All aboard the ‘ghost train’: the service used by just 30 passengers a year

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The Denton to Stalybridge line is one of the least used services in Britain, but its passengers would hate to see it go

It may not be quite a match for Clapham Junction but Denton Station has a rush hour too. It happens once a week – at exactly 10.24am every Friday – when, without any stress, harassed commuter pre-walking or muffled announcements of delays or cancellations, the little diesel engine from Stockport chugs its way into view.

According to official figures published this week by the Office of Rail Regulation, Denton is one of Britain’s least used interchanges, the alighting point for a “ghost service” to nearby Stalybridge where just 30 passengers a year make the 12-minute hop around the Pennine fringes of east Manchester.

Yesterday at the appointed hour – dead on time as usual – as The Independent hailed the train winding its way under the M67 motorway and into the cutting – there were five passengers waiting eagerly to clamber aboard.

“One week a bloke actually got off. He disappeared up those steps. We don’t know who he was and we’ve never seen him again,” laughs David Ferguson, 55, who has been taking the train each week for the past four years and then jogging the 10 miles back to his home.

“I’m into running but I love my trains. We have the Scarborough flyer and the Cumbria Flyer through here each week in summer and we get a lot of special trains put on,” Mr Ferguson said. “It’s not very useful as a service. We know that – everybody knows that – but it’s a Parliamentary line and they have to keep it open. There is a lovely atmosphere on the train. We even have a folk band that comes on,” he adds.

It would indeed take a vote by MPs to shut Denton Station, which is why, miraculously perhaps, it survived Dr Beeching’s cull of rural and suburban branch routes in the 1960s. In those days workers at the Oldham Battery Company could still recall being treated to a special Blackpool Express by their employers to take them on holiday from Denton every August shutdown.

More recent concerns over the future of the line led to the creation of a local pressure group – Friends of Denton Station – which has set about restoring the request stop to something like its former glory by building flower boxes and buying benches for passengers to rest up whilst awaiting the weekly service.

It has since teamed up with Friends of Reddish South Station further down the line to once again earn a stay of execution. They now have big plans to expand, with talk of linking the route into the national network and even a park and ride, explains Friends chairman Alan Jones, 77, who also makes the weekly journey into Stalybridge.

“We want a regular service into Manchester Victoria. This used to be a busy commuter station. You could get pretty much to anywhere from here,” he says.

Anthony Cornick, 63, who uses the service to do his weekly shop in Ashton (returning by bus) also disputes the official estimates. “Thirty passengers a year – I personally make 52 trips. You can see for yourself when you get on. It is full. They are not ghosts – they are real people. We have people from Japan or Germany, from all over the world. I’m out here when it’s snowing, whatever the weather. It would be very unfortunate if it closed down,” he says.

Extraordinarily, for what is officially a “ghost train” without any passengers, the service is, if not quite packed, then at least busy. I count around 30 fellow travellers, all but one of whom is a man, middle-aged or over, in a jolly mood and with an interest in trains.

Steve Whittaker, 63, a retired diesel engineer from Stockport, has been coming this way for years. “I went on my honeymoon to York on this train in 1973,” he says. “If you come regularly you get to see the same people,” he explains.

Mr Whittaker and his friend, retired teacher Martin Stuart, 54, are bound for the buffet bar at Stalybridge station which serves a mean full English breakfast and keeps 10 real ales on tap. “It’s friendly, it’s a nice trip and it’s a bit of railway time and we get a great breakfast. This is the world of retirement. It’s really very pleasant,” says Mr Stuart.

Denton to Stalybridge might not rank as one of the world’s great railway journeys but it is not without its highlights. There are the points at Audenshaw Reservoir when we join the single track to Guide Bridge and where we have the option to change for Manchester Piccadilly or stay aboard and watch the Huddersfield Canal disappear under the local Asda.

At journey’s end, as the engine chuffs off to Newton Heath depot, retired engineer Ian Barker, 67, has a theory. “The official figures don’t count us older people who use their free passes. Few people buy tickets so they don’t realise how popular it is,” he says.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own