Parliamentary trains are passenger services that were, by an 1844 Act of Parliament, intended to afford cheap and basic rail travel for the less-affluent travellers of the 19th century. The legislation required that at least one such service per day was run on every railway route in the United Kingdom.
Such services are no longer a legal requirement, and the term has come to be used instead to describe train services which continue to run, to avoid the cost of formal closure of the route or station, but with services reduced sometimes to one train per week without specially-low prices. Such services are also often called "ghost trains".
Nineteenth century usage
In the earliest days of passenger railways in the United Kingdom, travel by the poor was encouraged to find employment in the growing industrial centres, but generally unaffordable except in the most basic of open wagons, in many cases attached to goods trains.
Political pressure caused the Board of Trade to investigate, and Sir Robert Peel's Conservative government enacted the Railway Regulation Act, which took effect on 1 November 1844. It compelled "the provision of at least one train a day each way at a speed of not less than 12 miles an hour including stops, which were to be made at all stations, and of carriages protected from the weather and provided with seats; for all which luxuries not more than a penny a mile might be charged".
The legislation no longer applies, and "parliamentary trains" in this sense no longer run.
Legacy of the Beeching closures
In 1963 the nationalised British Railways produced a report, The Reshaping of British Railways, designed to stem the huge losses made by the railway industry. The Chairman of British Railways was Dr Richard Beeching, and the report became known as the Beeching Report. It proposed very substantial cuts to the network and to the train services in Great Britain. The Transport Act 1962 included a formal closure process allowing for objections to closures on the basis of hardship to passengers if their service were closed. As the objections gained momentum this process became increasingly difficult to implement politically, and from about 1970 closures slowed to a trickle.
In certain cases where there was exceptionally low usage, the train service was reduced to a bare minimum but the service was not formally closed, avoiding the costs associated with closure. In some cases the service was reduced to one train a week, and in one case it remains in one direction only.
These minimal services had resonances of the 19th-century parliamentary services, and among rail enthusiasts they came to be referred to as "parliamentary trains", often called more colloquially "parly" trains (following the abbreviation used in Victorian timetables) or "ghost trains". However this terminology is not followed in official usage. So-called Parliamentary services will also typically be at inconvenient times, often very early in the morning, very late at night or in the middle of the day at the weekend.
When the closures brought about by the Beeching report had reached equilibrium, it was recognised that some incremental services or station reopenings were desirable. However if a service was started and proved unsuccessful, it could not be closed again without going through the formal process, with the possibility that it might not be able to be terminated. It was recognised that this discouraged possible desirable developments, and the Transport Act 1962 (Amendment) Act 1981 permitted the immediate closure of such experimental re-openings. The bill was sponsored by the pro-rail member of Parliament Antony Speller, and it is usually referred to as the Speller Act. The process is still in effect although the legislation has been subsumed into other enactments.
Examples of extant "parliamentary" trains
Some modern examples of lines served only by a Parliamentary train are:
- Chester to Runcorn has one service per week on Saturday mornings, in summer only, using the one-way Halton Curve, northbound only.
- The Stockport to Stalybridge Line has one train per week one-way (at 1013 on Fridays).
- Lancaster to Windermere, via Morecambe (no return journey), using the Morecambe - Hest Bank line.
- Sheffield to York via Pontefract Baghill on the Dearne Valley Line has two journeys per day each way.
- South Ruislip at 1102 to London Paddington (return from London Paddington at 1136 to West Ruislip), weekdays only.
- Walsall to Wolverhampton: to 17 May 2013, one train each weekday, departing from Walsall at 19:36, but replaced in the 19 May 2013 timetable by a Saturdays-only 06:38 from Wolverhampton (no return journey).[note 1]
- Sheffield to Cleethorpes via Retford and Brigg has three trains per week in each direction, all on Saturday. The services are operated by Northern Rail.
- Battersea Park at 0618 to Highbury & Islington (return at 2217 from Highbury & Islington to Battersea Park), Mondays to Saturdays
- London Liverpool Street at 2035 and 2135 to Grays, weekdays only[note 2]
- London Liverpool Street at 0531 to Enfield Town via South Tottenham (although not calling there), Saturdays only (no return journey)
- Streatham Hill at 1601 to London Bridge via Tulse Hill, Mondays to Fridays only (no return journey)
- Bedford at 0654 to Brighton via Gipsy Hill (although not calling there), Mondays to Fridays only (return at 0724 from Brighton to Bedford)
- London Cannon Street at 0903 to Beckenham Junction, Mondays to Fridays only (return at 1612 from Beckenham Junction to London Charing Cross)
- Gillingham at 0500 to Sheerness, Mondays to Fridays only (return at 2132), using the Sittingbourne West curve.
A station may have a parliamentary service because the operating company wishes it closed, but the line is in regular use (most trains pass straight through). Examples include:
- Tees-side Airport in County Durham — the airport (now Durham Tees Valley) is now better served by bus links.
- Pilning in South Gloucestershire, near Bristol – only one train stops each week.
- Barry Links and Golf Street in Carnoustie, Scotland
- Shippea Hill in Cambridgeshire and Lakenheath in Suffolk (between Ely and Brandon on the Breckland Line to Norwich)
- Polesworth has one train per day, northbound only. After major works on the West Coast Main Line, contractors neglected to replace the footbridge which they had removed, leaving passengers unable to access southbound trains.
Some stations still have regular services running but also a further parliamentary service that runs where a frequent service ran in the past. For example, the Stratford-upon-Avon to Oxford via Banbury - running just once a week on Friday evenings at 23.15. When Thames Trains ran the franchise in the area, this service would run frequently. However, First Great Western scrapped the service when they took over the franchise. Chiltern Railways now operates this "ghost train" calling at Warwick, Leamington Spa, Banbury and Oxford. However, regular services still run from Stratford-upon-Avon by Chiltern Railways and London Midland.
In the mid-1990s, British Rail was forced to serve Smethwick West in the West Midlands for an extra 12 months after a legal blunder meant that the station had not been closed properly. One train per week each way still called at Smethwick West, even though it was only a few hundred yards from the replacement Smethwick Galton Bridge.
A variant of the parliamentary train service was the 'permanent' replacement bus service, as employed between Watford and Croxley Green in Hertfordshire. This line was closed to trains in 1996, but to avoid the legal complications and costs of actual closure train services were replaced by buses, thus maintaining the legal fiction of an open railway. The branch was officially closed in 2001. In 2013 work began to absorb most of the route into a diversion of the Watford branch of the Metropolitan Line into Watford Junction
The 'permanent replacement bus' tactic was used from December 2008 between Ealing Broadway and Wandsworth Road when CrossCountry withdrew its services from Brighton to the North West, which was the only passenger service between Factory Junction, north of Wandsworth Road, and Latchmere Junction, on the West London Line. This service was later replaced by a single daily return train between Kensington Olympia and Wandsworth Road operated by Southern until formal consultation commenced and closure was completed in 2013. 
In popular culture
The basic comfort levels and slow progress of Victorian parliamentary trains led to the humorous reference in Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera The Mikado; the Mikado is explaining how he will match punishments to the crimes committed:
"The idiot who, in railway carriages
Scribbles on window-panes
We only suffer
To ride on a buffer
On Parliamentary trains."
- There are regular Walsall to Wolverhampton services, but these run via Birmingham New Street rather than over the direct line.
- There are, however, more services in the opposite direction: Stanford-le-Hope at 0429 to London Liverpool Street; Grays at 1948, 2046, and 2333 to London Liverpool Street; and Barking at 2051 to London Liverpool Street.
- "On board a real-life 'ghost train'". BBC News. 1 July 2012. Retrieved December 9, 2012.
- Smith, D.N., (1988) The Railway and its Passengers: A Social History Newton Abbott: David and Charles
- MacDermott, E.T., History of the Great Western Railway, published by the Great Western Railway, 1927, vol 1 part 2, page 640
- "The Reshaping of British Railways" (PDF). Her Majesty's Stationery Office. 1963. Archived from the original
|url=(help) on 6 November 2004.
- Webster, Ben (7 January 2009). "Clean, on time and empty. 'Ghost bus' to spare ministers' blushes". The Times (London). Retrieved 16 September 2009.
- Rural Railways – Fifth Report of the Session 2004–05 (PDF), The Stationery Office, 9 March 2005, retrieved 16 September 2009
- Williams, Michael (19 December 2011). "The hunt for Britain's ghost trains". The Independent (London).
- "Rail buffs to highlight Teesside Airport 'ghost station'". The Journal. Trinity Mirror. 14 October 2009. Archived from the original on 26 October 2009.
- "All aboard for the ghost train". Western Daily Press. 10 August 2006.
- "Smethwick West Station 1867–1996". railaroundbirmingham.co.uk. Retrieved 16 September 2009.
- Davis, Joanne (17 August 2001). "Boost For Rail Link Proposal". Western Telegraph.
- Hamilton, Fiona. The Times (London) http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article5462099.ece
|url=missing title (help).
- "Consultation: Withdrawal of scheduled passenger services between Wandsworth Road, Kensington (Olympia) and Ealing Broadway". Department for Transport. 10 May 2012. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
- Billson, P. (1996). Derby and the Midland Railway. Derby: Breedon Books.
- Jordana, Jacint; Levi-Faur, David (2004). The politics of regulation: institutions and regulatory reforms for the age of governance. Edward Elgar Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84376-464-9.
- Ransom, P. J. G. (1990). The Victorian Railway and How It Evolved. London: Heinemann.
- BBC News