Cross-city line to Airport must be favoured option
We at the Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce strongly object to suggestions from the Parliamentary Light Rail Group, led by Greg Mulholland MP, that the existing heavy rail line between Leeds, Harrogate, Knaresborough and York should be converted to light rail - and specifically to tram-train operation ( RAIL 805).
Our objections to this suggestion are threefold: the success of the existing heavy rail service; the current plans for upgrading the line and its franchised services; and the inherent technical and financial weaknesses of tram-train technology.
The need for a rail link to Leeds-Bradford Airport (LBA) is now widely recognised, and the Government has funded consultancy studies into alternative surface access strategies.
It appears that a new direct rail line terminating at the Airport would not be technically or financially feasible within the foreseeable future. West Yorkshire Combined Authority is currently assessing alternative road and rail options in detail, including the scheme that Harrogate Chamber first proposed in 2011 - namely an LBA Parkway Station on the existing line near the Bramhope Tunnel.
The proposed Parkway Station would be adjacent to the existing long-stay car park, and could be served by the existing Airport shuttle buses synchronised with the arriving and departing trains. This scheme has been endorsed by the Airport Management in their latest Strategic Development Plan Surface Access Strategy 2016.
We have devised a novel Cross-City Line scheme based on connecting the Harrogate line to the Bradford and Skipton lines - serving the proposed new station at Leeds Bradford Airport.
This scheme has just been submitted to West Yorkshire Combined Authority for evaluation. It has also been presented to Leeds City Council, which is currently undertaking a wide-ranging ‘conversation’ with business and residents to develop its future transport strategy and plans for transport investment across the City.
Construction of a new Airport Station on the existing Harrogate line is a relatively low-cost ‘quick-win’ without any of the major capital funding and operating costs (or planning blight) that would inevitably delay the suggested direct rail link to the Terminal - whether heavy or light rail.
The design and construction of this new station should only cost around 10% of the £173 million NGT legacy fund, and it could possibly be ready for when the existing train frequency on the Leeds-Harrogate service will be doubled to every 15 minutes and the rolling stock is upgraded to Class 170 DMUs in 2019. Brian L Dunsby, Transport Spokesman, Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce
Aspirations must include the city’s neighbours
Andrew Mourant’s feature ( RAIL 805) reviews the aspirations for 21st century public transport in Leeds, following the New Generation Transport debacle. As someone who was not only Leeds born and bred but who also actually travelled on the last Leeds tram, I hope I may add to the debate.
From the 1890s onwards Leeds led the country in the development of its tram network, which was always expansive, innovative and modern. Perhaps anticipating government investment in infrastructure projects following the Second World War, proposals were put forward in 1944 whereby city centre tram routes near the railway station would have been put underground, a highly innovative move that was not progressed in the light of the subsequent post-war austerity.
Nevertheless, Leeds’ tram system continued to expand with technological innovations made, until a change in the city’s ruling political party in the mid-1950s brought about a very rapid - and many would consider disastrous - closure of the entire network.
That was largely a political decision. And it has been political decisions, or indecision, which have ruled ever since. Surely the very key to the success of Manchester’s Metrolink tram network has been the way that politicians from ten separate councils have worked closely together.
As to the future, at the opposite end of the Leeds-Harrogate line,
Harrogate (led by the Chamber of Trade and Commerce) very much wants to see a high-quality, high-frequency, electrified heavy rail link to both Leeds and York, more trains to London, and with a station on the Leeds-Harrogate line to serve Leeds Bradford Airport.
A tram-train service would scupper such aspirations for economic growth in and around Harrogate, and Harrogate’s rail users would lose the current easy interchange within Leeds station.
The idea of a tram-train spur into the airport, with all its topographical challenges and probable extremely light usage, is surely no more than a pipe dream.
In any case, the incredibly prolonged time it is taking Network Rail to even begin work-on-the-ground on the tram-train pilot scheme in Sheffield, for which trials have to be complete before the Government will authorise any similar project in the UK, means that any Leeds tram-train scheme is many years from reality. It will also be in a long funding queue of other eager-to-be-first cities once the ‘in principle’ green light is finally given.
Leeds councillors may want to see some solution implemented in short order, but the time taken to deliver the new stations at Apperley Bridge and Kirkstall Forge (well over ten years from first studies) indicates that nothing can be done quickly, especially in a world where endless business case studies, public consultations and public inquiries slow the planning process.
And given that some national rail projects due for delivery in the present Control Period (20142019) are already slipping into the next one (2019-2024), which itself is looking oversubscribed in terms of the Government’s willingness to fund such projects, it is highly unlikely that any rail-based scheme which needs to go through the planning and funding labyrinth could be completed much before 2030.
That would make it more or less 70 years since the last Leeds tram trundled its way back into Swinegate Depot on the foggy evening of November 7 1959! Steve Broadbent, by email
Learn from history and get on with a proper tramway
Much has been written of the demise of the Leeds trolleybus project, and of the Leeds Supertram before it ( RAIL 805). But these two projects are only the latest transport disasters in a long line stretching back nearly 75 years.
In 1945 Leeds could have had a light rail network better than any in Europe. The Leeds City Engineer, with the Leeds Tramways Manager, developed plans for tram subways under the city centre linked to segregated tramways into the suburbs, many of which already existed with more authorised.
Sadly, not only were these plans scrapped, the entire network was destroyed by 1959. But not before three prototype subway trams had been built - one of them can still be seen in the tramway museum at Crich.
By the 1980s it was becoming obvious that Leeds had made a massive mistake in throwing away its tramway network (worth many millions at today’s values). Trams were once again proposed in a plan by West Yorkshire PTE and Leeds City Council for routes from the city centre to Crossgates, Colton and Seacroft, much of which already existed as abandoned central reservations.
In 1989 an entirely new concept was considered, inspired by the successful fully automatic rubber-tyred VAL system in Leeds’ twin city of Lille, in France. However, the scale of funding required could never be found in a British city. Also in the late 1980s West Yorkshire PTE obtained parliamentary powers for trolleybuses in Leeds and Bradford, and even invited tenders.
Then in 1991 a Bill was deposited in Parliament for the three-line light rail system that became known as Supertram. Powers were granted in 1993 and plans were developed over the next few years, until Transport Secretary Alistair Darling cancelled it in 2004. Darling’s excuse was the increase in costs for tram schemes, but of eight highway schemes that had much higher cost increases, none were cancelled.
Leeds Supertram was essentially a good scheme, and it would have given Leeds the kind of system that Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham now take for granted. But while Manchester refused to accept Darling’s cancellation of all the Metrolink extensions, Leeds embarked on the ill-fated trolleybus project that could never have given Leeds the public transport service that it deserves and so desperately needs.
It must now be time to put all this failure behind us, and get on as rapidly as possible with a proper tramway for Leeds. No more endless studies of options. The only questions that need answering are what should an ultimate tram network for Leeds look like, and what is the most effective first stage towards it.
The recently suggested tram-train from Harrogate and Leeds-Bradford Airport, with street running in the city centre, could well be that first step. The second stage could be the Crossgates, Seacroft and Colton routes.
I chaired the technical team that developed light rail for Greater Manchester. Success in Manchester was achieved by strong political leadership across all political parties and all local authorities, working closely with a multi-disciplinary team of technical experts. The West Yorkshire Combined Authority must now follow that pattern, and make getting a tram system for Leeds its number one priority. Tony Young, Skipton