Fantasy metro maps: West Yorkshire edition

Yorkshire. Image: Getty.

A few months ago, I wrote about the benefits that the Tyne and Wear Metro has brought to Newcastle, Sunderland, the wider area. I suggested that more cities should follow its example, and floated the idea of a Leeds Metro – proposals that were promptly scorned on Twitter. Let me explain.

Leeds desperately needs some form of improved public transport. The problem with public transport is that it is expensive to build and run – Leeds’s supertram project got beyond the drawing board, but only as far as the wastepaper bin – while taxis or cars cost local authorities nothing, bar a few tins of paint for road markings. So, they seem to think, let’s have a private transport system instead! Yay!

West Yorkshire, of course, already has dozens of railway lines. Some are in passenger use, some are out of passenger use, and some only have the track bed remaining. There are so many, in fact, that some say the ancient proverb “all roads lead to Rome” is actually based upon an even earlier epithet of “every track leads to Leeds”. 

While this may sound positive, it means that Leeds railway station is one of the busiest in the country and simply cannot handle more local traffic. This in turn means the good people of West Yorkshire don’t see any real service improvements.

So let’s start with Bradford. This is, after Leeds, the second biggest city in West Yorkshire, meaning a light rail system would be particularly useful.

There are two Leeds-Bradford lines. The one that runs via New Pudsey should therefore be converted into light-rail metro trains only, with no heavy rail trains on the route. A tunnel would instead connect Bradford Interchange, via a new central metro station in Bradford, to Bradford Forster Square, for regular trains to Leeds.

Rather than reversing in to and out of the Bradford Interchange, trains from Manchester and Halifax to Leeds could use then use the Dewsbury, cutting out Bradford altogether – delivering significant route time reductions. Meanwhile, a seperate line of trains from Manchester could instead terminate at Bradford Interchange. This has already been written about on CityMetric here.

Since Leeds station is already far too busy, a new station should be built below it, probably using the old stub viaduct over the river, to cater for the light rail trains from Bradford via New Pudsey. This would be expensive, but it would clear up Leeds station and allow for an underground route through Leeds, with intermediate stops in the city centre. Anyway, this is a fantasy map – my fantasy map, in fact – and I’ll do what I like. Deal with it.

So that’s Leeds to Bradford sorted. Right. Good. Next, then: York.

There’s two active routes to York, and one mothballed one, making a total of three routes for those of us who can’t add two and one together – you’re welcome, Mr Grayling. But since traffic from York is extremely busy, making any routes exclusively light rail would have unavoidable negative impacts on heavy rail travel times, particularly with the TransPennine route.

So. Here’s what you do. You start running heavy rail trains from York to Leeds via the disused Castleford line. Castleford – a through station where trains reverse in and out – is currently a bit of useless since Network Rail has decided Leeds doesn’t need a third route to York (they’re wrong) – but it still has the necessary infrastructure.


Reopening the Castleford link to York adds greater capacity and resilience to the Leeds-York lines. Metro trains could then run on track shared with heavy rail trains from Leeds to East Garforth (via a tunnel portal on Neville Hill depot) and from Leeds to Horsforth (via a tunnel portal around Burley Park), both of the tunnels linking into the underground section in Leeds city centre.

This works because under the Karlsruhe model, light rail and heavy rail services travel on the same metals. Both bring different benefits: heavy rail trains can skip stops and thus reduce journey times, while light rail trains can add provision for more new stops, and go to places that heavy rail can’t – like, for example, Leeds Bradford Airport (the 15th busiest airport in the UK, despite having no rail or metro links).

The heavy rail services from the Harrogate Line would only stop at Horsforth, Burley Park and Leeds, while those from the Selby Line would only stop at Garforth and Leeds. Meanwhile, the light rail services would allow for new stops across both lines. This could include an underground portion south of Burley Park, on the Harrogate Line, to enter the city centre, also giving access to the populated Hyde Park and Leeds University.

But all this planning is at the moment focused on conventional rail routes out of Leeds. If this is going to be a real West Yorkshire Metro, rather than just being a Leeds Metro, wider solutions are needed – encompassing more lines, more towns, more trains, a real network, instead of three improved service patterns and an expensive digging programme south of the Trinity Centre.

One of these wider solutions uses an old railway track bed. South of Dewsbury, Ravensthorpe station lies on an old triangular junction, although two of the lines never actually touched, with one crossing over the top of the other by means of a bridge. (Obviously. I don’t know how they could have done it without a bridge). Only two sides of this triangle still exist, so by moving the station and using the currently non-existent side of the triangle, you have a connection to the rest of the network and a new line.

This line travels through the outskirts of Dewsbury, connecting other towns like the superbly named Marsh (extra ballast may be required) before joining the current network at Low Moor railway station. The line would then travel on National Rail metals, with an intermediate stop at Bowling, before running into Bradford Interchange and the tunnel to Forster Square.

We now have a Ravensthorpe-Bradford line, but this could be far more effective if it took in another major settlement – Wakefield. Fortunately, there’s a line that runs from Ravensthorpe, through Wakefield Kirkgate, to Pontefract Monkhill. Do you see where I’m going? (Wakefield, you say. You’re right.)

This route is currently fairly busy, but there’s ample space for four-tracking if necessary; allowing Metro trains to run alongside National Rail trains rather than sharing tracks and impacting on heavy rail services. All intermediate stops between Wakefield and Pontefract Monkhill could be eliminated and served solely by light rail services, which would also allow for a conventional express Wakefield-Pontefract service.  

There’s also a disused railway line between Garforth and Castleford, which provides a useful strategic link. If this is extended to Pontefract Monkhill using track-sharing on the Pontefract Line, two significant West Yorkshire towns can be brought onto the network. You could then link up from Pontefract to Castleford, with a line all the way from Bradford Interchange to Garforth. Mmmmmmmmmmm. (Although the train would have to reverse at Pontefract, which is less good.)

I’ve already mentioned a service between Leeds Bradford Airport and Horsforth, travelling on the Harrogate line. This line could be extended south to Ravensthorpe via Dewsbury, as a prominent southern corridor out of central Leeds. The Dewsbury line north of Morley could be easily converted to light rail metals alone by building a chord onto the line to Wakefield Westgate.

The line between Morley and Ravensthorpe, via Dewsbury, is more difficult, because if services from Manchester are routed via Dewsbury instead of Bradford Interchange, this line is going to become very busy. So another track or two is probably needed – meaning at least three new bridges and a new mile-long tunnel are required. Ouch.

This line would terminate at a relocated and expanded Ravensthorpe station to allow interchange between National Rail, this line and the Pontefract-Bradford line, making the network just that – a network – instead of the current haphazard collection of lines.

Finally, let’s build a tunnel into northeast Leeds, because a) I’m from the northeast of England and it’s objectively the best compass direction, b) because nobody has ever bothered to build a railway line there, c) because it allows a higher service frequency through central Leeds and down to Morley, d) because of the pleasing symmetry of the names of the stations, and e) because, as I’ve already said, this is a fantasy map.

From that tunnel you can run trains on part of the Bradford/Garforth line, and on part of the Leeds Bradford Airport/Ravensthorpe line down to Morley, and you then have yet another line. Whoop whoop (or, in a West Yorkshire accent, whewp whewp.)

Will all of this happen? No. Will some of it happen? Probably not. Are you bored yet? Probably yes. Is the article finished? Definitely. See you next time.

Here’s a demonstration of how the network would look infrastructure-wise (green=light rail only above ground, red=light rail only in tunnels, blue=shared between light and heavy rail):

Click to expand.

And here’s the completed network:

Click to expand.

Who wouldn’t want a bit of that?

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.