Some of the world’s busiest train stations are located in Japan. Indeed, as per statistics that surfaced in 2013, out of the top 51 train stations in the world, all but six are located in this small but suffocatingly dense island nation. The busiest of them all —the Shinjuku Station in Tokyo— handles a staggering 3.6 million passengers every single day, or 1.3 billion riders a year. In contrast, the Shippea Hill station in Cambridgeshire, Britain, has an average of just one passenger per month making it the least-busiest train station, at least in Britain. The station is served by only one train on weekdays, which arrives from Cambridge but stops for passengers only if requested in advance. On most days there are no passengers. On its way back to Cambridge, the train doesn’t even stop.
The Shippea Hill station. Photo credit: Justin Perkins/Flickr
“It’s hard to imagine a more desolate place to get off a train,” writes Simon Usborne for The Guardian. “Shipping containers for sale stand in a muddy yard behind the far platform, opposite the pitched-roof signal box, now shuttered. Otherwise the view is of field after field, some showing maize stumps, others now peat-black and ploughed.”
But it wasn’t always like this. In its glory days Shippea Hill used to have two freight trains leave every day loaded with vegetables that were distributed across the region and to London. Hundreds of passengers used the station, including airmen from nearby RAF Lakenheath. Then time changed. Trucks replaced vegetable trains and the community that grew up around the vegetable trade slowly died out. The church and village hall disappeared, and the school closed in the 1970s. The village is now incredible deserted.
Photo credit: Martyn Fordham/Flickr
Photo credit: John Illingworth/Flickr
If Shippea Hill’s story sounds sad and depressing, here is a heart warming one that is sure to raise your sprits.
The Kyu-Shirataki train station, on the island of Hokkaido, Japan, is also very quiet. Train stops here only two times a day—once in the morning to pick Kana Harada, a high school student on her way to school, and once in the evening to bring her home again. Kana Harada is, or rather was, the station’s only passenger.
A few years ago, Hokkaido Railway Co, the operator of the line had almost closed the station because of its remote location and the lack of passengers, but when they learned that the station’s lonely passenger was a student they decided to keep it alive. Every morning the train would arrive at seven in the morning to pick her up and again at five in the afternoon to drop her. The company had announced that the line would stay open until she graduated from high school in March 2016. When the day came a handful of local residents gathered holding banners that read “Kyu-shirataki station, 69 years, Thank You!” to watch the last train pull in. They were greeted with treats from staff members.
As far as other quiet stations go, most of them appear to be in Britain. According to figures released by the Office of Rail and Road, UK, in December 2016, the top ten least-used stations in the UK, by number of passengers carried during year 2015-16 are:
- Shippea Hill (Cambridgeshire) – 12
- Reddish South (Greater Manchester) – 38
- Pilning (Gloucestershire) – 46
- Coombe Junction Halt (Cornwall) – 48
- Barry Links (Angus) – 68
- Denton (Greater Manchester) – 74
- Stanlow & Thornton (Cheshire) – 88
- Teesside Airport (County Durham) – 98
- Chapelton (Devon) – 100
- Clifton (Greater Manchester) – 116
With so few passengers, why do these British trains even bother to run? Because, ironically, it’s cheaper to keep the line open than to close it. Closing down a line is a long-winding bureaucratic process that involves costly consultation, government approval and the inevitable public protest. So many train operators keep running empty trains to avoid the costs and political fallout, and to maintain the pretense that the service has not been withdrawn. These trains are officially known as "parliamentary trains". The name comes from an archaic Act of Parliament passed in 1844 that required train operators to provide inexpensive and basic railway travel for less affluent passengers. While the law no longer holds, the pressure to keep the line operational still remains.
Often, these ghost trains run at inconvenient times like very early in the morning, or very late at night, or in the middle of the day at the weekend, so as to have no passengers.
On a positive side, ghost trains keep the hope alive that the line may become more regular again in the future. Once a service is closed entirely, infrastructure deteriorates and the decay becomes irreversible. Keeping trains running, even if its empty, helps maintain the infrastructure.
A parliamentary train. Photo credit: Shawn Spencer-Smith/Flickr
A parliamentary train pulls into Paddington station. Photo credit: Roger Marks/Flickr
In the United States, the least-used station served by Amtrak is in Sanderson, Texas, with 238 boardings and alightings during the year 2014. Another Amtrak station, in Thurmond, West Virginia, had 295 boardings and alightings in 2015. It is the second least-busy station in the country. Amtrak's third least-busy station, in Alderson, West Virginia, had a significant—compared to British stations—432 boardings and alightings in 2015.
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