Eerily quiet and yet oddly peaceful. That's how I'd describe the station I'm currently sat at. Platforms punctuated by the rustle of leaves, rather than the bustle of commuters.
But I'm not exactly in the bucolic backwaters of nowhere; I'm on the busiest line on the London Underground — one which serves about 260 million people a year.
With a little over 368,400 passengers recorded in 2017, the Central line's Roding Valley is officially the least used station across the London underground network. To put that into perspective, King's Cross station recorded 97 million passengers that same year. Let that sink in.
"Maybe it's quiet because passengers don't touch in or out..."
Local residents don’t seem to think the station is anything out of the ordinary; most seem surprised to learn of Roding Valley's bottom-of-the-charts standing.
"I’m surprised," Sean tells us, "I think it's increased at least five-fold in the last decade, especially since they changed it from zone 5 to zone 4. I would have thought the least used station would be somewhere further out."
To be fair, it's around 8.30am — so maybe we've missed the onslaught. But this is Roding Valley as it is most hours in the day. Very, very peaceful.
Located between Buckhurst Hill and Woodford, Roding Valley was originally built to serve the housing developments nearby. While it opened in February 1936, it didn't become part of the London underground until 1946.
Its low usage — partly due to its small catchment area — is not the only thing that makes this station so unique; Roding Valley is also one of the 12 Underground stations not to have ticket barriers in London.
"Maybe it's quiet because passengers don’t touch in or out, since there are no ticket barriers," Sean muses, "Or maybe it’s because they’d rather walk from Woodford than wait 20 minutes in-between trains."
Trains every 20 minutes
He assures us that getting a seat is actually very rare. "If I get the 7:23am generally there's a chance to get a seat, but any time after that it's impossible. Especially during rush hour."
We only counted one person in the carriage on our way to the station, but then that was going the other way.
Getting there can be a little tricky if you don’t know how the Hainault loop works. Passengers from central London have to change at Woodford or Hainault and take a second train to reach Roding Valley. Trains only run every 20 minutes when off-peak, a missed connection can mean the difference between scoring that new job or not.
"Sometimes I've got to take the trains and there's no one, so I get scared!"
Once you get there, Roding Valley is a scene of deserted platforms, empty waiting rooms, and deafening silence. Hard to believe you're still in London, and technically, you're JUST inside Essex.
Being the Underground's least-used station does not make it trouble free though.
Allie and Matty work at the corner shop outside the station. While they admit the station can be considerably empty during the day, they assure us it becomes extremely busy between 5pm and 6pm. For Allie, the deserted platforms can become a source of concern; "Sometimes I've got to take the trains and there's no one, so I get scared!".
It's thieves that worry Matty most though; the shop is right around the corner from the station, making it an ideal playground for shoplifters. "We’ve been robbed at least 20 times in the last nine months!" says Matty. "People come here right after they leave the station, so they take!"
Roding Valley station master, Nahan Praykvar, agrees: "You get trouble for kids hanging around sometimes because the footbridge that links the two platforms is public access, so it stays open at night.
"But never anything too serious, or dangerous.”
For Nahan, days can be long at the station; "It is quiet. It's difficult to pass the time sometimes," he admits. With just a little over a thousand passengers a day, it’s understandable.
Still, you can't deny the quietude of Roding Valley has its charm.