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Parliamentary train

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A parliamentary train was a passenger service operated in the United Kingdom to comply with the Railway Regulation Act 1844 that required train companies to provide inexpensive and basic rail transport for less affluent passengers. The act required that at least one such service per day be run on every railway route in the UK.

Such trains are no longer a legal requirement (although most franchise agreements require some less expensive trains). The term's meaning has completely changed, to describe train services that continue to be run with reduced frequency, often to the minimum required one train per week, and without specially low prices, to avoid the cost of formal closure of a route or station, retain access rights, or maintain crew training/familiarity requirements on short sections of track. Such services are sometimes called "ghost trains".[1] Sometimes even the train is omitted, with a bus operating as a cheaper-to-operate "rail replacement service" instead.[2]

Nineteenth-century usage

Great Western Railway open passenger car

In the earliest days of passenger railways in the United Kingdom the poor were encouraged to travel in order to find employment in the growing industrial centres, but trains were generally unaffordable to them except in the most basic of open wagons, in many cases attached to goods trains.[3] Political pressure caused the Board of Trade to investigate, and Sir Robert Peel's Conservative government enacted the Railway Regulation Act 1844, 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".[4]

Railway companies reluctantly complied with the law. They scheduled parliamentary trains at inconvenient times and used uncomfortable carriages. One account stated that when passengers complained about a delay, they were told "ye are only the nigger train". James Allport of Midland Railway was proud of providing comfortable third-class service passenger service, but stated that his company needed 25 years to do so.[5]

Parliamentary Train: Interior of a third class carriage (1859)

The basic comfort and slow progress of Victorian parliamentary trains led to a humorous reference in Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera The Mikado. The Mikado is explaining how he will match punishments to the crimes committed:[6]

The idiot who, in railway carriages,
Scribbles on window-panes
Will only suffer
To ride on a buffer
In Parliamentary trains.

Legacy of the Beeching cuts

The Stockport to Stalybridge shuttle approaches Reddish South. This is one of the most well-known parliamentary services throughout the country.

In 1963 under its chairman Richard Beeching, British Railways produced The Reshaping of British Railways report, designed to stem the huge losses being incurred as patronage declined.[7] It proposed very substantial cuts to the network and to train services, with many lines closed under a programme that came to be known as the Beeching cuts. The Transport Act 1962 included a formal closure process allowing for objections to closures on the basis of hardship to passengers if their service was closed. As the objections gained momentum, this process became increasingly difficult to implement, and from about 1970 closures slowed to a trickle.[citation needed]

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 direction only.[2]

London Overground Class 378 at Battersea Park operating a parliamentary service. It is also used when the line to Clapham Junction is blocked.

These minimal services had resonances of the 19th-century parliamentary services and, among rail enthusiasts, they came to be referred to as "parliamentary trains", "ghost trains", or, more colloquially, "parly" trains (following the abbreviation used in Victorian timetables). However, this terminology has no official standing. So-called parliamentary services are also typically run at inconvenient times, often very early in the morning, very late at night or in the middle of the day at the weekend. In extreme instances, rail services have actually been "temporarily" withdrawn and replaced by substitute bus services, to maintain the pretence that the service has not been withdrawn.[8][2]

Speller Act

Transport Act 1962 (Amendment) Act 1981
Act of Parliament
Long titleAn Act to make provision with respect to experimental railway passenger services.
Citation1981 c. 32
Royal assent2 July 1981
Other legislation
AmendsTransport Act 1962
Repealed byRailways Act 1993
Status: Repealed
Text of statute as originally enacted

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 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 reopenings. The bill that led to the act of 1981 was sponsored by a pro-railways Member of Parliament, Tony 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.[citation needed]



As of 2024


Examples of lines in the current timetable served only by a parliamentary train are:[note 1]

Origin Destination Days operated Outbound
Operator Comments
Battersea Park Dalston Junction Monday – Friday
  • 06:33
  • 23:03
22:04 London Overground Commenced 9 December 2012 after Southern service between London Victoria and London Bridge via the South London line ceased. Common diversionary route when the line to Clapham Junction is closed.[citation needed]
  • 07:30
  • 07:45
  • 08:00
  • 08:15
  • 08:33
  • 06:34
  • 06:49
  • 07:04
  • 07:19
  • 07:34
Highbury & Islington Sunday 07:47 N/A
Liverpool Street Enfield Town Saturday 05:30 Runs via South Tottenham but does not call. Unreliable[clarification needed] and is often diverted via Stoke Newington.[9]
Stalybridge Stockport 08:30 09:04 Northern Trains Via Stockport to Stalybridge Line. Only service that calls at Reddish South & Denton
Sheffield Cleethorpes Monday - Friday 09:54 13:20 Via Kirton Lindsey & Brigg. Became a parliamentary service when weekday services were withdrawn in 1993.[10] Regular trains have operated between Gainsborough and Sheffield for most timetable periods since.[11][12] Suspended January 2022 by Northern, who cited Covid-19 and staffing issues (although they did not provide any replacement buses), but the service was reinstated in December 2022. [13] Changed in May 2023 to be one return journey on weekdays only. [14]
Liverpool Lime Street Ellesmere Port Monday – Saturday 05:10 19:06 Merseyrail trains operate west of Ellesmere Port, but there are proposals for their new stock to take over the current limited service to Helsby.[15] The line also sees limited freight use. Stanlow & Thornton station, which would be the first stop east of Ellesmere Port, had its service suspended in 2022.[16] These are the only services that call at Ince & Elton.
Helsby 18:50 06:33
Lancaster Morecambe (via Carnforth)
  • 05:19 (Lancaster)
  • 05:30 (Carnforth)
N/A Via the Hest Bank curve.
Heysham Port Monday – Friday 12:44 13:21 One train a day to Heysham, to meet the daily Isle of Man ferry.
Goole Leeds Monday – Saturday
  • 07:42
  • 19:43
17:58 Via the Pontefract line. Providing the only services to; Rawcliffe, Snaith, Hensall & Whitley Bridge
Swansea Fishguard Harbour 10:58 N/A Transport for Wales These trains use the line between Carmarthen Jn and Carmarthen Bridge Jn, so avoid Carmarthen station.[17]
Monday – Friday 08:17
Fishguard Harbour Cardiff Central Saturday 12:41 These trains use the Swansea avoiding curve, which runs around the rear of Landore depot. Other trains which avoid Swansea may use the Swansea District Line, which heads north from Neath towards the Heart of Wales line.
Sunday 12:40
Cardiff Central Milford Haven 12:04
Glenrothes with Thornton Edinburgh Waverley 22:58 ScotRail These trains use the direct line between Dalmeny and Linlithgow, reversing at the latter.[18] The line was last used before the COVID-19 pandemic.[19]
Dundee Monday – Thursday 22:31
Cannon Street Tunbridge Wells Tuesday – Saturday 00:20 (Tuesday / Wednesday) Southeastern These journeys use the curve between Beckenham Junction and New Beckenham (previously used by a weekday morning Cannon Street to Beckenham Junction via New Beckenham train, returning in the afternoon to Charing Cross).[20] This is a common diversionary route for trains from Charing Cross to Hastings when the route through Hither Green is closed.[citation needed]
Charing Cross 00:15 (Thursday – Saturday) 04:45 (Monday – Friday)[note 2]
London Victoria Ramsgate Monday – Friday 06:05 N/A Via Stewarts Lane Jn. Also used on occasion by VSOE trains to Folkestone West.[9] In previous years, an 05:50 train from London Victoria to Ashford International used the same route, but also called at Wandsworth Road and Clapham High Street.[21] The outward service to Ramsgate is the first regular use of the eastbound line since the Covid-19 pandemic.[19]
Gillingham London Victoria 05:00
Glasgow Central Edinburgh 21:05 CrossCountry The only train to regularly use the Edinburgh Suburban line, which runs to the south of the main lines through Edinburgh. The line in the other direction has not seen regular use for some time.[22] From March 2023, this train will run non-stop via Shotts, rather than calling at Motherwell.[23]
Filton Abbey Wood Bath Spa 15:59 Great Western Railway Via Bristol East Curve. Only public service to regularly use the curve. The curve in the other direction towards Filton has not seen regular use in a considerable number of years.[24]
Worksop Nottingham 23:43 East Midlands Railway Via Ironville Jn. Since its inception it has suffered erratic performance, with its previous journey from Nottingham frequently terminating short at Mansfield Woodhouse, meaning this service starts from there.[9]
Peterborough Lincoln 23:11 Runs via the Sleaford Avoiding line. The avoiding line heading south is not in regular use, but does see use as a diversion when the East Coast Main Line is closed near Newark North Gate.[9]
Doncaster Sleaford Saturday 20:46 N/A Only train booked to use the "Up (East) Slow Line" between Bessacarr Jn and Doncaster Black Carr Jn. Previous service from Peterborough often terminates in platform 5 at Doncaster, causing this service to not run from platform 2 as it should.[9]
Norwich Manchester Piccadilly Sunday 15:53 Only public service to use the Queen Adelaide loop, north of Ely.
London Kings Cross Hull 10:49
Hull Trains These trains use the line between Loversall Carr Jn and Doncaster Flyover East Jn, to the south of Doncaster.
Leeds Monday – Friday 08:03 London North Eastern Railway
Harrogate 15:53
Newcastle 22:00
Sunderland 20:00 Only services to use the single-line curve at the southern end of King Edward VII Bridge. Northern service started in late 2019, LNER service started running in December 2021.[20]
Carlisle Nunthorpe Sunday 14:49 Northern Trains
Skipton London Kings Cross Saturday 06:56 London North Eastern Railway This train uses the curve between Hambleton West Jn and Hambleton South Jn.
York Monday – Friday 04:40 These trains use the spur between Doncaster Flyover East Jn and Loversall Carr Jn, to the south of Doncaster.
Harrogate 07:37
Leeds 17:45
Sunday 10:45
Leeds Plymouth 08:11 CrossCountry This train uses the line between Lichfield Trent Valley (High Level) and Wichnor Jn. Only West Midlands Trains operate services along this line, as far as Lichfield.
Plymouth Leeds 18:27 These trains use the curve between Calder Bridge Jn and Turners Lane Jn, which avoids Wakefield Kirkgate.
Sheffield Friday 23:15 Northern Trains
Chesham Watford Monday – Saturday 05:12 London Underground, Metropolitan Line These trains use the Watford curve,[25] which runs directly from Rickmansworth to Croxley and Watford.
Rickmansworth Monday – Friday 06:08
  • 00:19 (Monday – Friday)
  • 00:49 (Tuesday – Saturday)
Streatham Hill London Bridge Monday –Friday 07:50, 08:20 N/A Southern Formerly an evening peak service ceased in March 2020, reintroduced in May 2023 as a morning peak service. Only service for a number of years to use the Leigham Spur between Streatham Hill and Tulse Hill. The line in the other direction has not seen regular use for a number of years.[26]
West Ealing West Ruislip Wednesday 11:17 One way Chiltern Railways Operated since late 2022 by a bus replacement service.[27][2]



Examples of lines formerly served only by a parliamentary train are:

Origin Destination Days operated Outbound
Operator Ceased Comments
Watford Junction Croxley Green Monday – Friday 06:46 06:59 Network SouthEast 22 March 1996 Ceased when the branch line was temporarily closed for construction of the Ascot Road bridge near Croxley Green. The service was never reinstated as it was considered uneconomical to bridge the road, and was permanently closed on 29 September 2003.[28]
Hereford Birmingham New Street Saturday 10:35 11:30 Regional Railways Late 1996 Called at Smethwick West following an administrative error that required it to be open a year further following the opening of Smethwick Galton Bridge.[29]
Kensington Olympia Wandsworth Road Monday – Friday 10:02 N/A Southern 17 June 2013 Ceased when London Overground began operations to Clapham Junction. The main route between Latchmere No. 1 Jn and Longhedge Jn never regained regular passenger use.[citation needed]
Chester Runcorn Summer Saturday 07:53 Arriva Rail North 8 September 2018 Via the one-way Halton Curve, northbound only.[30][31] Last ran 2018, full-time services resumed in May 2019, operated by Transport for Wales.[32]
Woodgrange Park Willesden Junction Monday –Friday 07:59 London Overground Some time in 2018 This service travelled via but did not call at Gospel Oak. Last operated mid to late 2018.[citation needed]
South Ruislip or Gerrards Cross London Paddington or West Ealing 10:57 / 11:02 from South Ruislip

10:01 / 10:44 from Gerrards Cross[20]

11:11 / 11:35 / 11:36 to High Wycombe / Princes Risborough / West Ruislip from Paddington[20]

11:47 to High Wycombe from West Ealing

Chiltern Railways 7 December 2018[33] Maintained route knowledge for drivers enabling services to divert to Paddington when Marylebone was closed. Service diverted to West Ealing, via the Greenford Branch Line, from 7 December 2018 with the closure of the Acton-Northolt line services to enable High Speed 2 works.
Kyle of Lochalsh Elgin Saturday 17:13 N/A Abellio ScotRail May 2019 This train used the Rose Street Curve on its way to Elgin, going past Inverness and then stopping, before reversing for the second time to head to Elgin.[34] In the 2018 timetable, the train ran on weekdays as well.[35] This line has not seen regular use since.
Reading Birmingham New Street Monday –Friday 22:02 CrossCountry March 2020 Used the Soho South Jn – Perry Bar South Jn. Occasionally used on football match days.[9]
Reading Shalford Monday –Friday 07:17 Great Western Railway May 2022 Via the Reading Spur line. Another line from the mainline platforms at Reading is only accessible from the higher numbered platforms, which is mostly used when trains are going towards the North Downs Line from Reading TMD.[36] Regular service ended in May 2022,[9] however the route is maintained for diversionary use.[25]
West Ealing West Ruislip Wednesday 11:17 Chiltern Railways December 2022 Via the Greenford line, commenced 10 December 2018 replacing previous service to London Paddington via the Acton–Northolt line.[34] Became a weekly service after the COVID-19 pandemic.[9] Last ran 7 December 2022, now replaced with a bus service replacement.[37]
Birmingham New Street Crewe Saturday 07:13 West Midlands Railway Only service to go via the Bushbury line, which runs direct from Bescot Stadium to Penkridge.[38] Other trains which run from Bescot to Penkridge run via Wolverhampton. Common diversionary route.[9] Last service ran 10 December.[9]
Wolverhampton Rugeley Trent Valley 05:42 Only service to go directly between Wolverhampton and Walsall, between Darlaston Jn and Pleck Jn. Other services use the line between Crane Street Jn (near Wolverhampton) and Portobello Jn.[9] Last ran 10 December 2022.[39]

Stations with minimal services


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:

One service stops at Teesside Airport every week on a Sunday, at 14:54, even though it is a 15-minute walk to the airport.

Bordesley is served by a single train on Saturdays only, however the station remains open for use when Birmingham City Football Club are playing at home when additional services call there. Operated by West Midlands Trains.

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.[45]

Many least used stations are also served infrequently or irregularly.


Norton Bridge was served by a replacement bus until March 2019.
Norton Bridge was served by a replacement bus until March 2019.

A variant of the parliamentary train service was the temporary replacement bus service, as employed between Watford and Croxley Green in Hertfordshire. The railway 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.[46] The branch was officially closed in 2003. Work in track clearance commenced, beginning the work to absorb most of the route into a diversion of the Watford branch of the Metropolitan line into Watford Junction, but work was stopped in 2016 after a reassessment of likely costs and lack of agreement on funding.

The temporary replacement bus tactic was used from December 2008 between Ealing Broadway and Wandsworth Road[47] when Arriva CrossCountry withdrew its services from Brighton to Manchester, 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 (as above) operated by Southern until formal consultation commenced and closure was completed in 2013.[48]

The replacement bus tactic was used to service Norton Bridge, Barlaston and Wedgwood stations on the Stafford–Manchester line, which had its passenger services withdrawn in 2004 to allow more Virgin CrossCountry and Virgin Trains West Coast services to be operated. Norton Bridge station was closed in December 2017 coinciding with the transfer of the West Midlands franchise from London Midland to West Midlands Trains, with funding for the bus service to Norton Bridge continuing until March 2019.[49][50]

See also



  1. ^ Many of these trains were temporarily suspended as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, although this information has been omitted from this table.
  2. ^ From Tonbridge.[9]


  1. ^ "On Board a Real-Life "Ghost Train"". BBC News. 1 July 2012. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d Low, Harry (16 January 2024). "Chiltern Railways' 'ghost bus': Is this Britain's most bizarre route?". BBC News.
  3. ^ D.N. Smith (1988) The Railway and Its Passengers: A Social History, Newton Abbott: David & Charles
  4. ^ MacDermott, E.T., History of the Great Western Railway, London: Great Western Railway, 1927, Vol. 1, part 2, page 640
  5. ^ Pike, Richard, ed. (1888). Railway Adventures and Anecdotes (Third ed.). Hamilton, Adams, and Co. pp. 143–144. 'We remember,' says a writer, 'once standing on the platform at Darlington when the Parliamentary train arrived. It was detained for a considerable time to allow a more favoured train to pass, and, on the remonstrance of several of the passengers at the unexpected detention, they were coolly informed, "Ye mun bide till yer betters gaw past, ye are only the nigger train."' 'If there is one part of my public life,' recently said Mr. Allport (Midland Railway) to the writer, 'in which I look back with more satisfaction than anything else, it is with reference to the boon we conferred on third-class passengers. But it took,' he added, 'five-and-twenty years' work to get it done.'
  6. ^ "The Mikado by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan". The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive. 13 November 2005.
  7. ^ "The Reshaping of British Railways" (PDF). Her Majesty's Stationery Office. 1963.
  8. ^ "The quirky train that's now a quirky bus". BusAndTrainUser. 12 January 2023.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Maund, Richard. "PSUL 2022" (PDF). psul4all.free-online.co.uk. Retrieved 28 December 2021.
  10. ^ The ghost trains of northern England that refuse to die The Independent 31 October 2017
  11. ^ eNRT May 2022 Edition
  12. ^ eNRT December 2022 Edition
  13. ^ "Brigg rail service from Sheffield to Cleethorpes makes comeback after outcry". GrimsbyLive. 24 October 2022. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 8 December 2022.
  14. ^ "Brigg Line service to change from Saturday to weekdays". Railway Gazette. 5 April 2023. Retrieved 24 May 2023.
  15. ^ "Long Term Rail Strategy" (PDF). Liverpool City Region Combined Authority. April 2018. p. 40. Archived (PDF) from the original on 7 November 2017.
  16. ^ "Sorry folks following an inspection we've temporarily shut Stanlow & Thornton station in Ellesmere Port due to concerns over the safety of the footbridge". @NetworkRailLIV. Retrieved 3 February 2022 – via Twitter.
  17. ^ Delgado, Ian. "UT tracker". uttracker.com. Retrieved 30 October 2022.
  18. ^ Bridge 2017, p. 85.
  19. ^ a b Maund, Richard (22 December 2019). "PSUL 2020" (PDF). branchline.uk. Retrieved 8 December 2022.
  20. ^ a b c d "BLS – PSUL Document Archive". branchline.uk. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  21. ^ eNRT December 2018 Edition
  22. ^ Delgado, Ian. "UT Tracker – List Matching Schedules". uttracker.com. Retrieved 30 October 2022.
  23. ^ Delgado, Ian. "UT Tracker – List Matching Schedules". uttracker.com. Retrieved 8 December 2022.
  24. ^ Delgado, Ian. "UT Tracker – List Matching Schedules". uttracker.com. Retrieved 30 October 2022.
  25. ^ a b Maund, Richard (22 December 2022). "PSUL 2023" (PDF). psul4all.free-online.co.uk. Retrieved 26 December 2022.
  26. ^ Delgado, Ian. "UT – List Matching Schedules". uttracker.com. Archived from the original on 30 October 2022. Retrieved 30 October 2022.
  27. ^ "The quirky train that's now a quirky bus". BusAndTrainUser. 12 January 2023.
  28. ^ "Croxley Green". Disused Stations. Retrieved 25 December 2023.
  29. ^ "Smethwick West Station". Rail Around Birmingham & the West Midlands. Retrieved 25 December 2023.
  30. ^ Rural Railways – Fifth Report of the Session 2004–05 (PDF), The Stationery Office, 9 March 2005, retrieved 16 September 2009
  31. ^ Hearfield, Samuel (15 October 2016). "Chester to Liverpool South Parkway (Parliamentary Train) Via the Halton Curve (Final Trip, 16th of July 2016)". Samuel Hearfield (YouTube). Retrieved 17 November 2016.[dead YouTube link]
  32. ^ New Chester to Liverpool rail service delayed due to shortage of trains Cheshire Live 21 September 2018
  33. ^ The London ghost train on its final journey – BBC London, retrieved 30 October 2022
  34. ^ a b Maund, Richard (31 December 2018). "PSUL 2019" (PDF). branchline.uk.
  35. ^ Maund, Richard (9 December 2017). "PSUL 2018" (PDF). branchline.uk. Retrieved 10 December 2022.
  36. ^ Bridge, Mike, ed. (2017). TRACKatlas of Mainland Britain: A Comprehensive Geographic Atlas Showing the Rail Network of Great Britain (3rd ed.). Sheffield: Platform 5 Publishing Ltd. pp. 18, 125. ISBN 978-1909431-26-3.
  37. ^ Operators adopt for post Covid railway Modern Railways issue 891 December 2022 page 74
  38. ^ Bridge 2017, p. 127.
  39. ^ eNRT May 2022 Edition, Table 69
  40. ^ "Rail buffs to highlight Teesside Airport 'ghost station'". The Journal. 14 October 2009. Archived from the original on 7 March 2012.
  41. ^ "All aboard for the ghost train". Western Daily Press. 10 August 2006.
  42. ^ Pilning Station Footbridge Removed for Wiring Modern Railways issue 819 December 2016 page 11
  43. ^ a b "Timetables".
  44. ^ "Train timetables | EMR".
  45. ^ "Smethwick West Station 1867–1996". railaroundbirmingham.co.uk. Retrieved 16 September 2009.
  46. ^ "Croxley Green LNWR branch – passenger closure". Rail Chronology. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  47. ^ "'Ghost bus' makes final journey"itv.com news article 11 June 2013; Retrieved 20 May 2013
  48. ^ "Consultation: Withdrawal of scheduled passenger services between Wandsworth Road, Kensington (Olympia) and Ealing Broadway". Department for Transport. 10 May 2012. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
  49. ^ Norton Bridge rail station: proposed closure Department for Transport 6 November 2017
  50. ^ Closure Ratification Notice – Norton Bridge Station Office of Rail & Road 26 October 2017


  • 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.
  • Calder, Simon (2 April 2011). "Missed the bus? The route that runs only four times year". BBC.