Thursday 19 November 2009

Ten Things I Hate About You

There are ten rubbish train stations in Britain, according to the inappropriately named Lord Adonis. "Just ten?" the nation cries, and then moves into the standard whinge about British Rail sandwiches and Virgin Rail lateness. As it turns out, a lot of the worst stations in Britain are on my beat, and where they're not part of the Merseytart project, they actually turn out to be places I know. Some of them.

Manchester Victoria (1st) - the worst station in Britain, apparently, though personally I'd dispute that. The problem with Victoria is that it has the massive bulk of the MEN Arena squatting over it, taking away all the light. In addition, downgrading some of the platforms to tram stops has robbed it of a bit of its purpose. It still has a load of fantastic, Victorian features though, as I saw when I visited. It's just a shame it will never be a gleaming beacon of sunshine and light, and that Piccadilly up the road shows it up something rotten.

Clapham Junction (2nd) - I had an ex who lived just to the south of London, in Surrey, and there were a few times when I passed through here as an alternative to Victoria. And dear God, yes, it is a dump. It's just a spread of what seem like a thousand different platforms with a dank, piss scented tunnel running underneath. I'm hoping that the arrival of Overground services in the near future might make them improve but I'm not holding my breath. It is, after all, a junction, just a place where lines cross and cross again, and it's hard to make all that railway land look pretty.

Crewe (3rd) - I know way more about this station than many of the others, thanks to a year working there, and I have to say, yes, it needs a lot of work. Considering it's one of the most famous stations in the country, and one that practically everyone has been through at some point, there's almost nothing in the way of customer facilities. I have a lot of fondness for WH Smith - I used to work for them - but they're the only shop in the entire station, so if you want anything more than a Twix and a People's Friend, you're stuffed. The alternative is to eat in the distinctly below par looking buffet, or have a pint in the bar. Whither Costa? Whither Cafe Nero? And getting into the station is a nightmare - one narrow little access road out front with a busy road bridge to cross. Rubbish, quite frankly.

Warrington Bank Quay (4th) and Wigan North Western (7th) - I haven't been to these ones yet, though they are on the Merseytart list. Actually that's not true - I went to Wigan North Western about seven years ago, for work, and I remember it being a brick box staircase that lead up to platforms, and there was nowhere to sit. However, that was a long time ago, so I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. It might have improved since then. Open mind, people! Open mind!

Preston (6th) - this one baffled me, as I thought Preston station was lovely when I went to visit. Reading the report a bit more it seems that the problem is to do with disabled access and women's toilets, neither of which, I have to admit, are top of my list of priorities. It seems a bit harsh to make it the sixth worst station in Britain though just because the ladies have to queue for a pee.

Luton (8th) - ah, dear, sweet Luton; land of my fathers, place of my birth, the station which I have been through more than any other one on the list thanks to a misspent youth which meant I could hop a train from Leagrave to Luton and not have to pay (I apologise, British Rail). Luton station really is a complete bomb site, and I'm saying this through nostalgia goggles, so you can imagine what someone who's not from the town thinks. It's cold, it's wet, it's built in a trough between High Town and the Town Centre which means there are constantly gale force winds whipping through it. Access is via a footbridge which is only used by people who like being accosted by the homeless or raped. It's also the site of my first experience of petty crime, when two men tried to mug me after I'd been to see Legends of the Fall. While my friend John ran off, I went into indignant Lady Bracknell mode, disgusted that someone should attempt to try and get me to hand over my wallet, and after a brief scuffle they decided it was more trouble than it was worth and buggered off. I count that as a victory, but still, it does show how bad the station is. Since they built Luton Airport Parkway, it's made it look even worse - that's a bright, cheerful station with plenty of seats and glass and a coffee shop. Luton has a WH Smith and one of those terrible on-platform buffets that is always, always empty, probably because no-one likes to squat on formica. I did go in there once to buy a cup of tea, and it was ridiculously expensive, tasted of warm soot, and burnt my tongue.

When I was young, before the Lockerbie and 9/11 tragedies, I used to fantasise about a plane from the airport crashing into the town centre, obliterating everything within the ring road (including the station and the Arndale Centre) so that architects would get a chance to start all over again. That's the only way you can make Luton station better. Obliteration.

Liverpool Central (9th) - this one's another that's a bit unfair. The station, as a whole, isn't that bad. It's not a toilet with some trains attached, it's just very, very busy. Ridiculously busy. Dangerously busy. Have you ever been on the Northern Line platforms on a Saturday? It's terrifying. You're just waiting to be shoved under the wheels of a Kirkby train. Fixing Central will take a lot of money, as it's more than just a cosmetic job; there needs to be at least one more platform, possibly two, because someone's going to end up dying. That'll cost a lot more than whatever share of the £50million the station ends up getting, however.

I haven't been to Barking (5th) or Stockport (10th), though bizarrely, I'm now tempted to do so just to complete the set. In all cases except Luton, they're not terrible; just flawed in one or two ways, in need of a bit of TLC. And cash. They'll be fine then.

Luton, though, is and always will be a hole. Sorry.