Here’s why Bradford is the key to fixing the West Yorkshire transport network

Bradford Interchange. Image: Ian Kirk/Wikimedia Commons.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the problem with the Leeds’ railway network: how it has only one station, a through station where 70 per cent of its trains terminate.

By contrast, Leeds’ neighbour Bradford has two stations, both termini – yet one of them is served almost exclusively by through trains. Returning that station to its status as a terminus could enable a radical transformation of public transport in West Yorkshire.

I don’t really know Bradford: I’ve visited a few times, and passed through on the train a couple of hundred times. What I do know is that it was once a grand northern city and a railway hub, with two large railway termini, Forster Square (aka Midland) facing north and Exchange (now Interchange) looking south.

Both have been hollowed out, their grandeur long gone. They remain termini, although proposals have been made to link the two together to create a through route.

But I’m not convinced this would help. How many passengers actually interchange between the two? I don’t imagine there are a great deal of Halifax to Ilkley or New Pusdey to Shipley passengers. (Actually now I think about it, there was one occasion last year where a Pudsey-Shipley train would have been very handy, but I was on a beer fuelled day out, so I’m not sure that counts as an economic benefit.) No, Bradford should keep its termini.

A map of West Yorkshire showing the routes and places in this article.

The good terminus

Bradford Forster Square is on the Leeds North Western Metro network, which is as close to perfect as an outer suburban network can get: Skipton and Ilkley in the west and north link with Bradford and Leeds in the south and east.

Two trains per hour (2 tph) run between each pair of places (with the exception of a Skipton to Ilkley service; that would be silly), with Shipley acting as a key interchange. Every stations has either 6 tph or 4 tph, which is pretty great. And, it’s all electrified, awesome.

I suggested last September that Leeds would be well-served if one of its twice an hour London services were extended on to Bradford: that should go into Forster Square. The Nottingham-Leeds service could also continue in this way: the timetable would still work with these changes.

Bradford Forster Square may have lost its commuter train from Morecambe, with its “Club Car” in which wealthy mill owners enjoyed a drink on their way to work. But it’s still has a good, sensible service and it is a logical place to terminate a train.

So: Bradford Forster Square is fine. On the south side of the city, though, Bradford Interchange is basically nuts.


Interchange Issues

Opened in 1850, Bradford Exchange was built as a joint effort by two companies. The Great Northern Railway ran trains from Leeds and the east, while the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway’s trains arrived from Manchester and the west. It was never designed for through trains, and after “rationalisation” in the 1970s was renamed Bradford Interchange in 1983.

Today Interchange has a solid service of 4 trains per hour from Leeds, which all head on to destinations in the west. A reciprocal 4tph run in the opposite direction, giving a total of 8tph.

This sounds reasonable, so long as you ignore the fact that the station is a terminus. Each day 136 services runs “through” Interchange, except they don’t run through at all. Every train has to slowly pull up to the buffer stop, where the driver gets out of the train and walks to the back, which then becomes the front. As she does this, the guard does it in reverse. Both of them then have to perform safety checks. Only then can a “through” train continue.

This takes a minimum of three minutes, but often four or five. Worst of all, that backwards facing seat you bagged when the train was empty in York is now propelling you forwards on a full train for two hours all the way to Blackpool.

Time to Terminate

As Bradford Interchange is a terminus station, it would work a whole deal better if trains actually terminated there. This is how that could happen.

Interchange is on the Calder Valley Line. This route runs from Leeds to Hebden Bridge, before it splits into two routes to Manchester Victoria and Blackpool North.

Truncating all the services on this route at Bradford and making everyone change there is not an option: through trains to Leeds will still be required. This can be achieved by routing some of the trains that currently reverse at Interchange along the route through Brighouse and Dewsbury.

There are 2tph that run from Manchester Victoria to Leeds, via Rochdale and  Bradford. This service provides an important link to the two big northern cities for town such as Halifax, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden. Only one of these trains should terminate at Bradford: the other should continue to run to Leeds, but be routed away from Bradford, switching to the North Transpennine route at Dewsbury. Halifax would lose out but the other towns would gain a faster service to Leeds

The hourly train that currently runs between Manchester Victoria and Leeds via Dewsbury is a stopping service. This would be switched from Leeds to Bradford to maintain the 2tph service.

The proposed changes to the Manchester Victoria trains.

The next train to consider is the hourly Blackpool to York. This is one of those hard-to-believe-it-takes-so-long trains. It’s less than 100 miles, yet takes 2h50, an average of less than 35mph. It’s not fit for purpose.

This should become a Blackpool to Bradford train. A new hourly Blackpool to Leeds train routed via Dewsbury is required. The aim should be a Leeds-Preston timing of 1h15, down from 1h42

Proposed changes to the Blackpool service.

The fourth train each hour to pass through Bradford is a slow train linking Huddersfield to Leeds via Halifax and Bradford. This snakes it’s way through Kirklees and Calderdale, stopping at every available station.

There is an argument for keeping this as a through service, to keep Halifax’s direct train to Leeds. But for reasons that will become clear I’m going for the full house: all trains terminate at Interchange. This becomes a truncated Huddersfield–Bradford stopper. A new all stations Interchange to Leeds service is added, routed via Halifax, Brighouse and Dewsbury.

Proposed changes to the stopping trains.

A New Opportunity

With all services from the west terminating at Bradford, the Interchange to Leeds via Pudsey and Bramley service becomes a separate route and a service can be drawn up on a blank piece of paper. This 10 mile route would become a prime candidate for electrification with a minimum high frequency shuttle of 6 tph.

It would also be suitable for a more radical transformation. In the last 25 years Manchester Metrolink has shown that a world class urban transit system can be created when you start converting heavy rail lines to light rail. Bradford Interchange to Leeds could be the first line in a West Yorkshire Tramway.

Extra stations/stops would be main benefit that light rail would bring to the current line. For 90 per cent of its length, it’s flanked by housing and light industry. The West Midlands Metro between Birmingham and Wolverhampton is a comparable route: it is 13 miles long, and has 26 stops.

Bradford Benefits

Look beyond the current line and the benefits of light rail really add up. A conversion from heavy to light rail in layman’s terms is a switch from trains to trams. Trams run on streets – so at Bradford, the buffer stops could be removed and trams could continue through the heart of the city to Forster Square Station.

Proposed tramway form Interchange to Exchange on Google Maps.

Trams have the advantage of taking people much closer to where they want to go: the University and The Royal Infirmary would be good targets for future extensions.

Bradford would not lose out on its rail services. Both Forster Square and Interchange would continue with their trains to Leeds, London,  Manchester and the rest.

Leeds Link

Trams and trains shouldn’t mix: this means a new route into Leeds would be required.

A mile west of Leeds station, at Holbeck Junction, the new tramway would need to bridge both the A643 and the Leeds to Bradford Forster Square railway. The tram tracks could then cross the Leeds Liverpool Canal and River Aire using the abandoned railway viaduct that once approached Leeds Central Station.

The abandoned great northern viaduct. Image: Google.

Switching to on street running, Leeds Station would be reached via Whitehall Road and Aire Street.

Route of proposed tramway to Leeds station on Google Maps.

But why terminate at Leeds station? The obvious answer to that question is that going any further gets really expensive, but I’m going to ignore that due to the massive benefits that come from pushing on.

The 1990s Leeds Supertram scheme proposed three routes, to the south, north and east of the city. Similar routes were put forward in 2005 for a trolleybus scheme.


These route should be the long term aim. To start with I would propose a short route up to the Universities and/or a route through to the Bus Station and Quarry Hill. The recent short extension of the West Midlands Metro along less than a mile of Birmingham’s streets has produced a disproportionally large 35 per cent increase in ridership. On street running to places people actually want to travel makes trams visible – and this leads to much greater usage.

The key is that the conversion of a railway line to light rail would be a gateway for trams in West Yorkshire. For the last decade, most of the modern tramways in England have expanded, while no new systems have been approved by Westminster. Replacing the trains from Bradford Interchange with trams could be the foot in the door that Leeds needs to open its streets to 21st century public transport.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook

 
 
 
 

Barnet council has decided a name for its new mainline station. Exciting!

Artist's impression of the new Brent Cross. Image: Hammerson.

I’ve ranted before about the horror of naming stations after the lines that they’re served by (screw you, City Thameslink). So, keeping things in perspective as ever, I’ve been quietly dreading the opening of the proposed new station in north London which has been going by the name of Brent Cross Thameslink.

I’ve been cheered, then, by the news that station wouldn’t be called that at all, but will instead go by the much better name Brent Cross West. It’s hardly the cancellation of Brexit, I’ll grant, but in 2017 I’ll take my relief wherever I can find it.

Some background on this. When the Brent Cross shopping centre opened besides the A406 North Circular Road in 1976, it was only the third large shopping mall to arrive in Britain, and the first in London. (The Elephant & Castle one was earlier, but smaller.) Four decades later, though, it’s decidedly titchy compared to newer, shinier malls such as those thrown up by Westfield – so for some years now, its owners, Hammerson, have wanted to extend the place.

That, through the vagaries of the planning process, got folded into a much bigger regeneration scheme, known as Brent Cross Cricklewood (because, basically, it extends that far). A new bigger shopping centre will be connected, via a green bridge over the A406, to another site to the south. There you’ll find a whole new town centre, 200 more shops, four parks, 4m square feet of offices space and 7,500 homes.

This is all obviously tremendously exciting, if you’re into shops and homes and offices and not into depressing, car-based industrial wastelands, which is what the area largely consists of at the moment.

The Brent Cross site. Image: Google.

One element of the new development is the new station, which’ll sit between Hendon and Cricklewood on the Thameslink route. New stations are almost as exciting as new shops/homes/offices, so on balance I'm pro.

What I’ve not been pro is the name. For a long time, the proposed station has been colloquially referred to as Brent Cross Thameslink, which annoys me for two reasons:

1) Route names make rubbish modifiers because what if the route name changes? And:

2) It’s confusing, because it’s nearly a mile from Brent Cross tube station. West Hampstead Thameslink (euch), by contrast, is right next to West Hampstead tube.

Various other names have been proposed for the station. In one newsletter, it was Brent Cross Parkway; on Wikipedia, it’s currently Brent Cross South, apparently through confusion about the name of the new town centre development.

This week, though, Barnet council quietly confirmed it’d be Brent Cross West:

Whilst the marketing and branding of BXS needs to be developed further, all parties agree that the station name should build upon the Brent Cross identity already established. Given the station is located to the west of Brent Cross, it is considered that the station should be named Brent Cross West. Network Rail have confirmed that this name is acceptable for operational purposes. Consequently, the Committee is asked to approve that the new station be named Brent Cross West.

Where the new station will appear on the map, marked by a silly red arrow. Image: TfL.

That will introduce another irritating anomaly to the map, giving the impression that the existing Brent Cross station is somehow more central than the new one, when in fact they’re either side of the development. And so:

Consideration has also been given as to whether to pursue a name change for the tube station from “Brent Cross” to “Brent Cross East”.

Which would sort of make sense, wouldn’t it? But alas:

However owing to the very high cost of changing maps and signage London-wide this is not currently being pursued.

This is probably for the best. Only a handful of tube stations have been renamed since 1950: the last was Shepherd’s Bush Market, which was until 2008 was simply Shepherd's Bush, despite being quite a long way from the Shepherd's Bush station on the Central line. That, to me, suggests that one of the two Bethnal Green stations might be a more plausible candidate for an early rename.


At any rate: it seems unlikely that TfL will be renaming its Brent Cross station to encourage more people to use the new national rail one any time soon. But at least it won’t be Brent Cross Thameslink.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook