Thursday 12 October 2023

How To Name A Railway Station

For reasons far too boring to go into here, I am currently sat in a Starbucks trying to find a way to kill a few hours.  I have a chai latte, a laptop, and nothing else to do.  So why not write a blog post based on a WhatsApp message?  Everything is #content.  

A few days ago, one of my group chats was ablaze with the opening of Headbolt Lane.  This is a small chat for homosexual train fans, and one of its members queried the name "Headbolt Lane".  "Why not, for example, Kirkby East?" he asked.  It's a valid point.  Headbolt Lane, after all, doesn't mean anything outside of its very specific location.  

That's not the point though, and this is why I launched into my Official Ranking Of Station Name Categories.  This is a list that all planners should work their way down to ensure that their brand new station is named interestingly and well.  As always, it is my opinion and mine alone, and is therefore absolutely correct and should be a law.  

Here's the hierarchy, anyway, starting with the best and working your way down:

1.  Named after the town/district/area

This is the ideal, of course.  Formby.  Meols.  West Kirby.  This is the station serving a particular area and so the name of the town is front and centre.  This might seem like the most obvious option but you'd be surprised how many times people swerve it.  This also applies to sub-areas of larger towns - so Birkdale, even though it's just a suburb of Southport, or Aughton Park as a part of Ormskirk, and it's why Baltic is an excellent name for the proposed station in Liverpool city centre.

2.  Named after the street it's on

This is where Headbolt Lane comes in and it's useful for stations that are not quite central enough.  Headbolt Lane, for example, is located at the crossover point between the Tower Hill and Northwood areas of Kirkby; the railway line is the division point.  Naming it after one or the other would ignore the other so, there you go, Headbolt Lane.  Neutral, yet descriptive.  Similarly, Manor Road is a simpler descriptor than That Weird No Man's Land Between Meols And Hoylake Which Is Technically Hoylake But Is Similarly A Little Bit Too Common To Be Hoylake.  

3.  A compass point.

It's a town, but it's not necessarily the middle of the town, so it gets a geographic descriptor to let you know it's not where the shops and the town hall are.  Birkenhead Central is right opposite the Pyramids shopping centre; Birkenhead North is an estate a couple of miles away where you probably don't want to alight unless you're not particularly attached to your handbag.  Maghull North is a park and ride on the edge of town, while Maghull - well, actually, neither station is very convenient for Maghull's centre, but the older station has history on its side at least.  A compass point is a bit of a boring option to be honest, unimaginative, a photocopy of what's already there.  

4. _____ Parkway

Parkways are tedious in the extreme.  You are announcing "Here is where you can park your car! (Also there's a railway station)".  It makes the public transport part subservient to the car part, and that should never happen.  Does Maghull North suffer from not having "Parkway" in its name to let everyone know they can park there?  The lack of available spaces on an average weekday would seem to indicate not.  This does mean that Liverpool South Parkway, by combining both points 3 and 4, actually comes out as a 7 and therefore has one of the dullest names you can possibly have.  I stand by that.

5.  After a person, battle, or historic event

This one doesn't come up much in the UK - Waterloo besides - but it often happens abroad so I'm putting it in here.  The Paris Metro, in particular, are mad for it, with stations named after people rather than the districts they're like Marx Dormoy or Jaures, though sadly Blanche isn't a tribute to Deirdre's mum in Coronation Street.  Kings and Queens aside, us Brits don't tend to bother with this, though the recent renaming of the Pier Head as Liverpool Gerry Marsden Ferry Terminal makes me slightly afraid that any future expansions of the Merseyrail network could go to Cilla Black, Paul McCartney, or Aveline Boswell.

6.  After a nearby property development

This is the actual worst one because it's incredibly artificial.  During its planning stages, there was going to be a station called Birkenhead Market on the Wirral Line; presumably someone noticed that having four stations with Birkenhead in the name was a bit much so it was renamed Conway Park after the new development in the area.  This is a name that means absolutely nothing to anyone beyond that one strip of offices and even now, twenty odd years after it opened, still nobody calls the area Conway Park.  Similarly, Wavertree Technology Park does a real disservice to the historic district of Wavertree.  That's the real attraction here, not a load of sheds wedged in the gap between the railway line and a retail park.  It's a horrible name that already feels very dated.  Even if the developer is slipping you a massive wodge of money you should resist this - look at the mess of three Canary Wharf stations in London to see why you should politely say "no thank you" and name your station after something relevant and nice.

So there you go: an answer to a question you never thought to ask.  I hope this list will be printed out and pinned up in Network Rail HQ for future reference.  Feel free to tell me I'm wrong in the comments, but know this - I'm not.


David B said...

Don't forget the"XXX Road" stations, so-named because they were nowhere near the town named (nor anywhere else for that matter!) but were on some highway leading, however lengthily, to it.
Inevitably, Beeching etc. dispensed with most of these but a few survive - Morchard Road, Builth Road... I think I recall that there was a Lampeter Road station that was easily a dozen miles from Lampeter but can find no means of verifying this memory.
All of which brings to mind the apocryphal story of the Southerner staggering after a long walk, tired and thirsty into the bar of a pub in Dent, asking "why on earth is the station so far from the village", to receive the laconic answer: " 'appen they wanted it near t'railway lines".

Neil said...

X Road is just the old version of X Parkway.

As for Baltic, it still jars for me, largely I think because "Baltic" is an adjective. I would call it "Baltic Triangle", which wasn't offered in the consultation.

I also find the "Liverpool" prefix jars a bit - Merseyrail traditionally only uses that for the Hbf, so it's out of kilter with the other "secondary" Liverpool city centre stations which aren't prefixed, e.g. Moorfields.

David B said...

Except the "Road" stations predate both cars and parking, but yes, bang on.