Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Station Refurbishments - but the UK's worst ignored?

Today advisors to the UK's Department of Transport published a report naming the UK's ten worst railway stations, claimed to fall short of 'proposed minimum standards'. The report recommends that the stations be specifically targeted for refurbishment. The ten stations named were:

Five of these stations are on the West Coast Main Line, or branches of it, which was recently upgraded in a £9bn project with central government funding, although cash was clearly not found to do anything about the state of the stations. Three of the stations, Barking, Clapham Junction, and Luton are busy south-eastern commuter stations which have been unloved by their franchisees for years, although keeping these stations in a good condition must be difficult due to the sheer numbers of people passing through them. Additionally with stations owned by Network Rail, the infrastructure provider and run by the franchisees, the division of responsibility for their long term condition is difficult to determine. A company which may only operate a site for a further five years does not have a great incentive to invest in it, particularly if the station is on a commuter route that locals will use regardless of its condition.

However, this may not be the full picture. The forgotten parts of the UK railway network are the large network of regional lines in the midlands, north and west of England. Such regional lines do not go anywhere near London and effectively exist to provide basic public transport. They are also not funded as well as their Scottish and Welsh counterparts. One such station on this network is Wakefield Kirkgate. Kirkgate is the second station in Wakefield, a town of 76,886 people, but in the 2006-7 financial year only 769 people bought tickets to or from it, though 61,000 changed trains there. While East Coast services to London serve the town's Westgate station, Kirkgate, is the neglected hub for four different regional rail routes, serving places like Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham, and there are also plans for an 'open-access' service to London. The simple reasons that so few people travel to or from Wakefield via the station are its lack of staff, and the state of abandonment of many of its buildings, built in 1854, which make it a dangerous place to enter or exit at night. Kirkgate is typical of many Victorian stations which have lost services over the years in that many surplus buildings have been left, with no use found for them, and is in such a bad condition that a wall collapsed in 2008 crushing a parked car. The franchisee Northern Rail, which relies on government subsidy, are unwilling or unable to improve the station while Network Rail and the local council have also failed to act. The Rail Minister, Lord Adonis even admitted the station is the UK's worst 'medium-large station' when he visited in July 2009; in the same week a man was attacked at the station with a baseball bat. Worse still, a young woman was raped there in October 2008. Why then, did Kirkgate fail to make today's list? It couldn't possibly be because it has no Inter-City level services or is outside the south-east, could it? A business opportunity is being missed here, as more people would surely use the station if it was a safer and more attractive place.

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About Me

London, United Kingdom
I'm Lecturer in Management at The York Management School, at The University of York, UK. I teach strategic management to undergraduate and masters students, as well as running the masters dissertation module. My research focuses on business and management history.