West Yorkshire Mass-Transit, or is it?

Letter on behalf of our President, and life-long rail enthusiast, Peter Cookson

The mass-transit scheme recently announced for West Yorkshire promises to improve connectivity across the County and is to be applauded; but it is only a partial solution to the general problem. Connectivity within a given local or sub-regional authority is one thing, but people need also to be able to travel conveniently across boundaries between different authorities.

Who takes responsibility for this?

This problem of connectivity beyond West Yorkshire is acutely felt on the Eastern side of the Five Towns area we represent, where there is no usable rail connectivity at all out of the County. The border is effectively sealed at Knottingley, with all services terminating at the boundary. This happens nowhere else in West Yorkshire and is a unique and serious disadvantage to the Five Towns that has been allowed to persist for decades, with no-one doing anything about it.

In practice, anyone wishing to travel to the East or South from this district has to travel in the wrong direction to Wakefield or Leeds and back again at considerable time and expense before making any forward progress!

It makes no sense at all to terminate services in the Five Towns when they could be extended to more logical destinations beyond the boundary to improve connectivity, not just to the Five Towns, but to West Yorkshire as a whole. These services, as they stand, are wasted opportunities, taking up valuable train paths that could be much better used.

Pontefract Civic Society has proposed a pattern of services to West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Railfuture Y&H that we think would solve the problem, though we accept that implementation would be challenging, in view of infrastructure constraints at various points on the routes. However, “challenging“ is not the same as, “impossible”, and we strongly urge that every effort in time tabling should be made to make this work with the infrastructure as it is now. If implementation is made dependent on expensive interventions, nothing is likely to happen for years. Our scheme is dependent on finding one return train path per hour into Doncaster and one into Leeds. Briefly, it consists of:

    1.  Extending the current very limited and unsatisfactory Huddersfield – Castleford service on to Pontefract and Doncaster, thus making connection with the East Coast Main Line and the Eastern Counties.

    2.  Introducing a new Leeds – Five Towns- Scunthorpe- Grimsby/Cleethorpes service.

It is noteworthy that in comparing the two major Yorkshire cities of Sheffield and Leeds, Sheffield has direct services to both North and South Humberside but Leeds is only connected directly with North Humberside. The connection to South Humberside is a missing link in Northern connectivity. For the great majority of West Yorkshire this district can only be accessed with difficulty involving two changes of trains at Leeds and Doncaster. A direct link from Leeds benefits the whole of West Yorkshire. At the same time it brings new opportunities to former mining towns between Castleford and Thorne that have lost their industry altogether, while linking in with the large industrial town of Scunthorpe and the Immingham/Grimsby/Cleethorpes conurbation.

    3.   Raising the frequency of the Leeds- Goole service to hourly from the currently absurd one return train per day, which renders it almost unusable as it stands.

The rail services on the eastern side of the Five Towns are the Achilles’ heel of all West Yorkshire services. For far too long this district has been regarded as at the end of branch lines from Leeds and Wakefield. That philosophy is mistaken and needs to change urgently; services should not terminate in the Five Towns but pass through to other destinations, so as to bring wider connectivity for the greater good of all West Yorkshire.

Does the Government really mean what it says when it talks about “Levelling up; Building Back Better; Improving Northern connectivity; Reviving communities that have lost their industries; Encouraging modal shift from car to public transport “?  If so, here is a scheme to do just that!

Peter Cookson


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