We set out on our journey to visit all the stations in Great Britain from Penzance on Sunday 7 May. Over 600 trains later and 14 weeks, 6 days, 8 hours and 22 minutes of travelling we reached Wick, in the Highlands of Scotland, on Saturday 19 August.
The most frequent question people ask us is “why?” and as with all great endeavours there simply isn’t one straightforward answer. We both love to travel and we both have an interest in railways. For Geoff Marshall, railway infrastructure and logistics from timetabling and signalling to staffing rosters and cleaning schedules are a source of endless fascination. For Vicki Pipe, it’s the people side of the story that fires the imagination; how railways connect communities, why people travel, the places you can visit and how railways impact people’s everyday lives. As we began planning All The Stations it was these two sides of Britain’s railway story that we wanted to document and share.
People were at the core of All The Stations. The project was funded at the outset by over 1,500 members of the public from across the globe through a 30-day Kickstarter campaign.
As the project developed, people’s comments, emails, tweets, knowledge and insights into their local area and rail services were invaluable. Without exception people spoke proudly of their communities, encouraging us to see local attractions and oddities and to make sure we didn’t get caught out by the stopping patterns of local train operating companies (that’s right Chiltern Railways, we’re looking at you!).
We spoke to and interviewed hundreds of people; railway staff, passengers, industry executives, station friend groups, campaigners, adults, children and even cats (Felix from Huddersfield and Percy from Okehampton to name just two!). The breadth and diversity of people who spoke to and contacted us highlights the universal importance that railways have in people’s everyday lives, as well as in their hearts.
Often the overwhelming perception of the railway is as a system for commuters, getting people from A to B in busy carriages and for high ticket prices. But what about the other side of the railway? The journeys that can be taken outside of peak times utilising railcards to lower prices, and exploring places that don’t normally feature on your day-to-day commute.
There are hundreds of stations which are the gateway to some of the country’s best kept secrets. Places that are isolated, tranquil, fascinating, historically important, powerfully industrial, fun, unique and breathtakingly beautiful. Places that before All The Stations, we’d never even heard of let alone considered getting a train to. Places like Nethertown, Berney Arms, Llanwrtyd Wells, Cross Gates, Giggleswick, Redcar British Steel, Pilning, Southminster, Dunrobin Castle and Lelant.
Why not surprise yourself one weekend and take a journey to somewhere you’ve never been before and see what you discover?
Britain’s passenger rail network is approaching it’s 200th year. Before we began All The Stations we had no idea that some parts of the network run on those systems set in place during the railway’s origins. Whilst much has been replaced by automated services utilising up-to-date technology, there are still places where you can find staff-operated crossings, semaphore signalling, staff-operated signal boxes and points, manual token exchanges on single track sections (often using the original baton or iron ring ‘token’) and request stops (where passengers flag down the train to be picked up).
For any railway aficionados, this is likely well known but for the morning commuters or casual passengers – as it was for us – it is incredible to realise how the technology of the past still successfully serves an increasingly complex network today. Yes, of course things don’t always run smoothly, but how could those who built the network – though industrious and ambitious – ever have envisaged the level of demand the railways are now facing, carrying almost two billion passengers a year and with services in some areas every few minutes.
To find out more about All The Stations, watch the videos on YouTube or follow any of the project’s social media platforms to join in the conversation and discover more about Britain’s railways today.