09 December 2009

England's worst railway station

This unfortunate accolade goes to Manchester Victoria, following details published in the 'Better Rail Stations' report by Sir Peter Hall and Chris Green - the 'Station Champions'. Their new positions were created following Lord Andrew Adonis' trip across the UK using an All-lines Railrover. Lord Adonis, who occupied the role of Transport Minister at the time, was critical of the state in which many rail stations through which he passed were to be found.

Manchester Victoria's main entrance is not a grand affair, though the original Victorian architecture remains in excellent condition.

While few can argue countless positives to be had about Manchester Victoria - half of which lies under the MEN Arena, small comfort can be had so far as the way in which this title was arrived at. Simply, Manchester Victoria is England's worst railways station for scoring the lowest in passenger satisfaction ratings, undertaken for the 'Better Rail Stations' report following unannounced visitations by paid snoopers, NOT representations of the passengers who use it on a daily basis.

I'll be honest: I was staggered that Manchester Victoria was rated at only 32% passenger satisfaction. While I'll concede that it has seen better days, it is certainly no worse than some other mainline stations through which I've travelled over the past year. The original Victorian buildings continue to see day-to-day use as a ticket hall, newsagents and a pub/bar; and the concourse is virtually all under cover and offers seamless passage for those interchanging between heavy and light rail - and the MEN Arena.

The Manchester Metrolink joins TOC Northern in serving the station. Seen here is tram 1018 heading south towards Piccadilly, having just left Victoria.

Opened in 1839, the Manchester & Leeds Railway's (M&LR) central Manchester station was a very grand affair indeed, though hasn't been maintained to the same standard since. In the 1990s, an IRA bomb attack damaged the roof which, as yet, still awaits repair - to the tune of £25-30 million, though we understand both Network Rail (NR) and Greater Manchester PTE do plan on co-funding the repair cost. What Samuel Brooks, vice-chairman of the M&LR, didn't have in mind, when in 1838 he purchased the land on which sits the station sits today, was the lewd behaviour that has been associated with the gents' toilets - now devoid of cubicles as a result of uncontrollable soliciting.

An article I read recently suggested de-cluttering Manchester Victoria's concourse and adding lots of glass, as has been done at nearby Piccadilly. While this would make an improvement to the aesthetics, it would clash somewhat with the original buildings, all of which are in use and appear in reasonable repair. However, anyone who's visited the station's pub/bar won't have missed the superb domed roof that overwhelms the establishment. M'colleague and I have had a beverage or two in here on many occasions.

Back to the 'Better Rail Stations' report, and consistent minimum standards have been called for - railway signage (so as to keep costs down if another TOC is awarded the franchise), an 80% passenger satisfaction rating and a 60% increase on increase from associated retail outlets therein. The report suggests the latter could collectively be worth £44 million a year. Lord Adonis, after visiting some of the worse-rated stations last month, called additionally for 'clean and decent' facilities (would you ask for any other sort?), real-time information as standard, better car parks and the doubling of cycle provision.

This comes at a cost, as the Transport Secretary knows only too well, though he has put his money where his mouth is to an extent, by pledging £50 million towards these improvements. NR has pledged a £3.25 billion investment programme, though this includes money already secured by its partners (local authorities, PTEs and the DfT).

Worst Rail Stations (satisfaction in parenthesis)
  1. Manchester Victoria (32%)
  2. Clapham Junction (39%)
  3. Crewe (42%)
  4. Warrington Bank Quay (44%)
  5. Barking (45%)
  6. Preston (46%)
  7. Wigan North Western (47%)
  8. Luton (48%)
  9. Liverpool Central (49%)
  10. Stockport (50%)
The next ten rated between 50-63% and are Vauxhall, Colchester, Watford Junction, Wimbledon, Shenfield, Bromley South, Southampton Central, Peterborough, Surbiton and Nottingham.

The final ten scored between 63-68% and are Tonbridge, East Croyden, Woking, Huddersfield, Leicester, Didcot Parkway, Sevenoaks, Carlisle, Chester and Wolverhampton. The report concludes that these 30 stations are currently losing out on over £3 million through retail outlets. Full details are contained on p41 of the report (link at the end of the post).

Large station hubs maintained by NR generally fair well, with Leeds topping the table with a passenger satisfaction level of 86%, followed closely by Glasgow Central, Manchester Piccadilly and Liverpool Lime Street. Most of the London termini range between 64-81% satisfaction, with Liverpool Street coming out best. Talking of best, the operator whose controlled stations rank best are those formerly operated by National Express East Coast (78%), followed by Chiltern (77%) and First TransPennine Express (74%).

The side entrance to Manchester Victoria is one of the busiest, linking with the city centre.

My lasting memory of Manchester Victoria will be for the solace it offered m'colleague and I in the early hours of a Sunday morning. We'd just finished an epic overnighter aboard numerous National Express coaches and taken salvation in a cafe on the incline towards Piccadilly. The crockery was chipped, the table cloths were filthy, the sugar bowl contained caramelised lumps, the Full English Breakfast had sour-tasting beans and tough bacon and neither of us finished the tea. M'colleague decided the pub would be a better bet and as we meandered through the city centre to Manchester Victoria's pub/bar, his rating of breakfast fell from 'decidedly average' to 'the worst fried breakfast I've ever had!' He's had quite a few. (GL)

The Better Rail Stations report can be viewed here.