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Chester-le-Track Vienna Conference


How a small independent railway station helps travellers all over Britain Alex Nelson, Chester-le-Track Ltd., Chester-le-Street Co. Durham, GB

Fig.1 Street scene on Front Street, Chester-le-Street

Chester-le-Street is a market town of some 28,000 people, which grew up around a Roman fort guarding a road which later became the Great North Road between London and Edinburgh.|0&sf=187648892.534865

Whilst looking at maps for this article, I have found a park in Australia named after me!

Fig 2. The Alex Nelson Reserve

The Alex Nelson reserve, complete with public toilets, is on Harold Road in Springvale South in Greater Dandenong near Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. When I tell people I have my own railway station, they are prone to think of a narrow gauge steam railway, such as the one run by model railway engineers found at Preston Park on Teesside.

Fig 3. Enthusiast-run miniature railway in Stockton

But Chester-le-Street station is situated on one of Britain’s main railway lines. The East Coast Main Line passes through the historic county of Durham between London and Edinburgh. The priceless Lindisfarne Gospels are now kept at the British Library, close to King's Cross, the ECML's southern terminus. This is 260 miles south of Chester-le-Street.

The Gospels were completed prior to 721 AD in honour of St. Cuthbert, the greatest saint of the north, who died in 687AD, as a single work by Bishop Eadfrith working on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, viewed from the ECML further north near Berwick. Following Viking raids in 875, the community of St. Cuthbert left with the saint's body and wandered around the north before settling in Chester-le-Street in 883. There the relics of St. Cuthbert, and the Gospels, stayed for 112 years, and during this time a church was built there on the site of the old Roman fort (predating Durham Cathedral).

Fig 4. Title page from the Lindisfarne Gospels

A Saxon priest, by the name of Aldred, took the Lindisfarne Gospels and between the lines of the original Latin wrote a word-for-word gloss of the Gospels into Old English, the first known translation of the most important book in the world into arguably the most
important language in the world. Something complicated was once made simple in Chester-le-Street: we are trying to do the same thing making sense of the national fares manual.

Fig 5. Turning the pages of a facsimile of the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Today, Chester-le-Street is now the junior partner to this story, the relics having moved on to Durham in 995 after a brief stop in Ripon. National Express East Coast trains to London do not call at Chester-le-Street, but some TransPennine and Cross Country ones do, and you can spend an interesting few hours wandering this thriving market town on its heritage train, and visiting the Ankers House Museum where the anchorite was walled up for life in the middle ages to a life of prayer and contemplation.

Fig. 6 The Parish Church of St. Mary and St. Cuthbert

Chester-le-Street's railway station was first opened in 1868, in the second phase of railway building in Britain. It opened in the same year as what is now St. Pancras International in London, now the Eurostar terminal. It was one of several stations between Durham and Newcastle, although other intermediate stations at Plawsworth, Birtley, Low Fell, Bensham and Gateshead have all closed. Chester-le-Street station had a goods yard until the 1960s, and was threatened with closure itself under the Beeching cuts, but remained open with a reduced service, and a one-shift single staff member was withdrawn in the early 1980s.

I was running a group tour operator’s business in the late 1990s, which still exists, called Mayfair Group Travel. We organised tours mostly by coach around the UK and on the continent of Europe. We also dabbled in chartering trains to London for Christmas shopping and major sporting events when advance purchase tickets were not as cheap nor as plentiful as now. Rail was particularly popular for trips to London where the journey time is around three hours as opposed to six hours by road, but we had a problem: we could never get the rail companies to sell us tickets for any less than the customers could buy them for themselves. With hotels, ferries, theatre tickets etc. it was possible to buy wholesale and package together. Not with rail tickets. There was little point in buying in a ticket for £50 and selling it for £50, and making nothing. Conversely, one could not buy a ticket for £50 and sell it on for £55.

Derelict, boarded up, and unloved, I came across Chester-le-Street station whilst travelling from Durham to Newcastle in November 1998. It had a “to let” sign on it, although the people who put the “to let” sign up were not thinking of an operational railway station. If that was such a good idea, they would do it themselves. They were thinking of a craft shop, or a solicitor’s office, or a restaurant or an accountancy office. Here was an opportunity to solve my problem: if I had my own railway station I could sell tickets to anybody, and earn commission for doing so. I made contact with the rail company, then called Northern Spirit and they were quite enthusiastic. (This was a company losing money, and here was an opportunity for a good news story that would not cost anything.)

After much work and investment in the only unstaffed station between Newcastle and London, my new private company Chester-le-Track (on the track, not the street at Chester-le-Street) reopned the station in July 1999. The company has reinvigorated the station and encouraged more train operating companies (TOCs) to call so there are now 32 trains each weekday. The station also operates a virtual booking office at which provides information about rail travel throughout the UK, including Northern Ireland, and you can book trains, accommodation, ferries and car hire irrespective of where in Great Britain you are going.

As with all businesses in the late 1990s it was necessary to have a website and we started with We also acquired and other names of rail companies which has surprisingly not registered obvious domain names. We even acquired, speculatively, which became the new name for British Rail in 2001. Accordingly we receive around 14,000 visitors every weekday searching for information about rail travel in the UK. Many of these are buying tickets as a result of our affiliate agreements with and raileasy. This is a way of earning income without having to expend staff time in issuing tickets and posting them out. This business model is very attractive: being paid for doing nothing at all, so we have expanded into similar deals for hotels, car hire, ferries etc.

Large stations have retail operations so we rapidly expanded into a virtual shopping centre called, since Front Street is the main shopping street in our town and many other north-east towns. This is a static map with hyperlinks to every business with a website in Chester-le-Street.

However, our main development in mapping has been with Quickmap, a small business based in Luton, Bedfordshire run by David Sherriff and Andrew Sutton, under the guidance of Chairman Dr Steve Cousins.

Fig 7. Chester-le-Street station looking south

Chester-le-Track has so far commissioned four maps from Quickmap. The first contact was in February 2002 when I first became aware of their work in London, mapping bus services.

Hello from Chester-le-Street, home of We own all the domains of the London Underground lines and after relaunching our home page next month will be wanting to upgrade our London coverage, e.g., with tube maps. We thought of using yours as an alternative to the usual LT style. Are you thinking of doing any mapping in the north east? Specifically we could carry a little map of trains whizzing through our station on the East Coast Main Line between Durham and Newcastle. But since your main activity is in London, you might be interested in the fact we own all the and would be pleased to work with you.

Regards, Alex Nelson for

Quickmap MapMovies are constructed using Adobe Flash Player, the standard for delivering high-impact, rich Web content. As Adobe says “Designs, animation, and application user interfaces are deployed immediately across all browsers and platforms, attracting and engaging users with a rich Web experience.



The first MapMovie was designed in 2002 and has been revised and expanded within the same physical space on the website. Devised by Alex Nelson and designed by David Sherriff, the map shows train operating companies and provides links to their websites, including Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Trains appear in the colours of their operators, and criss-cross about the country. A suggestion that they should run in real time, e.g. take three hours to travel the six inches between London and Newcastle, has not been taken up. New operators such as Grand Central have been added, and there is a range of links at every station to other operators, e.g. local tram services, and real time running information at each departure point too.

2. Virgin trains Network

Fig 8. Virgin Train West Coast & Cross Country Network

In May 2004 the long distance cross country operator Virgin Cross Country started calling at Chester-le-Street. This operator also ran the West Coast Main Line franchise, and together these provided a comprehensive service around many parts of the country. A full Virgin (CrossCountry and West Coast) MapMovie was produced to go on the national website in the hope that Virgin would want to use this graphic on their own website also. Unfortunately, they could never be persuaded to do so, being happy with a static map, and the product became obsolete in November 2007 when the CrossCountry franchise was taken over by Arriva.

3. Prudhoe Station

Local suggestions, including from fellow speaker Robert Forsythe, led to a website being designed for the station at Prudhoe on the Newcastle to Carlisle Tyne Valley line.

Fig. 9 Prudhoe Castle, just up from the railway station on the Tyne Valley Line

Prudhoe is a commuter town on the west side of the city of Newcastle upon Tyne. The MapMovie was drawn in October 2007 and placed on a new website The station is unstaffed but now has a transport interchange and large (free) car park. This website will be developed further as time permits, but already generates business using booking engine under the existing Chester-le-Track affiliate deal.

4. Chester-le-Street Town

This is a work in progress, and should be ready to show for the Conference, showing train, bus, car and pedestrian routes between Chester-le-Street station and the main attractor points: the Riverside cricket ground (Durham County Cricket Club), the town cricket ground (Chester-le-Street Cricket Club), plus the Civic Centre and Parish Church including the Ankers House Museum.

5. Eaglescliffe Station (forthcoming)

A new proposal currently being evaluated is a request from Grand Central, a new “open access” operator, to reopen the booking office at Eaglescliffe on Teesside. This is the only unstaffed station on their route from Sunderland to Londond via Hartlepool and York, and staff were withdrawn in the 1960s. Should this proceed, a new MapMovie will be required along the lines of the one for national to promote connections to and from Eaglescliffe, which already features on the national MapMovie.


Fig 10. Eaglescliffe Station, looking north from the access bridge


6. Wimbledon

The Championships, Wimbledon, or simply, Wimbledon, is the oldest tennis tournament in the world, and is widely considered as the most prestigious. It has been held at the All England Club in the London suburb of Wimbledon since 1877. It is the oldest of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, and the only one still played on grass courts. The tournament runs annually for 13 days from late June to early July, with the climax being the men's singles final, scheduled for a Sunday. The otherwise excellent website is let down by a boring monochrome “transport map” which does not show rail lines, and gives briefest details of coming by bus. This, too, for an event which positively needs people to travel by public transport as local parking is very limited.

Fig. 11 The Transport Access Map for Wimbledon

By Underground:
Go to Southfields on the District Line or Tooting Broadway on the Northern Line, then take Bus 493. Enter through Gate 3.
By Bus:
Bus 493 runs from Richmond to Tooting, connecting with the District Line at Southfields, with the Northern Line at Tooting Broadway, and with the rail/tram in Wimbledon.
By Rail:
A 10-minute ride from London Waterloo to Wimbledon Station, then Bus 493.
By Road:
From central London take the A3 Portsmouth road and just before Tibbet's Corner, turn left onto A219 towards Wimbledon. Down Parkside, then turn left into Church Road.

Except that it’s not a 10 minute ride as the table below shows: it’s a 16 minute ride. A 60% error rate would not be accepted on a tennis court!


7. RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) Hampton Court Flower Show 2008

One of Quickmap’s regular pieces of work is for the RHS which stages a major Flower Show at Hampton Court, south west of London, which also claims to be the original home of tennis. The Palace is a former royal palace in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, south west London, England.[1] The palace is located 11.7 miles (18.8 km) south west of Charing Cross and upstream of Central London on the River Thames. It is open to the public as a major tourist attraction.

Fig. 12 Hampton Court Palace in SW London

Tennis was played on this site by Henry VIII from 1528. As a young, handsome, athletic man Henry was passionately addicted to sport, and particularly to tennis. Legend has it that he heard of the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn as he played tennis at Hampton Court Palace. During the 17th century various improvements were made to the court. One of the first acts of Charles II after his restoration in 1660 was to order the extensive refitting of the Tudor Tennis Court. The court is the oldest tennis court in use in the world; and the only one in Great Britain which the public are admitted (April-October) to see and, if play is in progress, to watch tennis being played.

8. Notting Hill Carnival 2008

Notting Hill Carnival is an annual event which takes place in Notting Hill, London, England each August, over two days (Sunday and the following bank holiday). It has continuously taken place on the streets of Notting Hill since 1965. It is led by members of the Caribbean population, many of whom have lived in the area since the 1950s. The carnival has attracted up to 2 million people in the past, making it the second largest street festival in the world, after Rio. It attracted press attention in 1976 for clashes with the police, which continued for several years. More recently however Carnival has been seen as a peaceful event, and attracts press attention for the attendance figures.

9 .Wembley Stadium

Wembley Stadium is a stadium in Wembley, located in the London Borough of Brent in London, England. It is owned by The Football Association (FA) via its subsidiary Wembley National Stadium Limited, and its primary use is for home games of the England national football team, and the main English domestic football finals. It is also used for pop concerts and other sporting events. With 90,000 seats the stadium has the third largest capacity in Europe (after the Strahov Stadium and Camp Nou), and the largest in the world with every seat under cover.

Fig. 13. The iconic Wembley Stadium, North West London

10. Kingston town centre

Kingston upon Thames is the principal settlement of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames in south-west London. It was the ancient market town where Saxon kings were crowned and is now a suburb situated 10 miles (16.1 km) south west of Charing Cross. It is one of the major metropolitan centres identified in the London Plan.

Central Kingston is a busy predominantly retail centre, with a small number of commercial offices and civic buildings. It has a great many car parks, connected by a notoriously difficult one-way system. It is one of the main centres of the south west London bus network, and it is connected to Twickenham, Richmond, Wimbledon, and London Waterloo by National Rail train.

11. Worthing buses demonstrator

Worthing is a large seaside town and a local government borough in West Sussex, England. Worthing is a major urban area and forms part of the Brighton / Worthing / Littlehampton conurbation. Worthing has a population of almost 100,000 and is situated between the English Channel and the South Downs. Traditionally Worthing has an above average proportion of elderly people, although there has been a decrease in the 60+ population, along with an increase in the population aged 25-45 in recent years. The town is often known as 'Sunny Worthing' following a popular advertising campaign in the 1890s promoting the town's agreeable climate between the sea and Downs.

12. Blythe Valley Business Park

Business Park near Solihull in the West Midlands, which commissioned Quickmap to help people find their location by all modes.

13. Walk for Life, Crusaid

Crusaid is a charity helping people who are affected by HIV and AIDS and living in poverty, in both the UK and Africa. With around 70,000 HIV positive people in the UK, and an incredible 22.5 million people living with HIV in Africa, Crusaid is needed now more than ever. On 1 June this year they organised a Walk for Life for Londoners to raise money, starting at Potters Fields Park, which is a park between Tower Bridge and City Hall.

14. S.S. Robin Trust

Fig 14 The SS Robin in Docklands, East London

SS Robin is the oldest complete steam coaster (a class of steamship that is licensed only for passage in coastal waters) in the world. Moored on the River Thames in England, it has recently opened as an education centre and photography gallery (June 2004). Robin was built in 1890 by Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd. of Orchard House Yard, Bow Creek which is about a mile (2 km) from where it is currently moored. She is a steam vessel built for coastal trade and was built in a style that had been used since the 1840s. Ships similar to this were in constant use up to the 1940s.


In recent years, Quickmap has been selected for inclusion in several international and UK design books and manuals, the most recent 'Anatomy of Design' to be published by Rockford in New York. In writing this paper, I was anxious to put the work which I have been doing with Quickmap in some kind of academic context. As a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, I did some work in their library in London but found nothing broadly comparable. I therefore made contact with the local Geography department in Durham University which has a speciality in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and has done so since I was a student there myself in 1980-3. Danny N. M. Donoghue, an academic from the University of Durham Department of Geography responded to my request for some academic references to similar work:

I had a quick look at the web sites and your maps look fun. Some of my group do on-line GIS / map production but we use either standard packages such as ArcIMS or Java scripts linked to packages like ASPMap.

His colleague Robert W. Dunford, a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Archaeology Department, also responded to my request to put some academic context around the MapMovies.

Most of the programming that we have done has been for project contracts to demonstrate the use of web-GIS to organisations such as the Forestry Commission or the Environment Agency. As Danny says we have used ASP/JavaScript based programming and 'ASPMAP', a web-GIS add in from VDS Technologies ... so its not really the same kind of thing. Yours is more
advanced with dynamic geography - ours is static but 'explorable'. I really like the MapMovies idea - I guess it'd be theoretically possible to combine the explorable interaction and the dynamic animation into one really funky application ... although I'm not sure what application you'd use it for.

That said, I don't have any short cuts to the academic literature on this. Most of my work has been contract based and so problem solving rather than academic thought expanding! Good luck with this, sounds like a really interesting field. Keep us posted if we can help.”

In summary then, Chester-le-Track’s fruitful collaboration with Quickmap seems to be a work in isolation, and is not reviewed by any academic journals. It creates a “fun” look for the websites, and many people spend several minutes looking at the MapMovie and exploring the various links. The writer would be pleased to hear of any similar developments or innovations in other countries. Meanwhile anyone with possible applications for the MapMovie concept is invited to contact either Chester-le-Track or Quickmap, details below. One small independent station on the National Rail network is helping make sense of the rail network across Great Britain.

Fig 15 Stationmaster on the map.

Stationmaster, Chester-le-Street

14 August 2008

Quickmap Ltd,
PO Box 12,
020-7813 3397

Chester-le-Track Ltd
The Railway Station
Station Road
Co. Durham
0191 388 9962

Image Credits:
Fig: 1. Wikipedia 2. Department of Health and Ageing, Government of Australia 3. Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway Ltd 4. The British Library 5. The British Library 6. St. Mary and St Cuthbert's Church PCC, Chester-le-Street 7. Wikipedia 8. Chester-le-Track Ltd / Quickmap Ltd 9. Chester-le-Track Ltd / Quickmap Ltd 10. Wikipedia 11. The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon 12. Wikipedia 13. Wikipedia 14. Wikipedia

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