Yorkshire is a county blessed with many great things, not least wrinkled stockings and the Chuckle Brothers. It also enjoys some uniquely characterful place names: Upperthong, Mankinholes, Wetwang, Crackpot. A little more mundane is Idle, three miles north of Bradford, but this name – with its obvious connotations – has brought it global notoriety as home to the Idle Working Men’s Club which boasts amongst its honorary membership such luminaries as retired jockey Lester Piggott, spoon-bender Uri Geller and Tom O’Connor, the former host of cheap game shows. Now there’s a reality programme begging to be made.

But Idle has another claim to fame – one of the country’s shortest-lived railway stations which retained its operational status for just a year. Indeed, since it opened in 1846, the line along the Aire valley between Leeds and Bradford Market Street (now Forster Square) has been served by 11 intermediate stations, most of them closing at the peak of the railway’s retrenchment in 1965. Today there are just two, at Shipley and Frizinghall, the latter being an Eighties replacement for another Beeching-era loss.

Fifty years on, the resurgent railway has become something of a victim of its own success. More than 66 million train journeys were made across the Yorkshire and Humber region in 2013/14, an increase of 2.8% on the previous year. The mission now is to tackle overcrowding and attract new passengers by introducing more trains, longer trains, faster trains, better trains.

Around £600 million is being invested under the Northern Hub banner in an effort to ease network constraints, many of which can be traced back to those Sixties decision makers whose vantage point allowed them only to see a future based largely around the motor car. History is being unpicked. But there’s aspirational work too, reconnecting people with the railway who currently have no practical access to it. Driving that process forward here has been the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), its predecessors and partners, amongst them Network Rail.

Hoops and hurdles

Coming to fruition this year are three new stations – two on the Airedale line between Leeds and Shipley and a third on the Caldervale route south of Bradford. All have been a long time coming – it’s getting on for 20 years since the radar first blipped – such is the tangled pathway that has to be navigated: finding locations with suitable catchments and supportive local infrastructure; assessing their engineering fit in terms of track alignment, signalling and structures; determining whether existing services have sufficient loading capacity and no detrimental impact on train paths will arise; ensuring the stations will attract new revenue to the railway and bring real journey-time benefits. Everything gets looked at in meticulous detail.

When the coalition government came to power in 2010, development work on the Airedale line’s Apperley Bridge and Kirkstall Forge stations was well advanced, having reached the end of GRIP stage 4. Planning permission was in place as well as a positive business case, although neither had obtained Programme Entry status from the Department for Transport prior to the 2010 General Election. This was only achieved in December 2011 after a 12-month hiatus during which new bids were formulated for DfT funding. With outline designs having to be revisited to reflect evolving standards, it was not until May 2014 that everything was eventually tied up and authority to proceed granted.

Apperley Bridge will be a Park & Ride station, aiming to relieve the traffic burden on key arteries into Leeds and Bradford. Offering 297 parking spaces, it is located on a green-field site adjacent to the A658 which runs northwards from Bradford towards Harrogate, passing Yorkshire’s main airport. In contrast, Kirkstall Forge station is to form the cornerstone of a huge new residential, retail and business community destined to occupy a 56-acre former industrial site to the west of Leeds, six minutes by train from the city centre. Behind the £400 million development is the Commercial Estates Group (CEG) which is contributing more than £5 million towards the station’s construction costs.

Network Rail engaged Spencer Group as its design contractor for the two sites late in 2012, the firm subsequently being awarded a separate implementation contract on confirmation of the funding. The Apperley Bridge car park and 300-metre approach road was designed by the City of Bradford Council, a reality which has created additional management interfaces. Kirkstall Forge has brought similar challenges: the adoptable highway serving the station will be built on land privately owned by CEG but the contract is being managed by Leeds City Council with I & H Brown.

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Digging deep

Of the two, Apperley Bridge has arguably proved the more straightforward, all things being relative. The site was mobilised in October 2014, with the project team providing temporary access for construction traffic across the field from the A658 whilst using an existing weight-restricted rail overbridge for other vehicles. An immediate priority was to make progress with the permanent link road to ease the logistical constraints; this involved excavating a 7m-deep cutting through the underlying rock. A connection between the compound – located on the Down (Bradford-bound) side – and a trackside maintenance route was also created by demolishing part of a retaining wall. This has proved invaluable to Spencer as the nearest pre-existing access was two miles away.

Constructed in blockwork, the two platforms are offset but linked by the overbridge which spans the railway between them. As both are located in a cutting, considerable excavation work has been demanded to accommodate the step-free access ramps. On the Down side, this has involved around 5,000 tonnes of sandstone being laboriously removed.

On the Up (Leeds-bound) side, a temporary ramp was constructed on land leased from Yorkshire Water, enabling heavy plant to reach the platform site. Ground investigations carried out by Van Elle during the detailed design phase identified a substantial void here, the result of stone being extracted for the overbridge in the 1840s; this had then been backfilled with material from Thackley Tunnel, half-a-mile further west. As a result, 130 piles have had to be sunk up to 18m to support the ramps and rear part of the platform.

Whilst most of the work has been delivered under Adjacent Line Open arrangements, with no effect on railway operations, Rules of the Route possessions on a Saturday night have enabled progress on those elements within three metres of the running lines: re-siting of signalling equipment, TOWS (Train Operated Warning System) alarms and overhead line structures, a minor track realignment and construction work on the front parts of the platforms.

Given its proximity to housing, much attention has been paid to reducing the station’s visual and environmental impact. Three cascading basins have been installed to collect and manage the expected high volume of surface water that will drain off the car park. These are being landscaped as part of a scheme which will see more than 20 different species of tree being planted, as well as the retention of several mature oaks. Overall, the works have generated significant arisings, but these have all been recertified and reused, either on site or elsewhere. Nothing has gone to waste.

Forging ahead

Over the years, the vast Kirkstall Forge site had evolved into a wasteland as the works that once occupied it gradually expired. But that doesn’t diminish its place at the heart of Leeds’ industrial history, the site having first been colonised by metal-working monks from the nearby Cistercian abbey in 1147. CEG’s development plans, backed enthusiastically by the Council, will bring a regeneration of enormous potential.

The railway forms the site’s southern boundary, running over an island between the River Aire – which it crosses at both ends – and the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. An early challenge for Spencer in establishing its compound and starting work on the station car park was to build up the ground by one metre, thus mitigating the typical flood risk.

It became clear during detailed design that a significant track realignment was demanded in order to deliver standard-compliant platforms, a function of the reverse curves negotiated by the railway here. Involved is a maximum 200mm lift and 150mm slew over a 700-metre section of line. On top of this came the requirement

to relocate a pair of insulated block joints and associated location cabinet, as well as the existing OLE stanchions and TOWS. Not surprisingly then, the project’s track access need was greatly increased and, in consultation with Network Rail, this prompted Spencer to adopt a staged approach to construction.

As at Apperley Bridge, ground conditions were such that a considerable piling operation had to be undertaken to support the footbridge and platform foundations. Due to time pressures, the structures themselves are being built off-site in modular form and installed during overnight possessions, ensuring rapid progress once out of the ground. Supplying the precast concrete platform units are Poundfield and SpanWright.

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CEG’s desire that Kirkstall Forge station should stand out as bespoke will be reflected in the choice of colours, materials and furniture. West Yorkshire ‘standard’ it is not. The footbridge, for example, has the sort of landmark design more commonly seen at bigger stations; Cambridge provides the model in this case. Manufactured by Miller Fabrications, the structure will arrive fully dressed in five main sections – two staircases, two lift shafts and the railway span – and be craned into position during a single week of night shifts.

Curvature quandary

Go back a hundred years and Low Moor, three miles south of Bradford Interchange on the Caldervale line, was awash with railway: four through platforms, vast goods and stabling yards, a triangular junction off the Spen Valley line and a connection up to Dudley Hill. By 1981, only the main line remained.

Reopening a station here to serve a collection of residential and industrial areas has been a long- standing ambition, but development work has twice been stopped in its tracks.

On the first occasion, it was found that there was insufficient capacity to accommodate stopping services, an issue that was resolved through trackwork improvements and a new timetable. More recently, the additional cost of extensively realigning the track to comply with the requirements of GI/RT7016 (Interface between Station Platforms, Track and Trains) emerged as unaffordable. This standard prohibits the building of platforms on curves with a radius of less than 1,000 metres; it’s 730-800 metres at Low Moor.

An application was made to RSSB for a Deviation which, as stepping distances remain compliant, received authorisation in November 2013. Further complicating this issue has been the intention to increase both linespeed and route loading gauge as part of the Northern Hub scheme.

Network Rail is delivering the station on behalf of WYCA, with funding coming from local sources. The Buckingham Group has been appointed as principal contractor and is currently finalising the detailed design; City of Bradford Council retains responsibility for the associated highway works.

The site is perfectly located from a catchment perspective but is testing in terms of space, with roads on two sides, industrial units on two others and a high-pressure gas main at its western end. A number of land ownership issues have driven delay into the programme, but these are now resolved. The late introduction of lifts – as opposed to ramps – has eased some of the space constraints and provides better access for users of the Spen Valley Greenway, a well-used local cycle path passing the site. One unwelcome construction risk accompanies the 131-space car park which overlies an area with suspected disused mine shafts. Despite exhaustive surveys, their precise location – if they exist – has proven difficult to verify.

What next?

History tells us that transport plans have a tendency to evolve as they are exposed to the vagaries of shifting political and funding priorities. There is though now a vision of how Yorkshire’s rail network might develop to better serve the county. In October 2014, a feasibility study commissioned by WYCA identified 15 potential new station sites, recommending further investigations at four of them – Elland, Haxby, Crosshills and East Leeds, the latter being a Parkway station with a substantial annual demand forecast of 468,000 trips.

Of the three stations currently under construction, the pair on the Airedale line will be welcoming passengers by October, served by two trains per hour in the peak; Low Moor is intended to become operational during the December 2015 timetable period. Whilst much remains to be done, each emerging challenge has been overcome with focus and commitment. The working men and women involved have been far from idle.

Photographs courtesy of Four by Three.