It was announced that Redcar British Steel railway station was no longer the least used in Britain, numbers of passengers using the station had increased nine-fold, from 40 in 2018 to 360 in 2019. It was speculated that much of the increase might be attributable to railway enthusiasts wanting to see Britain’s most unfrequented station.
Even at 360 passengers for the year, it is hard to imagine there would be a business case for the retention of the station. The cost of electricity, cleaning, maintenance and public liability insurance must far exceed the revenue. Yet ti declare something is without a future, and that it should be scrapped seems too hard a decision to take. Years of neglect leading to an inevitable end seems the preferred option.
A reluctance to grasp the difficult nettle of railway closure prompted a friend and I five years ago to spend a day following the railway line from Rosslare Strand in Co Wexford to the Barrow Bridge on the route to the city of Waterford. Services on the line had been suspended in September 2010, since which time the route seemed to have been allowed to continue to deteriorate. The Barrow Bridge was still manned twenty-four hours a day, opened to allow the ship or two that passed each week on its journey up to New Ross, closed to allow the passage of the inspection train that travelled the line every couple of months.
There was something deeply depressing about the day, the business case for the withdrawal of services in 2010 had been irrefutable, but no-one had dared to suggest the closure be permanent. It seemed difficult to understand what was the point in continuing to spend some hundreds of thousands a year (for it must cost that to just man the bridge) while everything was just being left to gradually disintegrate. The cost of the upgrading necessary to allow the line to return to service would have far exceeded any potential revenue, wouldn’t it have been more honest to announce a permanent closure? But who would have been happy to take such a decision when doing nothing was a much easier choice?
Decisions against closures damage the railway service. Huge sums of money being spent on services that will never be viable come with an opportunity cost. The opportunity cost of keeping open an unused station is the improvement and development services elsewhere. Reports on which stations have the fewest passengers are tales of what isn’t being done.