Little known and rarely used, but those in the know who wait at Paddington Station at just the right time can take a trip one of the UK’s mysterious Parliamentary Trains.

The Parliamentary Trains are fleeting echoes in the timetables, often slipping into stations unnoticed, running along odd railway tracks at strange times to fulfill often century old laws.

To catch one of these odd trains, head to Paddington Station just after 11:30 in the morning and watch the indicator for a train that shouldn’t be there. And in a moment, a company that never runs a train from Paddington will appear on the display, offering the 11:36am service to West Ruislip.

Chiltern Railways normally dominates the services from Marylebone, but they have one lonely outpost here at Paddington, where a special service will run. It runs in part to maintain the legal requirement that such a railway service is provided, and so that drivers can be trained on a line that offers a potential back-up service should the mainline to Marylebone be out of action.

Once the railway was the mighty New North Main Line built in 1903 to link the Midlands to London, it is today a pale shadow of its former grandeur. Long since reduced in demand by the later arrival of the Central line, which runs alongside it, the tracks were pulled up long ago.

All that remains is a  rickety old slip of single track that just about lets trains through.

And so we’re off to catch the 11:36 from Paddington to run along that remnant of old railway.

Platform 12 is where you want to be, where no one else will be. A single short train awaits with livery that is unfamiliar in this station. A driver and guard are on board, and so may you be. A single passenger is busy, sometimes a few is this service’s rush hour. Often no one rides the train.

A message to ladies and gentlemen that do not exist that this is the 11:36 to West Ruislip, calling at South Ruislip, presumably to warn off anyone who boarded expecting a service somewhere more conventional.

If a few remain they’ll be sitting as far apart as possible on the ghostly train.

Rolling out of Paddington, past Royal Oak and Westbourne Park, past Crossrail works and offices along the Westway out of London. Heading up to Old Oak Common, mighty depot for trains that slumber at night and are serviced by day.

Here, the line out of Paddington diverts from its path to Wales and turns to the north. The Parliamentary Train has begun its run along the lost tracks of the New North Main line.

Trees and bushes bursting forth with spring growth lean over the tracks and the Parliamentary train passes through the narrowing leafy corridor. Clattering and bashing as nature is unwillingly pushed back by the passing of Parliamentary power.

As the corridor parts and wide open landscapes reappear, old tracks can be seen lurking to the right. Memories of when this was a busy line now slowly being consumed by ivy and grass.

On the left the usurper comes into view, the Central line that sucked away so much of the traffic that sustained the line we’re travelling along.

We pass Hanger Lane, famous for its road congestion, but on the train there are no delays. On our side of the tracks, long lost stations are invisible in the undergrowth. Twford Abbey Halt and Brentham Halt, romantic names now long gone.

An old sound is heard, the sound of railways past. The regular banging sound of short railway tracks. Long before the modern tracks with their seameless joins, the railway journey was accompanied by the constant double clanking as wheels ran over joints.

Bang-bang, bang-bang… bang-bang, bang-bang…. bang-bang, bang-bang…

A modern train, an old sound.

Approaching Greenford Station, and don’t blink for you’ll miss one of the few remaining semaphore signals in London that’s still in use. Look out at the overgrown tracks to see ages old signalling equipment still in place.

Hand operated levers barely glimpsed as you rush past.

Old metal rods running along the tracks that once tied the signal box levers to the junctions. Physical connections of iron and steel between the signal operator and the crossovers they controlled, now done by computers and optic fibres.

But inevitably, the train pulls into South Ruislip station. Here it joins the normal tracks, the tracks followed by hundreds of other Chiltern trains every day. The Parlimentary Train is no more, merely a simple service completing a journey along tracks all too familiar.

So I depart. Noting the railway map that shows this line of this mysterious Parliamentary Train, and headed off to catch a Bubble Train.

Notes:

There are two services, one from the “northbound” platform at South Ruislip at 10:57am to Paddington, and one from Paddington to West Ruislip at 11:36am.

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21 comments on “Riding the Parliamentary Train out of Paddington
  1. Melvyn says:

    Given how the former service from Greenford to Paddington Station has been cut back to West Ealing as part of Crossrail/ GWR electrification works perhaps it’s time to look at replacement of Greenford service by this service running more frequently with platforms reinstatement at stations like Greenford. Perhaps Mayor Khan and TFL could look at this especially if it could serve Old Oak Common.

    Although I have read Chiltern Railways has expressed an interest in serving OOC to connect with HS2 so upgrade of this line including electrification could be a long term possibility for this former route in congested west London.

    I have not seen this service but these lines are still used by freight trains

  2. Rich says:

    Interesting – and intriguing: I wonder whether the term “parliamentary train” is now an anachronism, superseded by more rational Office of Rail and Road regulations (you suggest that route training is one reason for maintaining the Ruislip–Paddington skeleton service). But perhaps the numerous old local acts of parliament which enabled today’s railways are still in force for the purpose of requiring certain minimum services.

  3. Kevin prince says:

    http://www.psul4all.free-online.co.uk/intro.htm updated regularly – it’s the key to such journeys

  4. Robin Williamson says:

    North Acton Station now second busiest in LB Ealing and could use more capacity and direct trains to Paddington would attract patronage in my view. So a reopen New North Line would soon help with that capacity issue and could link with a reopen Greenford etc. with its links to GWR mainline.

  5. Chris says:

    Beautiful lyrical tone to this, Ian. Almost elegiac. But I don’t think this route is quite dead yet. It’s too good to go to waste.

  6. John says:

    With the new timetable change on May 21, the service will change.

    The inbound train will still be 10:57 South Ruislip-Paddington.

    The outbound train will now run non-stop at 11:36 from Paddington to High Wycombe and as such will no longer be available using the Oyster card sadly.

  7. Mark Parsons, Colorado US says:

    Delightful tale of a lost time jouney…thank you. I will seek out this train when next in London.

  8. Nick Chennells says:

    I am going to give it a go ! Does it run on a daily basis?

  9. John says:

    Alight at South Ruislip for a meal at the Middlesex Arms or walk west to West End Road to watch the corporate jets using Northolt airfield for an hour or two. Then catch the E7 bus to Ruislip Gardens (Central line) or Ruislip (Met/Piccadilly) and head homewards. This cafe stands close to the runway’s eastern threshold: https://www.caffekix.com/ruislip

  10. Adam says:

    For anyone who’s curious about why this little island of 19th-century signalling exists, this accident report from 2014 (about this very train) is worth a read:

    https://www.gov.uk/raib-reports/unauthorised-entry-of-a-train-onto-a-single-line-at-greenford

    • WHS says:

      Because we waste our time on Parliamentary trains. Make it easier to eliminate routes no one travels by (literally no one), make it easier to eliminate unnecessary lines.

  11. Dave says:

    I rode this route yesterday. Just about made it, as running late I ran to platform 12, only to hear the announcement that it was departing from platform 11 !
    Possibly due to those timetable changes mentioned above I estimated that there were at least 20 people on the train.
    Took the best part of the day to reach Princes Risborough to ride the ‘bubble car’ which was standing room only. Last service runs this Saturday.

  12. keenreader says:

    I rode the train this morning from Platform 11 with six others of your readers, Ian, in the rain and with an A to Z in my hand. Most enjoyable. Thanks for drawing it to our attention.

  13. Graham says:

    So the end point on the outward journey has changed again. The first time I read about this train, in Railway Magazine the outbound destination was Gerrard’s Cross.

  14. ChrisM says:

    Although it is annoying that both ways cannot now be done with a zone 1-6 travelcard, I would recommend a morning spent on the southern limit of the New North main line. Greenford feels a bit like a ghost railway. With the HS2 tracks burrowed underneath, surely in time this incredibly useful rail corridor will be revitalised and be again an essential part of the network – Crossrail to High Wycombe anyone?

    Going back to the 1980s, I made several trips on this line behind class 47 and 50 locos on the evening commuter service to Banbury (at one point extended to Birmingham New St). The line was/is dead straight, back then mostly 1950s era jointed track with a low 70mph speed limit. It seemed very weird running alongside the Central Line tracks in a fast mainline train. I suspect most of those old rails are still there thirty years later, gently rusting away!

  15. MattM says:

    I’ve got a zone 1-6 travelcard (annual gold card) could I get a top up ticket at Paddington ie West Ruislip to High Wycombe to ride the 11:36 service?

  16. MJ says:

    Sadly this train now goes to high Wycombe only. I’ve been wanting to take thi la train for months and when I finally had the chance today, they’ve cancelled it. Not sure since when it’s no longer going to the Ruislip area, but I’m gutted… this would have been so cool !

  17. Ian Baxter says:

    The route was not downgraded by the London Underground’s requirements but (1) by the Euston-Birmingham New St electrification of 1967 which led to a view at the time that the Great Western Paddington-Birmingham Snow Hill line was an unnecessary duplication and then (2) when it was realised that (1) was a mistake in the 1990s and the Chiltern Line regeneration took place it was sensible to use Marylebone instead given Heathrow Express using capacity at Paddington. See this wonderful 1962 British Transport Film ‘Let’s go to Birmingham’ film of the route in its heyday – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fumSlqi0G-g – and Chiltern’s 2011 remake – https://www.google.com/intl/en-GB/gmail/about/#. The route went on from Birmingham to Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury, Mid-Wales, Chester and Birkenhead

  18. MickG says:

    I travelled on this train on 13th November 2018 from South Ruislip to Paddington. What a great little train journey. However there is a poster on the platform at South Ruislip detailing a forthcoming timetable change on 9th December. From that day the train will run via West Ealing and not the leafy back lane via Park Royal and North Acton. This is due to the Park Royal line closing for HS2 construction work. I don’t know if this is a permanent thing.
    So if you want to travel on this line you need to do so before Friday 7th December.

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