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RIP Paddington to West Ruislip: How the UK's "ghost trains" perform

Parliamentary train performance

Posted 3rd December 2018

Paddington to West Ruislip ghost train

Last week The Londonist reported that the little-heard-of Paddington to West Ruislip train will be no more from December 2018's timetable change. That means that this week is the last time this quirk of the train system will run.

What are parliamentary or "ghost" trains?

After the so-called Beeching Axe of the 1960s which permanently closed much of Britain's railway network and stations, MPs in the UK made it much harder for trains companies to close lines or stations - requiring them to go through an expensive and time-consuming consultation period and risk objections to their plans which may then never come to fruition. Instead, train companies realised it was easier and cheaper to keep the line open and serve any stations on it infrequently rather than go through that process.

According to the law, just a single service once a week and only in one direction is enough to prevent train companies from having to go through the closure process. Putting on an old train carrying one member of staff down the line once a week is clearly much cheaper for the companies, and sometimes it serves a secondary purpose too such as driver training or getting trains into position for a later, more common service.

The times of these trains are usually in extreme off-peak - perhaps at 3pm on a Saturday or 11pm at night - which obviously raises the question of "if they were to run trains at decent times, would people actually use them?" The answer to that question may never be known - and in the case of Paddington to West Ruislip, the opportunity to find out will be lost forever from this Friday. The lines the train runs on are being ripped up to make way for improvements to Euston station for the High Speed 2 project.

However, there are other such trains running all around the UK - at most just a handful of times a week, often timed to be inconvenient, and sometimes even running in one direction only making a return journey impossible.

After our look at the performance of the least-used stations across the UK a fortnight ago, we thought it would be fun to look at some of the least-used trains and compare how well they run.

06:33 Battersea Park to Dalston Junction / 22:04 Dalston Junction to Battersea Park / 23:03 Battersea Park to Dalston Junction

This curious triplet of services, weekdays only, is run by London Overground, on a small section of track which terminates at Battersea Park. Presumably the line is still open as it may serve more of a purpose once the power station has been redeveloped and the Underground's Northern Line Extension has been completed.

For now, though, just three trains a day make this short journey before re-joining the main Overground route and forming a "normal" service at the very next station.

As for how well they've run? Almost an unblemished record for the last fortnight - with both the 06:33 and the 22:04 at 100% on time departing and arriving, but the 23:03 arriving late just once - by 12 minutes on 23rd November.

Performance charts

00:15 London Charing Cross to Tunbridge Wells / 04:45 Tonbridge to London Charing Cross

This couple of trains form the only return journey over a curved piece of track between Beckenham Junction and New Beckenham stations, although don't stop at either of them. They also run on Thursdays and Fridays only! The curve forms the start of a diversion route for Southeastern trains were there to ever be a problem with the main line, so keeping these trains running serves as a training opportunity for drivers to maintain knowledge of the route should they ever need it on a more regular basis.

For just four trains in the data, these two have an average track record, with the 04:45 having a 100% timekeeping record, and the 00:15 a 25% departure delay, and 50% arrival delay - although with the longest arrival delay being only 3 minutes, we don't think anyone will really notice!

Performance charts

06:35 Northampton to Crewe

This train has the privilege of being the only train to stop at lonely Polesworth station in Warwickshire. Despite trains passing through every other minute in the peaks - rushing through to places like Blackpool, London or Glasgow - all but one miss out this station.

When the West Coast Mainline was upgraded in 2015, the footbridge to the southbound platform was removed for the works and never replaced. Rather than close the station entirely, the operator London Northwestern continues to provide this one train, northbound only, once a day Monday to Saturday.

Performance charts

Its performance over the last fortnight is respectable: 8 departures on time, and 3 a little late (2 minutes is the longest delay departing Polesworth). Arriving at its destination of Crewe, however, is worse: only 4 arrived on time, with the latest arrival 7 minutes behind schedule.

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13:18 Whitlocks End to Great Malvern

A train operated by West Midlands Railway, there is one station on this train's route which is served exclusively by this particular service: Bordesley. But passengers get even less here: It is the only train all week which calls here - and there is not even a return journey available!

Occasionally extra trains do stop here - when local football club Birmingham City play home matches.

But for the last fortnight, with only two trains to compare, the red colour is stark:

Performance charts

On 1st December, to add insult to injury, the train was cancelled between Whitlocks End and Bordesley and started instead at Birmingham Moor Street - resulting in a 50% cancellation rate over the last fortnight.

Have you ever had to wait a week for a train?!

06:03 Carnoustie to Dundee / 17:11 Glasgow to Carnoustie

In comparison to Bordesley, passengers on this line have an almost infinite choice of trains: 1 ScotRail train a day, and they get the luxury of a return journey!

Dundee, Glasgow and Carnoustie have plenty of trains arriving and departing, but only one train in each direction which graces the smaller stops on Scotland's east coast with its presence: Golf Street, Barry Links and Balmossie receive these services Monday to Friday, and nothing else.

How do these plucky little trains fare? Rather badly - From the last fortnight towards Carnoustie, only 55% of trains were on time, with 9% cancelled and 36% late:

Performance charts

And the return journey? 75% of the trains towards Dundee have been on time, but a massive 17% were cancelled altogether.

Performance charts

06:53 Worcester to Didcot / 16:22 London to Great Malvern

This duo of trains are run by GWR - and are the only two trains to ever call at Finstock, and only Monday to Friday - so travellers to and from this Oxfordshire village station have very few journey options. Even so, these two trains probably have the worst statistics in this article!

Here's the outward journey towards Didcot:

Performance charts

The train is mostly on time departing Worcester Foregate Street, with only two delays of just 1 minute and 2 minutes. However by the time it reaches the end of its journey, it has been cancelled twice in the last fortnight and late 27% of the time. Didcot Parkway itself seems to be the issue here, as both cancellations were only at that station and the train terminated short at Oxford on both occasions.

Things are only slightly better with the return journey - the train departed its origin of London Paddington on time 100% of the time - but 80% of the time it arrived at its destination Great Malvern late, with only 2 on-time arrivals in the last fortnight:

Performance charts

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