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?

 
 
 
 

The mountain in North Wales that tried to stop the UK’s blackout

Elidir Fawr, the mountain in question. Image: Jem Collins.

Last Friday, the UK’s National Grid turned to mush. Not the official term perhaps, but an accurate one after nearly one million people were left without power across the country, with hundreds more stranded at train stations – or even on trains (which isn’t nearly as fun as it might immediately sound). 

Traffic lights stopped working, back-up power failed in hospitals, and business secretary Andrea Leadsom launched an investigation into exactly what happened. So far though, the long and short of it is that a gas-fired power station in Bedfordshire failed just before 5 o’clock, followed just two minutes later by Hornsea offshore wind farm. 

However, amid the resulting chaos and inevitable search to find someone to blame for the outage, a set of mountains (yes, mountains) in North Wales were working extremely hard to keep the lights on.

From the outside, Elidir Fawr, doesn’t scream power generation. Sitting across from the slightly better known Mount Snowdon, it actually seems quite passive. After all, it is a mountain, and the last slate quarry in the area closed in 1969.

At a push, you’d probably guess the buildings at the base of the mountain were something to do with the area’s industrial past, mostly thanks to the blasting scars on its side, as I did when I first walked past last Saturday. 

But, buried deep into Elidir Fawr is the ability to generate an astounding 1,728 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 2.5 million homes, more than the entire population of the Liverpool region. And the plant is capable of running for five hours.

Dubbed by locals at the ‘Electric Mountain’, Dinorwig Power Station, is made up of 16km of underground tunnels (complete with their own traffic light system), in an excavation which could easily house St Paul’s Cathedral.

Instead, it’s home to six reversible pumps/turbines which are capable of reaching full capacity in just 16 seconds. Which is probably best, as Londoners would miss the view.

‘A Back-Up Facility for The National Grid’

And, just as it often is, the Electric Mountain was called into action on Friday. A spokesperson for First Hydro Company, which owns the generators at Dinorwig, and the slightly smaller Ffestiniog, both in Snowdonia, confirmed that last Friday they’d been asked to start generating by the National Grid.

But just how does a mountain help to ease the effects of a blackout? Or as it’s more regularly used, when there’s a surge in demand for electricity – most commonly when we all pop the kettle on at half-time during the World Cup, scientifically known as TV pick-up.

The answer lies in the lakes at both the top and bottom of Elidir Fawr. Marchlyn Mawr, at the top of the mountain, houses an incredible 7 million tonnes of water, which can be fed down through the mountain to the lake at the bottom, Llyn Peris, generating electricity as it goes.


“Pumped storage technology enables dynamic response electricity production – ofering a critical back-up facility during periods of mismatched supply and demand on the national grid system,” First Hydro Company explains.

The tech works essentially the same way as conventional hydro power – or if you want to be retro, a spruced up waterwheel. When the plant releases water from the upper reservoir, as well as having gravity on their side (the lakes are half a kilometre apart vertically) the water shafts become smaller and smaller, further ramping up the pressure. 

This, in turn, spins the turbines which are linked to the generators, with valves regulating the water flow. Unlike traditional UK power stations, which can take hours to get to full capacity, at Dinorwig it’s a matter of 16 seconds from a cold start, or as little as five if the plant is on standby.

And, designed with the UK’s 50hz frequency in mind, the generator is also built to shut off quickly and avoid overloading the network. Despite the immense water pressure, the valves are able to close off the supply within just 20 seconds. 

At night, the same thing simply happens in reverse, as low-cost, surplus energy from the grid is used to pump the water back up to where it came from, ready for another day of hectic TV scheduling. Or blackouts, take your pick.

Completed in 1984, the power station was the product of a decade of work, and the largest civil engineering project commissioned at the time – and it remains one of Europe’s largest manmade caverns. Not that you’d know it from the outside. And really, if we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that looks can be deceiving, and that mountains can actually be really damn good at making electricity. 

Jem Collins is a digital journalist and editor whose work focuses on human rights, rural stories and careers. She’s the founder and editor of Journo Resources, and you can also find her tweeting @Jem_Collins.