Trainspotter visits keep forsaken rail stations open

Elton & Orston Station - Matt Limb OBE / Alamy Stock Photo
Elton & Orston Station - Matt Limb OBE / Alamy Stock Photo

A new breed of trainspotters are flocking Britain’s least-used railway stations - and could be inadvertently saving them from closure.

The days of trainspotters armed “with a flask of tea and fish paste sandwiches” are fast becoming a thing of the past as they are replaced by tech-savvy social media influencers carrying iPhones and GoPro cameras, industry sources say.

But the rise in popularity of trainspotting is causing a headache for Government beancounters trying to balance the books on the railways - while saving the least popular stations from closure.

A Nottinghamshire railway station was yesterday named Britain's least popular, with just 40 travellers using it in the last year.

Elton and Orston, which dates back to 1850, had two fewer visitors than Teesside Airport in Darlington, and four fewer than third-place stations Stanlow and Thornton in Cheshire, according to the list compiled by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

The unstaffed Nottinghamshire station was opened more than a century and a half ago by the Ambergate, Nottingham, Boston and Eastern Junction Railway. It is now operated by East Midlands Railway.

Located off the A52 trunk road in between two small villages that bear its name the station’s website warns that it “is served by a very sparse train service, currently only one train a day in each direction”.

Elton on the Hill, located 14 miles east of Nottingham, boasts a population of 75. Orston is home to 454 residents.

Winning the award of being Britain’s least favourite could well be its saviour.

The rail sector is under pressure to reduce costs after the Government spent £16bn keeping services running during the pandemic.

The trend of working from home has led to a steep fall in fare revenue, meaning bosses are under instruction from ministers to find around £2bn in savings to balance the books.

Sources said the ranking, thought to guide the Government on cost-savings, is being complicated by trainspotters who flock to the most unpopular station in the days, weeks and months following the announcement. Those ranking least popular one year will experience a boom in visitors in the following year from trainspotters desperate to get their photo at the station amid fears it is destined to be axed.

A separate industry source said: "Because of social media influencers we are having to be increasingly careful when we launch new trains and when retiring old ones.

"Social media is fuelling an uptick in trainspotting. But these trainspotters are different. The next generation are tech-savvy, checking timetables and swapping information so that they don't waste time standing around.

"The days of trainspotters standing on Crewe station with a flask of tea and fish paste sandwiches seem to be over."

Influencers such as Luke Magnus Nicolson, who goes by the moniker Francis Bourgeois, have shot to fame with videos posted on Instagram and TikTok. His reaction to a train travelling from Littlehampton to Southampton - where he waves to the train driver before falling off his chair - was viewed six million times.

The 22-year-old has 1.6 million followers on Instagram and 2.7 million followers on TikTok where he posts pictures and videos of his trainspotting exploits.

Geoff Marshall has also proved a hit with his travel and transport videos, including a project called All the Stations.

He  – and his trainspotting companion, Vicki Pipe - travelled through all 2,563 railway stations in Great Britain in 2017. Two years later he and Pipe, now married, visited every station in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.

Marshall has 295,000 YouTube subscribers and almost 69,000 Twitter followers. 

London was given a taste of the resurgence in trainspotting during the delayed launch of Crossrail earlier this year. Alongside the influencers, 31-year-old enthusiast James “Chad” Chadwick, who volunteers at London’s Transport Museum, spent £2,000 making a waistcoat out of the train line's seat fabric.

Roger Ford, industry and technology editor at Modern Railways, said: “The usual group of four elderly ex-railway men at my local station was down to one this morning.

“Given the age demographic I would have expected the number to have fallen, but perhaps the young YouTube influencers are sparking a revival.”