Rail vision that hit the buffers

IN january 1945 Leeds stood on the brink of getting its very own underground network – the only sticking point, as ever, was money.

The ambitious 4m scheme (yes, you read that right), was the brainchild of then Leeds City Transport general manager W Vane Morland.

His vision, as can be seen from this picture, included a sprawling subterranean station below City Square.

It was modelled on the London Underground, although Morland looked at several systems, including some in the US, before outlining his plan.

The Leeds version would connect with a number of stations via a series of underground tunnels to Woodhouse Lane, Briggate, Kirkstall, Armley, Stanningley, Wortley, Chapeltown, Moortown, Roundhay – effectively, every part of Leeds.

It would interlink with the existing tram system, which was at its peak in the 1930s. Stations were also planned at Briggate and the Corn Exchange.

But the project – which would have solved the city's present-day congestion problems at a stroke – never saw the light of day.

The scheme was proposed as a serious solution to solving congestion in the late 1930s when tram networks were already run-down, as a result of The Great War.

The project was put on hold because of the Second World War.

Post-war, priorities had changed and the cost had soared to 12m – such a grand scheme was hard to justify, even harder without the political backing of a newly-elected Labour group, whose sentiments at the time were vehemently anti-tram. Meanwhile, modern-day buses seemed a far more viable option.

It is perhaps a shame that the Leeds Underground was never built as it would undoubtably been a fillip to the city – and an example to other congested centres.

Author James Soper, who has written four Leeds Transport books and is working on a fifth, said: "It would have given Leeds one of the most advanced transport systems in the world.

"At the time, it was kept very secret, because of the war. There was nothing in the papers about it. The cost today would be absolute peanuts."

Mr Soper, a member of the Leeds Transport Historical Society, added: "I think something like this will have to come eventually."

Fellow member Colin Tucker, 65, said: "It makes you realise just how far gone the scheme was. Then you realise what a ludicrous decision it was not to pursue it."

Glynn Wilton, curator at the National Tramway Museum, Crich, near Matlock, Derbyshire, said: "For Leeds to be talking about an underground system at that time was really quite radical."

At the time, it was proposed to raise part of the money with a loan from central Government, with an expected final repayment date of 2030.

Back in 1947 it was estimated the Leeds Underground would have saved 60,000 hours each year – the savings today would far outstretch that.