Reopening this abandoned Leeds city centre rail station would be 'prohibitively difficult', says transport expert

A leading Leeds-based transport expert has dismissed claims that a second Leeds city centre station could be opened at Marsh Lane, adding that the city centre has few other suitable sites for a second rail station.
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His comments follow recent calls from Leeds politicians, who claim capacity issues at Leeds City Station could be solved by building a new station in the east of the city centre, with Marsh Lane often suggested as a possible site.

Marsh Lane had been the site of the city centre's oldest railway station, before being permanently closed in 1958.

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Regional transport chiefs have previously warned that Leeds City Station is at full capacity and, due to its location between the River Aire and Leeds Liverpool Canal, would be nearly impossible to expand.

Marsh Lane Rail Station in 1951.Marsh Lane Rail Station in 1951.
Marsh Lane Rail Station in 1951.
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"It is another one of these ideas that has come round every so often over the years," he said. "The main case for such a station has usually been the proximity of the site to the so-called 'central' bus station, which is quite a long walk from the railway station, hence reducing connectivity between train and bus.

"However, many buses serving Leeds stop a lot closer to the rail station than this, so in my view this is not a strong argument. However, there has been some regeneration of the city around the area of the station, which might strengthen the case.

"The main problem with such a station is that the viaduct carrying the tracks out of Leeds station to the east can only carry two tracks (as compared to the six tracks out of the west end of the station). It would be prohibitively expensive and difficult to expand on this.

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"So there are only two tracks through the site of such a station, and trains calling there would eat into the track capacity which is already very tight. Pre-Covid timetables had around seven passenger trains per hour each way on these tracks, but with the main train depot for West Yorkshire east of Leeds at Neville Hill, there is also a need for a large number of train movements from there to Leeds station, using the same two tracks.

"It's very hard to see how timetables with stopping trains could be fitted onto this limited amount of infrastructure. I think there are also competing demands for more paths, which could yield higher benefits than this proposal."

He added that he believed the proposed station in east Leeds between Cross Gates and Garforth will also complicate the timetables on the route.

So where else could a second station be built in Leeds city centre?

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"I can't think of any obvious sites," Dr Whiteing said. "Given the location of Leeds City Station towards the west of the centre, it is the east that would have the strongest case, but to solve the capacity issue you need to go further east than Marsh Lane and then you are getting away from the city centre."

At the Leeds City Council budget meeting in February, amendments proposed by the authority's Liberal Democrats group included feasibility studies to look into reopening Marsh Lane rail station.

Group leader Coun Stewart Golton said: “These are proposals to expand capacity on key rail routes and some of the most congested services into the city. Marsh Lane in particular would increase capacity for Leeds City Station.”

Leeds City Council’s City Plans Panel, a group of councillors which rules on important planning applications in the city, wrote to regional transport chiefs in late 2019 asking for them to look into the possibility of opening a new station in Marsh Lane to accommodate the growing number of housing developments in the area.

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Speaking the following February, Conservatives group leader Coun Andrew Carter said: “Leeds has over 30 million passengers moving in and out of the city station each year, it is a hugely important piece of rail infrastructure not just for the north but nationally.

“Most other major cities have a central station supported by other centrally located commuter stations, one only has to think of Manchester Oxford Road and Victoria stations that support the main Manchester Piccadilly site.

“To increase capacity in Leeds and improve services for commuters, serious consideration should be given to the Marsh Lane site.”

There are no known plans either from Network Rail, Leeds City Council or West Yorkshire Combined Authority to reopen a rail station in Marsh Lane.

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The old Marsh Lane Railway Station was first built in 1840, before being closed in 1850 to accommodate new railway construction. It was then redeveloped and reopened as a goods station in 1863.

In 1869, a new link rail line to the Leeds New Station was built, and a passenger station was added to the site. Marsh Lane was closed for the final time in 1958.