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?

 
 
 
 

Why is it acceptable to kill someone? On the mysterious history of Britain’s road death toll

A London speed camera, 2004. Image: Getty.

A decade ago I became fascinated by a graph. This one:

I had been tracking the underlining data for years. The figures were easy to remember. Every year it was 3,500, plus or minus a percentage point or two.

Yet when the 2008 data was released, it had fallen to 2,538. This was 1,000 less than the figure in 2003. I plotted the above graph, and as I said, I became fascinated.

Because this is a really important graph. This is a plot of the number of people killed on Britain’s roads each year.

In Great Britain, collectively, we used to kill nearly 3,500 people on our roads every year. Consistently or, dare I say it, boringly: 3,500 deaths a year, 10 a day. It was accepted, in a, “Well yes it’s bad, but what can you do about it” kind of way. There was no clamour for change. Newspapers weren’t running headlines about the deaths mounting up, as they do with knife crime.

Meanwhile a train crash would be front page news for a week. Take the train that derailed at Hatfield on 17 October 2000, a tragedy in which 4 people died. That led to huge media interest, massive upheaval on the railways, and, ultimately, as the re-nationalisation of Railtrack, whose failings had caused the crash. Yet more than twice as many people will have died on the roads that day. Nothing was written about those deaths. Nothing changed.

In 2000, four people died in train crashes, while 3,409 died on the roads.

Here are those figures again.

1997 – 3,599 people killed on our roads

1998 – 3,422

1999 – 3,423

2000 – 3,409

2001 – 3,450

2002 – 3,431

2003 – 3508

But, in 2004 the figure dropped below 3,400 for the first time, to 3,221. Then in 2005 to 3,201.

2006 – 3,172

2007 – 2,946

Below 3,000! This was change. Significant change: 500 lives a year were not being lost. If you use Britain’s roads, your life may have been one of them.

2008 – 2,538

2009 – 2,222

When the 2010 figures came out I was amazed by the headline figure: 1,857.

That’s still far too high, of course, but it was 1,701 lower than seven years earlier.

This was a major story that deserved a ton of coverage, which it failed to get. Having shown no concern for when we were killing 3,500 people, it wasn’t overly surprising that the fact we were now killing 1,700 fewer wasn’t celebrated.

At any rate, the graph had flat-lined for years, then, in half a dozen years, it halved. Why?

The lack of media coverage resulted in an absence of answers. One commentator, Christian Woolmar, observed that there was no clear answer to why this had happened. But he went on to point out that there had been a fall in the average road speed over this period.

My anticipation of the 2011 figures troubled me, because I expected them to go up. Obviously I didn’t want them to: I desperately want zero deaths on our roads. But something happened in 2010 that I was sure would lead to more fatalities and bring a halt to the falling trend.

I was right. In 2011 we killed 1,901.

Sometimes, being right is shit.

The news was better in 2012. The fatality rate was 1,754. So was the 2011 figure just a blip, due to some significant snowfalls that year? No: the trend was over.

The number of people killed on our roads has remained stuck in the 17 hundreds. 

2013 – 1,713

2014 – 1,775

2015 – 1,732

2016 – 1,792

2017 – 1,793

2018 – 1,782

We have returned to a flatline on the graph – and if anything, I’m more fascinated now than I was before. Road deaths flatlined at 3,500 for years, then fell sharply, then flatlined again at half the rate.

This can’t have happened by accident. I wished I could explain it. I wish we could repeat it. No: I wish the second flatline hadn’t happened, and the fall had continued. If the rate of fall had continued, we’d have reached zero deaths on the road by now. You’d be right to question whether this is possible – but if you can half the number in a few years, why can’t we eradicate them altogether? The railways are an example of what is possible. The last time a passenger died in a train crash on Britain’s railways was in 2007.

It was time to figure out the answers to two questions. Why did the death toll fall? And why did it stop falling?

The obvious reason for a reduction in deaths on the road is the improvement in car safety features. This could create a gradual fall in the death toll as new, safer cars replaced older ones. But I’m not sure it can explain a 40 per cent fall over a 4 year period.

There’s a way to check whether cars on the road became almost twice as safe between 2003 and 2010: you can compare the figures with the rest of the EU. Car safety features are international, and any new feature would have appeared around the same time across the continent.

So I found the EU figures for 2000 to 2017, indexed for 2000 and plotted the graph for multiple countries. It was a busy graph. For clarity the following graph only includes Britain, Germany, France, Spain and Italy along with a straight line drop for comparison.

The good news is that things are improving across Europe – but no country had quite the same trajectory as Britain. They all have a fall much closer to a straight line of the sort you’d expect a general improvement in car safety would produce.

One thing I did notice is that, from 2013, these five countries stop falling. The technology based solutions of recent years, such as automatic emergency braking, don’t appear to be saving lives as of yet.

So, yes, cars are safer – but that doesn’t seem to explain why British roads suddenly became 40 per cent safer between 2006 and 2010.


In 1999, the New Labour government announced that it was going to reduce deaths on our roads. The target was a 50 per cent reduction by 2010. As you now know, it succeeded. This was a major achievement for a government. The kind of thing you would bang on about all the time. “Deaths on our roads halved by Labour!” But the party wasn’t in government when the 2010 figures were released – and it’s hard to take credit for your achievements from the opposition benches.

That it was government policy is not a full explanation, and how this happened is a little opaque. From what I can gather there was a wide ranging approach. The fire and rescue service changed their practices: because they recognised that survival rates were directly dependent on how quickly people got to hospital, this became the priority. Disturbing a police crime scene was allowed if it saved a life. Accident black spots were located, highlighted and safety measures implemented. Throughout that period road safety campaigns focused on speed, with “Speed Kills” being the dominate message for that decade. The government also changed the laws on speed cameras.

RoSPA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, has a lot to say about speeding and speed cameras. Its “Speed Camera Factsheet” states that, “Cameras are a very effective way of persuading drivers not to speed, and thereby reducing the number of people killed and seriously injured.” It reports that an independent review published by the Department for Transport (DfT) in 2005 said that “cameras significantly reduce speeding and collisions, and cut deaths and serious injuries at camera sites”, adding that cameras sites were delivering 100 fewer deaths per year.

Cameras first appeared in 1991, and revenue from court fines and fixed penalties went to the Exchequer. However in 2000 a trial scheme saw local councils keep the fines to pay for the cost of speed and red-light cameras. The pilot was so successful that, in 2001, legislation enabled this to happen across the country. The cost of providing and operating cameras moved from the local authority to the law breaking motorist.

The golden age of the speed camera had begun.

There was a tweak to this legislation in 2007. Fines reverted back to the Exchequer’s piggy bank. The DfT switched to funding cameras through a road safety grant. The intention was to create a greater mix of road safety measures agreed between local authorities and the police.

The number of people killed on British roads in 2007: 2,946

The number of people killed on British roads in 2010: 1,857

So perhaps the creation of the Road Safety Grant had a significant impact.

The second question: why did the death toll stop falling?

In 2010 I was unaware of Labour’s target to halve deaths on the roads. But, the change in government was enough for me to predict that the fall was over.

When the Tory/Lib Dem government negotiated its way into power in May 2010, the press declared that it was the end of the horrible nanny state – a return to personal freedom, liberty and the rule of common sense.

The way that this was to play out in real practical terms was on our roads. The evil speed camera was in the firing line. The narrative was that these cameras were just there so councils could extract cash from the poor public. Completely ignored were the facts that the fines were only handed down to dangerous, law-breaking drivers, and that councils no longer got the cash from fines.

Soon after the election the coalition government said that “Labour's 13-year war on the motorist is over” and pledged to scrap public funding for speed cameras. The Road Safety Grant to local authorities was cut from £95m to £57m. This meant that the government was now receiving an estimated £40m more raised in fines than it was spending on road safety. The cut to the grant reduced the camera maintenance budget by 27 per cent. It removed all the funding for new cameras, speed humps and other safety measures.

And the golden age ended.

Councils across the country announced their change of policy. Oxfordshire County Council switched off its speed cameras on 1 August 2010. Money was saved; lives were lost.

Eight months later, on 1 April, Oxfordshire’s cameras snapped back into life when the council reversed its decision because deaths on the county’s roads had immediately increased.

Turning off speed cameras sent out the message that we were no longer taking speeding seriously. The road safety campaigns changed their focus. The message that Speed Kills fell away and was replaced by drink- and drug-driving messages. It’s easy to miss that these campaigns move from encompassing virtually every driver to targeting a minority. A switch from confronting a socially acceptable behaviour to re-enforcing something already unacceptable. The state is no longer challenging everyone to be safe – only the small minority of bad people.

Yet speed still kills. The World Health Organisation states that an increase in average speed of 1 km[h typically results in a 3 per cent higher risk of a crash involving injury, with a 4–5 per cent increase for crashes that result in fatalities.
The majority of safety measures installed before 2010 remain in place and are saving lives. But with the funding gone councils are no longer installing new measures and the death toll is no longer falling.

So you can make a strong case that the pattern of road deaths was the result of government policy.

Which begs the question of our government: why has it accepted that it’s OK to kill, or be killed, on our roads?