with all new towns. You were supposed to live, work and play in the town and if any consideration was given to outside transport options it was access to a good road. Stations at Basildon and Stevenage came many years after the new town was established (although Stevenage had the old station). At Harlow and Hemel Hempstead the stations were a long hike from the centre (and all uphill at Harlow where the town centre was proudly called The High being, unhelpfully for those on foot, on the highest part of the site).
 

Merle Haggard

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It's the same with Milton Keynes and Northampton, the former only exists because of the railway, while the latter deliberately refused to be on the main line.

That's a myth, thought it had been de-bunked long ago.

The L&B was engineered with shallow gradients, mostly gentler than 1 in 300, reflecting the limitations of steam locomotives in 1840. Problem was its low position - have a look at the gradients on the New Line, particularly climbing to Roade (where the L&B is already in a deep cutting)

The population of the town is around 200,000, so not being on the main line doesn't seem to have caused its death. Having the M1 marking the town boundary on the West side and dual carriageways East- and Westwards may be more important factors than an attractive train service nowadays.
 

swt_passenger

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Totton - much larger settlement with a population of 28,970 but only served by 1tph. This should increase if passenger service is reinstated on the Fawley branch, but even so is unlikely to ever see the high service intensity that Brockenhurst gets.
Should increase to 2 tph even without the Fawley branch if they ever run the consulted 2019 timetable…

But in the thread context, I don’t think the poor service at Totton is actually due to its location, is it?
 

mds86

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Closures and downsizing over the years also often favoured the distant "junction" station rather than the town centre.
Places like Cheltenham and Oswestry both lost their central stations as a result.
Oxenholme is one of those (adjacent Kendal being a much bigger place).

I'd argue that Cheltenham is a winner now as despite losing it's centrally located terminus, it's current station now has every passenger train that passes through it now call. With the expansion of the town, the station is now definitely part of the urban area and is only a 10 - 15 min walk from the town centre.

Gloucester on the other hand closed its main through station (LMS) and kept the GWR station open, which now results in trains travelling north - south to reverse adding 10 minutes to the journey time or missing the city station completely on the bypass line.
 

LSWR Cavalier

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Surely Gloucester would be a good place for an interesting new triangular station.

As for MK, I used to know it, I bet it has got even better now. Would not mind living and working there, but not living there and working in the metropolis, earning thousands more just to pay for travelling back and forth.
 

LNW-GW Joint

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That's a myth, thought it had been de-bunked long ago.
Gradients were certainly a factor, but didn't the Earl Spencer of the day refuse to have the railway cross his land at Althorp, thus causing the L&B to route the line further to the west?
Further north (and a decade later) at Shugborough, the Trent Valley Railway was able to placate Earl Lichfield with a cutting and tunnel to keep trains out of his sight.
 

tony6499

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Barnham, hardly anyone lives there but due to the junction and moving the train crew depots there everything stops there
 

Pokelet

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Also MK was planned from the beginning to become large enough for it to be a viable self-contained city, without needing commuting to London for work.

I think Worcester rather lost out when the Birmingham & Gloucester railway bypassed it well to the east, largely cutting it off from direct long-distance north-south services to this day.

Ely is the junction of five fairly busy lines, but is relatively small (18,000 population).

Worcester (via Worcestershire Parkway) has now been somewhat artificially attached to the Birmingham and Gloucester, it adds an additional stop on the Cotswold line that most trains stop at and on the Cross Country line only the Nottingham-Cardiff's stop, which from memory are rather overcrowded in normal times.

Ironically there are a fair few XC services through Worcester itself for diversion route retention purposes, these are non stop at the extremes of the day and then get to Droitwich and either rejoin the main line at Stoke Works or take the longer route via Kidderminster and the Galton Jnc curve in to New Street via Soho.
 

RH Liner

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Bradford. An express railway backwater with both its stations on dead ends. I have always thought it gets the worst service for a city of its size in England

Think stations like Retford, Newark and Grantham are obvious winners
Retford not so much nowadays. Its important junction status was severely curtailed by the underpass which moved the new platforms a route march from the ECML ones. With the major junction status gone far fewer ECML trains now call than used to be the case.
 

edwin_m

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People regularly move jobs these days to further their development and careers. The days of staying with one employer for life no longer happens. London will always be attractive from a work perspective due to the opportunities it provides and so it's hardly surprising that people will travel there.

The same with all new towns. You were supposed to live, work and play in the town and if any consideration was given to outside transport options it was access to a good road. Stations at Basildon and Stevenage came many years after the new town was established (although Stevenage had the old station). At Harlow and Hemel Hempstead the stations were a long hike from the centre (and all uphill at Harlow where the town centre was proudly called The High being, unhelpfully for those on foot, on the highest part of the site).
The other thing this ignored was households with two wage earners, which became possible with the automation of domestic tasks like washing but (slightly tongue in cheek) also necessary to be able to afford the appliances in question and the childcare and the second car to get to the second job... It becomes much harder to live close to work if the household members work in different places.
I'd argue that Cheltenham is a winner now as despite losing it's centrally located terminus, it's current station now has every passenger train that passes through it now call. With the expansion of the town, the station is now definitely part of the urban area and is only a 10 - 15 min walk from the town centre.

Gloucester on the other hand closed its main through station (LMS) and kept the GWR station open, which now results in trains travelling north - south to reverse adding 10 minutes to the journey time or missing the city station completely on the bypass line.
For a much longer period Derby has won out over Nottingham despite being smaller. Derby has through trains to as far away as Penzance and Aberdeen as well as a much better service to Birmingham, but Nottingham has nothing to anywhere north of Leeds and an hourly DMU to Norwich and Liverpool doesn't really compensate.
 

Merle Haggard

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Gradients were certainly a factor, but didn't the Earl Spencer of the day refuse to have the railway cross his land at Althorp, thus causing the L&B to route the line further to the west?

Quite possibly, but it usually seems to be implied that it was the town's residents that opposed the railway rather than country landowners.

The L&B (long before the days of compulsory purchase for national infrastructure projects) had to contend with landowners refusing to sell, I think; if you look on a map at how the line between Roade and Rugby veers about (count the number of tilts!) there must have been quite a bit of reluctance - although serving Weedon (then an important military and strategic location - we had only just finished fighting the French) might also have been a factor. And there's roads around here that divert around country estates - following the three sides of a rectangle, usually with a high stone wall. Presumably, they once ran in a straight (ish) line, but you could see poor people from the withdrawing room...

I liked a story about a landowner which might, of course, be another myth. One near the L&B (possibly near Coventry) was so offended by the sight of trains full of common people passing his estate that he sold up and moved far, far away. To somewhere that, he thought, there would never, ever, be a railway.
He chose Dawlish :D
 

317 forever

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Reading and Oxford are similar sizes but while Oxford does have a reasonable service in some directions, Reading is a major hub.

Nearby High Wycombe is about half the size but has only relatively limited destinations available on a through train.

Halifax and Huddersfield are similar sizes. Although Huddersfield has the better train service, the margin of difference is less than we would expect if we compare the sizes of the stations.

Carmarthen has a relatively limited service for a town of its size.

Ely has a better than average service for a town its size.
 

LNW-GW Joint

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Carstairs, a tiny place on the edge of moorland, had a remarkably good service from its strategic position as a junction on the Caledonian for Edinburgh.
But when the railway decided to give up portion working, the service dropped to almost nothing.
I guess you could say Willesden Jn suffered in the same way, as it once had platforms on the main line.
In BR days Watford Jn took over the role of suburban interchange, but recently even Watford has been largely supplanted in that role by Milton Keynes.
And in due course Old Oak Common will take on the role for HS2.

It's a bit like airlines giving up intermediate stops because of the increased range of modern aircraft.
Places like Anchorage (Alaska), Papeete (Tahiti) and Sal (Cape Verde Islands) are all now bypassed by the airlines that were more or less forced to stop there to refuel.
Qantas are now gearing up for non-stop flights from London to Australia (currently serving Perth), missing out all the middle/far east points which used to be the backbone of the "Kangaroo" service.
 
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Parallel

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I think Westbury is reasonably lucky in the way that its a junction station so gets about half the London Paddington - Devon/Cornwall trains. It’s also a train crew depot.

The other towns near it are larger but get a worse service. Frome is an example of very unfortunate geography/station location.
 
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