This Is Why the U.K. Runs Empty Ghost Trains Every Day

Some have just a couple dozen passengers a YEAR.

this-is-why-the-uk-runs-empty-ghost-trains-every-day-EDITORIAL-544269700-Claudio-DiviziaClaudio Divizia/shutterstockIn various parts of Britain, nearly empty trains run their usual route once a day or once a week. These trains have almost no passengers and stop in places no one goes. Welcome aboard the ghost trains.

Shippea Hill station in Cambridgeshire was named the quietest U.K. train station in 2015, with just 22 passengers arriving or departing the entire previous year, according to the BBC. (Though that station bumped its riders up to 156 in 2016-17, according to Office of Rail and Road stats.)

The station sees just one ghost train a day, which would leave from London at 5:43 a.m., according to The Guardian. (But no, the ghost trains have nothing to do with the nine royal ghosts that still haunt Britain.) The closest town is Prickwillow, a population-480 hamlet situated 4.4 miles from Shippea Hill. The station has no manned ticket office and no ticket machines, and the station is “staffed” by CCTV, according to Greater Anglia, the train operating company that services the station.

The rarely visited station joins the ranks of train journeys like the Stockport to Stalybridge line from Northern Rail Network. Neither of those stations is particularly dead, but the stops in between are. The company sends a one-way train once a week, and between the towns stops at Reddish South (94 enters and exits in 2016-17) and Denton (144 all year), plus Guide Bridge. (Use these seven British etiquette rules Americans should follow if you go along for a ride.)

Does it really make financial sense to make these stops, when the “ghost trains” are practically empty? Actually, yes.

Railway operators agree to documents that act like a contract between them and the government, spelling out which stations they will service. Before a route can be shut down, train companies need to get a 14-step appraisal, analyzing the proposed closure’s effects on the economy and the passengers who might rely on the line.

Once the proposal is sent to the British Department for Transport for approval, details of the proposal and appraisal need to be published in a local paper and two national papers for two solid weeks at least six months before the route would actually close.

Now that the public is informed of the pros and cons of closing the rail route, a 12-week consultation begins. Anyone is allowed to protest, and in controversial closures, public hearings can be held. If the plans pass scrutiny, the Office of Rail and Road, at last, makes the final call deciding if the route will shut.

Given the headache and amount of time it would take to get a line closure passed, it’s usually actually cheaper for railway companies to just keep the “parliamentary trains” open but with limited runs. (Not that weird laws are limited to Great Britain. Learn the weirdest laws in every state in America.)

Some companies get around the need to run a daily or weekly train with a sneaky loophole. They can cut the train service temporarily for maintenance as long as they send buses in their place. (Find out why those British buses drive on the left, but Americans drive on the right.) London Midland has taken that excuse and run, using “temporary” rail replacement buses for 14 years and counting. Residents have already asked the train station to reopen, so it’s clear why London Midland wouldn’t want to try the complicated process of shutting it down for good. Or is there another ghost train in the future?

[Source: Half as Interesting]

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Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.