Leeds station is one of the busiest in the UK outside of London with more than 27 million people entering or exiting it between April 2013 and March 2014. It is projected that these numbers will continue to rise as Leeds itself grows.

The station is of vital importance to the economic and social development of the city and also to the wider region. All access and egress to this busy station is to the north side of the city. In recent years, however, the area to the south of the station has seen rapid development for both residential and commercial use.

To ensure that the people working or living
to the south of the station could enjoy easier access, and encourage further redevelopment of this area, West Yorkshire Combined Authority (formally – Metro) and Network Rail developed a plan for a station entrance to the south. The project is valued at £17.3m and the contract to deliver it was awarded to Carillion which began work in November last year.

Working with the river

The railway station straddles the River Aire on a raised brick arch structure that connects to a viaduct which bisects the city centre. The new southern entrance is being built in and across the River Aire and the site is constrained by a number of existing high-rise apartment buildings, the station itself and the river. All of this has presented a number of challenges to the Carillion team which is led by project manager David Carlyle.


Because of the location of the construction site, road access is virtually impossible. It was therefore decided that materials would be delivered to a ‘holding area’ around 500 metres downstream of the construction site from whence materials are then transported by barge. This has had the added benefit of eliminating the need to have heavy goods vehicles access the site via the city centre.

A 63-metre-high tower crane was erected in March 2014 in an extremely tight yard to the rear of one of the apartment blocks. This allowed the jib of the crane to over sail the building and the station to service the project. Because of the proximity to apartments, residents are kept informed about the work plan and times of activity via regular communications to ensure they understand what is happening and when.

The new entrance itself will sit on the Victorian viaduct which was built in 1869. This mean that two of the viaduct’s existing piers, located within the River Aire, required extending to support the new structure.

Progress so far

Construction began in April 2014 when piling work commenced installing the twenty-four 10 metre long, 900mm diameter piles from a jack-up barge positioned on the river. Following on from the foundation installation was the requirement for the placing of 36 pre-cast concrete panels which would form the outline of the pier and in effect act as a cofferdam from which the structural pile caps could be constructed. A specialist local dive team was brought in to carry out this work over the summer and the first of the structural pile caps was completed in October with the second being completed in early November, effectively lifting the project clear of the river.

One of the more unexpected challenges which the team faced in getting clear of the river was the amount of rubbish which was dumped in it by others on a daily basis – including truck tyres, timber sleepers and even large boulders. This has required a programme to remove and dispose of these unwanted items.

The completion of both pile caps allowed the steelwork, which forms the lower decks, to be floated up the River Aire and lifted into position, triggering the start of the next phase of construction work.

New concourse

During November and December, and running in parallel to the work on the River Aire, the
site team started work in the station itself – removing a glass façade and preparing the existing structure for a new steel concourse extension due to be constructed in Spring 2015. This will then allow for the new concrete deck running over platforms 15-17 to be constructed during the summer. The final part of the project is the installation of the external glazing which is due for completion in August, ready for an opening in late summer 2015.


The project will involve 19 Saturday night possessions to construct the tie-in of the new structure to the existing station. This will involve working across existing rail lines.

The new entrance will offer a fully-accessible enclosed pedestrian extension over the River Aire directly south of the station, complementing the existing access to the north side of the city. A combination of lifts, stairs and escalators will be installed to take passengers arriving at the new entrance from the river banks 12 metres up the side of the viaduct onto the widened concourse of the station. Here they will be greeted with a range of new customer information screens, ticket machines and a set of new access barriers allowing quick access to the station platforms.

Site agent Peter Laws described the project as: “A very complex undertaking. A central part of the project is a viaduct that is almost 150 years old so we had to establish what loading that could take and what work we needed to carry out to strengthen it. The 19 Saturday night possessions give us windows of just 10 hours in which to complete work on the bridge construction, which will be challenging, and there are of course the health and safety issues of working over water and on a railway.”

Once complete, the construction compounds, crane site and barge loading area will be reinstated, leaving no lasting negative impression on the area. It is envisaged that the new entrance, which is seen as being a high-quality, iconic design, will help attract further investment and development to south side of the city. There is also the possibility that the viaduct arches could be transformed into commercial premises. The Carillion team has already developed one of the arches for use as an office space for the project.

Written by Pete Laws