Just a bit east of Darlington is Durham Tees Valley Airport, and it’s served by Teesside Airport railway station. You would think that a railway station serving an airport would be popular, but during the 2012-13 financial year a grand total of eight tickets were sold to this station. Yes, eight in a whole year – less than one a month. There are actually quite a few reasons why this station is so little-used.
1. Teesside Airport station is served by two trains each week
One train in each direction calls here, currently on a Sunday. This is known as a ‘parliamentary service‘ – essentially the lowest possible service that can be provided without withdrawing trains altogether. It’s located on the Tees Valley Line, on a section of the original Stockton and Darlington Railway, dating from 1825, and other stations on this line generally enjoy a half-hourly train service throughout the day. Therefore, the vast majority of trains therefore pass through Teesside Airport station without stopping.
2. It’s quite a long way from the airport terminal
When the railway station opened in 1971, the terminal was close by, but later on a new terminal building was constructed further away from the station. Nowadays it’s a 15 minute walk from the station, with no connecting shuttle bus. Not great if you have lots of luggage.
At one time, both the railway station and airport were called Teesside Airport, and many still refer to the airport by its original name. But since 2004 it’s officially been called Durham Tees Valley Airport, despite being nearer to Darlington than Durham. With so few people using the railway station, evidently nobody had the will to change its name to match.
3. It’s no longer a very busy airport
The Tees Valley Metro project has promised a new station located closer to the terminal, but falling passenger numbers at the airport make this unlikely. A glance at the departure boards yesterday showed only around six flights over a 24 hour period. All of these were KLM Cityhopper flights to Amsterdam or Eastern Airways flights to Aberdeen. Passenger numbers peaked at just under a million in 2006, but by 2013 this had slumped to just 160,000. Nowadays all departing passengers have to pay a ‘Passenger Facility Fee‘ of £6 (for adults) to help to pay for the airport’s upkeep. This is in addition to airport taxes and airfares and has to be bought separately.
Compared with other small airports like those in Humberside and Blackpool, Durham Tees Valley Airport seems to be struggling. Whilst improving the rail links could turn its fortunes around, the business case for an airport with declining passenger numbers may be hard to prove, especially one with such limited route offerings.
Its status as the least-used station in Britain means that, ironically, it’s sought out by transport geeks who are interested in this sort of thing. You can read write-ups from The Station Master and The Ghost Station Hunters about their visits. I bet almost all of the eight people who went there last year did so just to say that they’ve been, and not to actually reach the airport to travel.
Teesside Airport is far from being the only station in Britain with very low usage figures, but it stands out as an oddity. Many other airports have railway stations and they’re well-used, so at first glance it’s hard to understand why Durham Tees Valley Airport doesn’t even mention Teesside Airport station on its web site. It’s only when you look in more detail that you realise why. I hope the station will be rebuilt to serve the airport better in future, but I’m not holding my breath.