Failing railways: `It looks like the station from Hell'

The platforms at Carnforth, scene of `Brief Encounter', have been named by `Independent' readers as the worst in Britain
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TREVOR HOWARD and Celia Johnson would not have wanted even the briefest of encounters at Carnforth station in Lancashire if they met today.

The station chosen by director David Lean for his 1945 black-and-white film now stands lonely and unloved, its peeling paint and boarded windows a mere echo of the bustling interchange it once was. The most memorable scene is set in the refreshment room, when Celia gets a piece of coal dust in her eye from a passing train and Trevor, playing a doctor, comes to her assistance. They fall in love but, as both are married, observe the strict moral code of the day.

The refreshment room - like all the other station buildings - is boarded up. There is broken glass on the platform, stalactites hang down from the ceiling, the underpass is allegedly a haunt for drug users and rain falls through the missing panes of the glass roof.

Alf Bergus, 84, from Halton near Lancaster, who was the fireman on the train in the film and who worked on the railways for 45 years, remembers the station's prouder days.

Now, looking at the broken platform clock that featured in the film, he says: "I have been here a few times since and to be honest there are many times I could cry. Everywhere you look it is just falling to pieces and the windows are boarded up. It is a terrible thing."

Carnforth has been chosen as the winner of The Independent's Worst Station Award in recognition of its present poor state of repair, especially when compared with its previous glory and the obvious potential for improvement.

We asked readers to nominate their candidates for stations that needed urgent investment after Railtrack handed out awards to 20 of its best stations.

Susan Howard, also from Halton, who nominated Carnforth, also recalled the station from when she was a child. Standing on the platform, she shook her head. "There isn't a facility in sight. Never mind a cafe and waiting room there are no drinks machines or toilets.

"It looks like the station from Hell - cold and unwelcoming."

She said tourists and film buffs flocked from across the world to visit the location for the film. "They have all seen the film and the part set in the refreshment room. They come to the sandwich bar where I work and ask for the station and I know they will be disappointed. They come expecting to see a little bit of nostalgia and all they get is a scene out of Mad Max."

Geoffrey West, 84, said he hoped that Richard Branson, whose Virgin trains pass through Carnforth, might use his energy to revitalise the station. "It was the last Government that got it wrong, I'm afraid to say. It would be nice if rail travel was made more pleasant, but behind that is changing the manning levels that they have now," he said.

Two men on a business trip, one from Kendal and the other from Wigan, who made a futile attempt to find the non-existent station toilet, find it hard to believe a location with such a pedigree could be in that state.

"If this was in America someone would have come along and turned this into a tourist attraction," said one.

Two years ago Railtrack announced plans to create a museum, a small cinema and a theme restaurant in the buildings Lean used for the film.

Yesterday a spokesman said the station was a "victim of its own fame" as the plans to create a Brief Encounter theme park meant Railtrack could not spend money on temporary repairs on buildings that might have to be knocked down.

He said the consortium behind the plans was still waiting to hear whether it had been awarded a National Lottery grant. "We know the station needs work but there is no point doing that work if plans from outside parties mean ripping it all out again."

Meanwhile Carnforth's history as a railway town fades further into memory. It once boasted a museum for steam railways but that closed down two years ago.