A different way to fix the Leeds rail network

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Chris Sharps proposals to transform the rail network around Leeds struck a chord with many who have a passing interest in transport in Leeds. Although Chris identified issues with the network and the imbalance of services entering the station, the article missed a number of key developments that are due to occur to the rail network around Leeds over the next 15 years. These will have an impact on the rail network and how services approach Leeds.

Here are a few things to note

Make the trains longer?

Could capacity be increased by lengthening trains? Most trains on the northern rail network are between 2 and 6 carriages today, whilst trains serving London commuters are between 4 and 12 carriages. Trying to increase capacity with major infrastructure works before extending the existing trains and platforms won’t deliver value for money.

Change is coming!

The biggest change approaching in the next 15 years is expected to be HS2 with a new terminus to accommodate services from London and Birmingham. This will change the train services using Leeds railway station and it will impact demand.

Will we still have fast high speed trains on the existing mainline to London or will slower stopping services running at ~100mph be introduced instead to maintain connectivity and increase capacity on commuter routes into Leeds and London? Will those trains still terminate at Leeds or loop around via Wakefield, Leeds and Garforth? This will have an impact on two train services per hour that use two platforms within the station.

There are also service increases expected that will need to be accommodated

  • 4tph to Harrogate (up from 2)
  • 5tph to Bradford Interchange (up from 4)
  • Extra trains towards Carlisle

Can Leeds station cope with the numbers?

Leeds railway station is one of the busiest stations in the UK with millions of users per annum. Can we realistically move millions more through saturated concourses without a major rebuild. Work is being undertaken to look at the existing concourse that will substantially impact it. However, there is a limit and it maybe beneficial to look at spreading the load by looking into new stations serving Leeds or expanding the Leeds railway station site.

Examples could include light rail where trams would use a separate street level stop or further platforms alongside the HS2 station for the trains to Castleford and Sheffield.

Other trains would replace the services that you rebalance

Removing the London services from the Wakefield line won’t make the demand on the Wakefield line go away. This is a busy commuter route with demand for more stopping services and fast trains to Sheffield. The removal of a South Yorkshire to Leeds link on HS2 will see demand for more trains from Sheffield on the existing railway lines. Any trains removed from the Wakefield line will be replaced by other trains and potentially more than we have today.

Is quadrupling the railway line east of Leeds the only option?

There are only so many railway services that can be fitted east of Leeds because of the viaduct that crosses the eastern part of the city centre. This two track line can only carry one train in each direction at a time, with services planned across it with enough robustness to ensure that services are not adversely affected by disruption. With trains travelling hundreds of the miles across the rail network, we cannot afford to plan too many trains through this bottleneck.

Quadrupling the line between Leeds and Marsh Lane (around one mile east of Leeds railway station) is likely to require demolition of nearby buildings to achieve this. Whilst this isn’t impossible, it will require more work and time to achieve.

The biggest user of space on the railway line between Leeds and Micklefield are the stopping trains. To remove these trains, light rail could be introduced between Leeds and Micklefield. A light rail system could serve the existing four stations and then travel access Leeds city centre via another route. This would remove the stoppers creating capacity for more trains. Leeds East Parkway could be used to terminate some of the trains whilst other trains head towards Selby, Hull and York (and Castleford if a new line is created). This proposal would remove a number of passengers from the current platforms at Leeds railway station.

Dependent on the location of Leeds East Parkway, it could be used to serve the light rail I propose above, park and ride passengers and even extend the public transport network towards the new developments in East Leeds and Wetherby.

These ideas won’t happen

Regardless of your views on government investment, we need to start talking about how we develop the railway network around Leeds now. These proposals from Chris and I are not cheap and take time to develop. We need to have these discussions now to help set out and influence the strategy.

Got any views?
If you have any views, please get in touch.

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