Page last updated at 13:11 GMT, Tuesday, 17 November 2009

What makes a terrible railway station?

Clapham Junction
Clapham Junction could be twinned with the outer circle of hell

By Finlo Rohrer and Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Magazine

The Transport Secretary Lord Adonis is touring the 10 railway stations in England that are most in need of improvements. But what makes a bad railway station?

It's not too difficult to picture the scene.

Thanks to some feeble excuse on the part of the train company you've missed your connection to Far-Away-In-The-Dales, and now you're going to be stuck for an hour in the station.

It gives you a chance to look around and you don't like what you see.

THE WORST 10?
Luton station
Clapham Junction
Barking
Wigan North Western
Warrington Bank Quay
Manchester Victoria
Preston
Crewe
Stockport
Luton
Liverpool Central
No ranking

A dandelion springs at a strange angle out of the cracked concrete of the platform. Rust gently nibbles at the edges of signage. Water dripping from cracks in the roof has crossed the ancient girders and spread virulent green streaks down the walls.

The waiting rooms have been kindly decorated with spit, and the toilets? The horror. The horror.

Most of us thinking about bad railway experiences think about the mysterious cancellations and the wanton delays, but there must be a place for bad stations too.

On at least one of Clapham Junction's 17 platforms a sign proudly welcomes passengers to "Britain's busiest railway station".

It features in the list of the most neglected, and the signs of decay that have taken it there are everywhere.

In rush hours scores of passengers at a time spill out of trains that pass through this linch-pin of the South East rail network, thronging each platform's woefully narrow exit. They patiently pigeon step their way to the descending staircase, assailed by the waft of sausage rolls that seeps out of the myriad snack bars.

England's 10 worst stations

The huddle will inch its way down the stairs, as a mother attempts to bump a pushchair in the opposite direction. At the bottom is a dank and dark underpass, not much wider than a train carriage itself, that connects all the platforms and leads the lucky to the station exit.

First opened in the mid-19th Century, Clapham Junction has been patched and mended, but displays many of the trappings of a piece of Victorian public infrastructure struggling to keep up with the demands of the 21st Century.

E-MAIL YOUR PICS
Send us a picture of your least favourite railway station
Either upload it to the BBC Flickr group
Or e-mail it to us at yourpics@bbc.co.uk - subject line 'BAD STATION'
Either way, don't forget to say WHERE the station is YOUR NAME
When taking photos or filming please do not endanger yourself or others, take unnecessary risks or infringe any laws

Weeds sprout through the track ballast and vie with discarded crisp packets and drink cans. And when it rains, passengers are well advised to keep umbrellas aloft even when sheltering under the "cover" of the platform roofs.

Liverpool Central, which is also on the list, is a rail station frozen in time. The enduring theme is scratched brown plastic, dismally redolent of the 1970s. Black vinyl floors polka-dotted with chewing gum are overlooked by walls part covered with grey-beige corrugated metal and finished with brickwork rendered filthy by the water from above.

Clapham Junction's story is about space. It is crammed into an area where expansion presents a logistical nightmare. Liverpool Central's problem has been a lack of funding.

But these aesthetic concerns, while not unimportant, are not what irk passengers most, says Anthony Smith, chief executive of Passenger Focus.

The most important quality in stations is personal security. "The key to that is presence of staff backed up by cameras and help points."

It is that very absence of staff, combined with dereliction that led Lord Adonis in July to label Wakefield Kirkgate as "probably the worst 'medium-large' station I have seen in Britain". After a number of serious crimes at the station, work started the next month on some improvements.

Eastbourne passenger lounge
Would waiting rooms be nicer with proper sofas?

As well as security, parking, both of cars and bicycles, is a major issue. At stations in commuter areas, the lack of parking encourages people to drive rather than take the train, and a Passenger Focus survey found it was the aspect of stations that most people were unhappy with.

Another major factor for bad stations is the lack of information, says Mr Smith. In the absence of live train information, travellers at unstaffed stations can feel rather unsettled.

The ultimate factor behind these stations tends to be lack of investment. Where that has been lavish - as in the case of London's St Pancras - the results can be fantastic. The resulting cathedral of rail tops favourite station polls.

On a much smaller scale, says Mr Smith, Eastbourne station's waiting room is an example of how to make things a bit nicer, with the additions of plants, proper sofas and so on.

For most stations, even the announcement of £50m of funding for national improvements will not be enough to lift unloved stops out of the abyss.


Please send examples of the worst railway stations you have encountered using the form below. Your can also send us a picture - upload it to the BBC Flickr group Or e-mail it to us at yourpics@bbc.co.uk - subject line 'BAD STATION'. Don't forget to include where the picture is of, and your name and location. When taking photos or filming please do not endanger yourself or others, take unnecessary risks or infringe any laws.

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The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.




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