Stratford station in East London has taken the title of the UK’s busiest railway station, although mainly because the pandemic gutted rail travel to the major stations elsewhere in the country.

According to estimates from the Office of Rail and Road, the pandemic saw rail passenger numbers plunge by 78% in the 2020-21 (1st April 2020 to 32st March 2021) period, and only five railway stations in Great Britain had more than 10 million entries and exits in 2020-21 compared with 43 stations in 2019-20.

As a major rail interchange, London Stratford recorded nearly 14 million entries and exits in 2020-21, overtaking London Waterloo which saw its passenger numbers plunge to just 12.2 million. Waterloo would normally have seen around 87 million passengers in a year.

This is also the first time in 17 years that Waterloo has not been the busiest station in the UK. Even with the pandemic collapse in rail travel and higher levels of working from home in the City, London’s stations still managed to dominate the UK’s passenger number charts.

Although London Stratford will lose the title of the busiest station in next year’s report as rail travel recovers, in a normal year, with around 28 million passengers, the station is still exceptionally busy for its size, and there are plans for upgrades to help it cope with demand in the next few years pending a possible major rebuilding project.

The top 10 stations 2020-21

Station passenger numbers
2020-2021 2019-2020
Stratford (London) 13,985,162 41,912,114
London Victoria 13,791,322 73,559,158
London Bridge 13,763,890 63,095,300
London Waterloo 12,214,626 86,903,518
London Liverpool Street 11,212,008 65,984,786
Highbury & Islington 8,660,736 29,398,624
Clapham Junction 8,370,706 28,892,348
Birmingham New Street 7,350,942 46,510,526
Barking 6,742,918 13,831,488
East Croydon 6,695,420 25,005,626

At the other end of the scale, last year’s least used station was Berney Arms (Norfolk, England) with 42 entries and exits. In 2020-21, the number of entries and exits at this station increased to 348, which was the biggest percentage increase of any station compared with the previous year.

You can blame the rail geeks for that on, as the least used station automatically becomes a target to visit during the following year.

They’ll have more targets this year though, as six stations didn’t record any passengers whatsoever, although that was because they were closed due to the pandemic.

These stations are:

  • Abererch (Gwynedd, Wales)
  • Beasdale (Highland, Scotland)
  • Llanbedr (Gwynedd, Wales)
  • Sampford Courtenay (Devon, England)
  • Stanlow & Thornton (Cheshire West and Chester, England)
  • Sugar Loaf (Powys, Wales).

The bottom 10 stations 2020-21 (excluding the zeros)

Station passenger numbers
2020-2021 2019-2020
Teesside Airport 2 338
Tygwyn 4 1,062
Okehampton 6 6,434
Llandanwg 8 3,884
Kirton Lindsey 10 272
Denton 12 92
Elton & Orston 12 68
Cilmeri 16 1,214
Kildonan 16 214
Ince & Elton (Cheshire) 18 740

At this level of low passenger use, there is a wide margin of error, and the report notes that for example, although Okehamption shows six passengers in the year, no trains called at the station all year. So either that’s train geeks buying tickets for keepsakes, or the public buying a ticket before checking when the next train would be calling. It was to be a long wait.

Also, three new stations opened in 2020-21, these were:

  • Bow Street (Ceredigion, Wales) – 306 passengers
  • Horden (County Durham, England) – 33,038 passengers
  • Kintore (Aberdeenshire, Scotland) – 8,474 passengers

Those three new stations took the total number of railway stations at the end of March 2021 to be 2,569.

Feras Alshaker, Director of Planning and Performance at the Office of Rail and Road said: “We’ve seen a radical change, especially in London, in the stations people were using the most. Stratford, Highbury and Islington, Clapham Junction, Barking and East Croydon replaced Kings Cross, St. Pancras, Euston and Paddington in the top ten, underlining their importance as vital stops and interchanges, linking key workers with underground and bus services to travel.”

The full spreadsheet for the passenger numbers by station is here.


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One comment
  1. simon colenutt says:

    Also does Stratford have a unified gateline which counts both national rail and LUL passengers? Waterloo figures might just be NR?

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