Last weekend, I briefly called in at Wakefield Kirkgate railway station, the smaller of Wakefield’s two stations. It’s been a few years since I’ve been there – the last time was in 2011. Back then, it had been given the dubious honour of being named ‘Britain’s worst railway station’ by the former transport minister Lord Adonis. And it was an assessment that I agreed with at the time.
Here’s what I said:
“[…]those buildings that are still standing are boarded up, it’s dirty, there’s no staff around, there’s paint peeling off the walls and just looks generally dilapidated. Not a nice welcome to the city.”
How did Wakefield Kirkgate get so bad?
Kirkgate is the smaller of Wakefield’s two stations – the other is Wakefield Westgate. Westgate is on the East Coast Main Line, and is served by regular inter-city services between London and Leeds, plus cross-country services. Westgate, until a few years ago, was only served by local services. It’s also more distant from the city centre.
Progressive cutbacks saw Kirkgate’s ticket office closed, and eventually there would be no staff permanently based there. The station once had an overall roof over the tracks and platforms; this was dismantled some years ago. Its status as a local station for local people meant that it wasn’t a priority for maintenance.
The past ten years have seen an increase in services at Kirkgate, probably because there isn’t much spare capacity at Westgate. Despite being the quieter of the two stations, Kirkgate has three platforms, whereas Kirkgate has just two – and they’re on the busy East Coast Main Line.
Northern introduced a new hourly Leeds-Sheffield-Nottingham service via Kirkgate (one of its ‘intercity’ services), and more recently Grand Central introduced its Bradford-London service. More trains now call at Wakefield Kirkgate, and they serve a greater range of destinations, including London.
There’s also the Hepworth Wakefield – an award-winning art gallery that opened nearby in 2011. Kirkgate is around the corner, and so this is the closest station, increasing the number of people using it.
With more people using Kirkgate, something had to be done.
Six years later
I made a return visit to the Hepworth with Lizzie, and so we popped into Kirkgate to see what had changed. A significant amount of money has been spent to improve the facilities at Kirkgate and it shows.
Firstly, the station is no longer in a state of disrepair – no more boarded up windows. The subway has been refurbished, with art panels and speakers playing a brass bend rendition of Jerusalem. There’s a new glass canopy on platform 1, and electronic displays showing train departure information. This is a particularly welcome improvement; with three platforms, it’s not always obvious which one to use for your train.
The buildings have been brought back into use. There’s now a café, and even a First Class lounge run by Grand Central. The rest of the building is rented out as business units and I noticed that one was being used as a photography studio.
The area outside the station has been improved, with ramps and improved paving. Sadly, The Wakefield Arms, a former pub opposite the station, is still derelict and not a great welcoming sight for those alighting.
Officially, the station is still un-staffed, as there’s no ticket office. Despite the sign above the main entrance asking passengers to buy their tickets from the guard on the train, there is now a ticket machine on platform 1. Alas, it wasn’t working when I visited. Revenue protection staff were there when I visited (Saturday lunchtime) and could sell tickets before travelling, so whilst there isn’t a permanent presence, it’s an improvement.
It’s also worth mentioning that Westgate has also seen improvements. A new entrance was built there recently, tying in with the wider regeneration of the rest of the city.