My recent piece on levelling up got me thinking about the competitiveness problems of Bradford.
Bradford is unusual amongst Northern Mill town in that is built on top of a watershed not at the base of a dale. This created problems in water supply for industry and canals came late to Bradford and closed early. For rail the problems are even more pronounced. More than one none connected terminus was built and the height difference between them (21m) made a tunnel impactical whilst maintaining the stations.
In the event short sighted planning in the post war period saw both termini truncated (which is why Bradford does not have a grand Victorian railway station) and much of the land demolished for post war developments like roads and shopping centres that either never took place or, like a shopping mall, took years to commence.
Many different schemes have been proposed from tunnels to surface level. There is even a 1911 Act of Parliament involving a tunnel and bridge over Forster Square. Similar schemes have regularly been proposed but cost of course is an issue. Though estimated at 120 million the cost is miniscule compared to other schemes on a national level measured in billions.
The galvanising issue now is NP Rail, though this is likely to bypass the centre of Bradford maybe only having a park and rail stop to the south of the city at Low Moor.
Personally I think with the demise of the eastern branch of HS2 to Leeds a route via the Woodhead tunnel tunnel from Manchester branching off to Sheffield and Leeds. It would be much the cheapest option (estimated savings of 20-21 billion) then building through quite urbanised trans pennine corridors north of Manchester. The Network North consortium have recently proposed this.
Network North emphasises that the current Northern Powerhouse Rail proposal – scheduled to start in 2024/25 – relies heavily on the construction of both east and west legs of HS2 in northern England.
Instead, the group has proposed a design for a fully electrified rail network in the North, featuring a new high speed rail spine between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield
The idea here is that you take the savings from the revised NPR route and use it to integrate and connect rail throughout the northern region, including the Northern Hub project in Manchester (including the tunnel and below ground station proposed to link HS2 and NPR as one system), as well as rapid transit systems for Leeds, Bradford and Derby.
People will ask what about Bradford, well I don’t think a NPR station at Bradford not linked to existing rail lines would be a good idea at all, a parkway only station would just encourage road traffic in a city notorious for it lack of regional integration. It would be far better to develop a tramtrain rapid transit system comprehensively serving the whole of West Yorkshire with on street running between Exchange and Interchange stations in Bradford City centre. Their would still be steep gradients at each station. The solution would be to develop railway spirals (below) at each point.
This could also utilize former railway lines such as the Shipley Great Northern Railway branch line which via Thackley would create a fast new route to Leeds and link Shipley and Leeds directly, with a new spur to Leeds/Bradford Airport, and utilising existing track to interchange at Low Moor. Also without reversing and terminus headway for sub-regional trains capacity would be dramatically increased. I also give shout out to this Leeds Crossrail proposal to end so many trains terminating at Leeds which is the cause of so much congestion. With the capacity issues solved in Leeds city centre future street running in Leeds can serve much the same network as the Leeds Supertram proposal – but with much more segregated track in congested areas, removing a major objection to Supertram and learning from successful tram proposals in other cities
A tram train has already been studied by the West Yorkshire combined Authority. Though it didnt look at the Bradford stations connectivity issue. With on street trams failing several times in the last 30 years in Leeds Tram Trains are the way forward and much less expensive. It is now being trailed between Rotherham and Sheffield.
What is now needed from Transport for the North is a coherent and costed study to:
- Integrate HS2 to rail, including a NPR rail route and major cities
- How this should integate to other rail improvements including tram-train based regional metro routes
- I forever live in hope, how this can drive zero and low carbon options for major development in Leeds-Liverpool-West Yorkshire- South Yorkshire transpennine growth corridor.