General view of the concourse at Liverpool Street station in London, busy with passengers

Elizabeth Line popularity tailors a swift shift in Britain’s busiest stations

The concourse at Liverpool Street station in London Rail Industry Association

There are unprecedented numbers of passengers flocking to the Elizabeth Line. That popularity is music to the ears of the backers of the multi-billion pound project. The new railway, crossing London from east to west, has shaken up the charts too. Now, the busiest stations in Britain are almost all on the route, and a new flower in the East End is in full bloom, taking the most used accolade.

The Elizabeth Line connects Custom House and Chadwell Heath to Twyford and Taplow, as well as some other less well-known places like Stratford International and Heathrow Airport. The route has generated so much traffic that it now figures as a significant fraction of the entire UK rail traffic. The line, named after the late Queen, has also made a right royal shake-up of passenger patronage at stations, with a hardy perennial finally giving up its crown.

Waterloo’s sunset while Liverpool Street is dawning in the east

Waterloo Station in London has spent more time enthroned at the top of the charts than Taylor Swift. Just like the pop princess, Waterloo’s imperious back catalogue of high-density inner-city commuter lines, suburban services and regional expresses, has seen its loyal devotees contribute to an unbroken spell at the top of the charts. Now though, Waterloo’s sunset has been eclipsed. Everything has changed at the top of the annual survey of the most used stations. The dominance of Elizabeth Line stations is almost total.

Elizabeth Line class 345 arrives at London Liverpool Street, now the busiest station in the UK (TfL image)

“London Liverpool Street has replaced London Waterloo as the most used railway station in Great Britain”, said the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), which monitors and records many metrics on the UK rail network. Their regular survey leaves no doubt about the reasons behind the unprecedented shake-up. “The opening of the Elizabeth Line was a principal contributing factor in the almost 80.4 million entries and exits to Liverpool Street between 1 April 2022 and 31 March 2023.”

Stations catapulted into the top ten

London’s great terminal stations have almost always dominated the ‘busiest station’ charts. Among them, Waterloo has been head and shoulders at the top. No longer though. After just one full year of operations, Liverpool Street has replaced Waterloo as the most-used railway station in Great Britain. An astonishing additional fifty million passengers have catapulted the City favourite to the top.

Top Ten stations UK and top ten outside London (ORR)

Not that Liverpool Street was a quiet backwater beforehand. It was still marginally busier than the busiest station outside London. The cross-country hub of Birmingham New Street has been pushed out, despite still handling over thirty million passengers annually. Now though, the arrival of the Elizabeth Line has seen London stations totally dominate the top ten.

One in six of all rail passenger journeys now on the Elizabeth Line

A recent Transport for London study into Elizabeth Line passenger usage revealed even more facts about the astonishing popularity of the service. TfL figures suggest that around thirty per cent of the Elizabeth Line journeys were ‘new’ demand. In other words, the service generated trips which would not have been made without the existence of the Elizabeth Line, or were modal shift from non-public transport. That though is not the most breathtaking statistic. The government-appointed Office of Rail and Road has found that London’s new railway is now the busiest single service in the UK. The railway is now carrying one in six of all rail passenger journeys in Great Britain.

Towering above the rest. At one time, the busiest railway station in the world. One time being in 1911. Blackpool Central station, pictured in 1959. Now it’s just a blank space in the English seaside resort. (Ben Brooksbank and Geograph UK)

London’s extensive regional network has always generated a disproportionate level of traffic, but there has never been such a concentrated dominance. Even so, it would take a long trawl back in time to reveal when a London station did not top the charts. Go back to 1911, a time before even Taylor Swift had a number one. In late Edwardian Britain, Blackpool Central was not only the busiest station in Britain, it dominated the world. Now, the once sprawling terminal for the popular seaside resort is long gone. The site is largely a car park, or, as some mournfully observe, just a nasty scar and a blank space where there used to be a station name.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

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