One of the things said about Bradford is this:
Bradford has two train stations – but you have to change at Leeds to go anywhere!
While that’s not strictly true, as Bradford does have regular direct services to York, Manchester, Preston, and, from later this month, London, to go to many places outside the north of England it’s necessary to change at Leeds or Manchester. Bradford may have two stations, but both are quite small and only serve regional trains and commuter services – apart from the aforementioned London service starting in 3 weeks time, there are no inter-city services.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Bradford’s first station was opened in 1846 by the Leeds and Bradford Railway Company, and was a line from Leeds Wellington Street (now Leeds City station) via the Aire Valley and Shipley. Until then, Bradford’s closest station was Brighouse, which was then known as ‘Brighouse for Bradford’, opened in 1840. The station was located off Kirkgate, to the north of the city centre.
In 1850, the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway built another station, known as Bradford Exchange, to the south of the city centre off Hall Ings.
In 1853, the rapidly-expanding Midland Railway took over the Leeds and Bradford Railway, and the first Bradford station was re-built.
Yet another station, Bradford Adolphus Street, was added in 1854, by the Leeds, Bradford and Halifax Junction Railway. This station was short-lived; it was the furthest from the city centre and closed to passengers in 1867; services were diverted to Bradford Exchange. It remained as a goods station until the 1960s, when it was closed, and was demolished in the 1980s when the A650 Wakefield Road was widened.
With Bradford Exchange taking on Bradford Adolphus Street’s passengers as well, it became necessary to expand the station in the 1880s and a new 10-platform station was built on the same site. Operationally the station acted as two separate stations; part for the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway and the other for the Great Northern Railway, with separate booking offices.
Mirroring the trend, the Midland Railway’s Bradford station was rebuilt in the 1890s with 6 platforms, and this included the building of a goods station and a hotel, which survives today as the Midland Hotel. From around this time, the station was known as ‘Bradford Market Street’ to differentiate it from the Exchange station. Bradford now had 2 large stations, with 16 platforms between the two.
In the 1900s Midland Railway had completed its Midland Main Line between London and Leeds, and the Settle-Carlisle Line between Leeds and Carlisle, however, it didn’t own the tracks to Leeds and trains were required to reverse. It therefore had an ambitious plan for a new line via its Bradford Market Street station, involving a long tunnel through the city. Trains would therefore be able to operate directly from London to Scotland, via Bradford.
Unfortunately, this never happened; the first world war broke out and this caused the end of the age of prosperity for the railways. In 1923, the multitude of small railway companies were forcibly grouped into four large companies; after the second world war became nationalisation and the creation of the British Railways Board. Around 1924 ‘Bradford Market Street’ became ‘Bradford Forster Square’.
The Beeching Cuts of the 1960s hit Bradford quite hard. Many local services were cut, and the Wharfedale Line to Ilkley was proposed for closure. Thankfully, it was saved through local council subsidies. The cuts meant that by 1973 Bradford Exchange was too big; there were not enough services to justify having 10 platforms. A new station was built further away from the city centre, near Bridge Street, with just 4 platforms; this is the station which survives today. In 1983, a bus station was opened next to the railway station and it was renamed ‘Bradford Interchange’ to reflect its status as a multi-modal transport interchange.
In the early 1990s, Metro, West Yorkshire’s public transport executive, decided to fund the electrification of the Airedale and Wharfedale lines to promote passenger growth. In doing so, it was decided to close the existing station at Forster Square, which was also now too big for the small number of services still running and had become very run-down, and construct a new station taking over the ends of the platforms on the city centre side of the station.
Which brings us to the present day. Unlike 100 years ago, when Bradford had two large stations and direct trains all over the country, we now have two small stations with 3 and 4 platforms respectively. Had the Midland Railway’s grand plans gone ahead, Bradford would have been a key destination on the Midland Main Line, instead of Leeds. I have no doubt that the history of the twin Yorkshire cities would have been very different had that line been built.
But why does Bradford still have 2 stations? In other cities like Leeds, Sheffield and Birmingham, rationalisation in the 1960s saw smaller stations closed and routes combined to create large central stations. If you look at a map of Bradford, you’ll even see that the two stations roughly align with each other. Furthermore, there’s presently not a lot of buildings in between them, due to most of the land having been cleared for the mothballed Westfield shopping centre. Couldn’t they be connected up?
The plan has been mooted many times over the years, however, it’s not that simple. First of all, although the stations are on the same alignment, there is a considerable altitude difference; Bradford Interchange is several metres higher up than Bradford Forster Square which is at the very bottom of Bradforddale (the valley that links Bradford with the Aire Valley). Any railway line would have to be carried by bridge across the town, and with quite steep gradients. As well as Westfield, there are other building such as the new Magistrate’s Court which are planned for the land where the tracks would go. And despite being talked about for years, nobody has come up with any detailed designs, nor the money for such a line. And in any case, Bradford is not a strategic place on the railway network – all of the lines that serve it are purely regional or for local commuters. If it was to be built, it would cost a lot of money which probably wouldn’t provide much benefit, considering that Bradford is well away from the main lines. Its proximity to Leeds doesn’t help, either.
While train services to Bradford have improved somewhat over the past 20 years, I don’t expect to see any big plans for Bradford like we saw 100 years ago. I guess we’ll still be changing at Leeds for years to come.