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Leeds Trainspotting: Rediscovering Forgotten Leeds Railways

As one of the United Kingdom‘s industrial heartlands, Leeds in West Yorkshire changed markedly during the industrial revolution. From canals to trams, roads to rail, some elements of Leeds’ transport infrastructure are lost to history. Let’s uncover some of forgotten Leeds.

Rail Beginnings and Leeds' Railway Stations

Even before its 18th century expansion, its positioning on the river Aire made Leeds major centre for trade. With waterways connecting the market town to other parts of the country, Leeds established itself as a critical thoroughfare to the North of England. Parts of the Aire were eventually canalised to form the Aire and Calder Navigation, which the Liverpool and Leeds canal now forms part of. The canal is now primarily a leisure route, with most of the haulage once moved via boat now travelling by rail.

Leeds' first rail station

As seen from above, Leeds city centre is now a sprawling amalgam of regeneration and historic restoration. Much of the modern development of the city can be attributed to the introduction of rail, with the first station, Marsh Lane, opening in 1834. The station formed the Leeds terminus of the Leeds and Selby Railway, a goods line that connected the two towns.

The rail line was eventually acquired by York and North Midland Railway (Y&NMR), one of the precursors to what eventually became British Rail, now National Rail through privatisation. The station on Marsh Lane was merely a springboard and, upon the extension of the line by Y&NMR to Hunslet Lane Station in the 1940s the station was mostly demolished save for a good shed and outbuildings. Marsh Lane station closed for good in 1958, yet the tracks which once served the station still carry passengers on a daily basis.

a train map showing connections around leeds in 1913

Leeds Hunslet Lane Railway Station

As another of Leeds’ short-lived stations, Hunslet Lane Station opened in 1840 as “Leeds Station” and served both passengers and goods. The station was superseded as a Leeds’ primary station by Wellington Station in the city centre; and was renamed “Hunslet Lane” in 1849. Only two years later in 1851, it was closed to the public and relegated to a goods yard — which it remained as “Midland Goods Station” until it closed to freight in 1976. It was eventually sold off and redeveloped into what is now the Crown Point shopping park, opening in 1989. Echoic remnants of the old rail line can be seen on the south-side of the park under the bridge with Ivory Street, where the line split off into its different platforms.

Leeds Central Station

Opened in 1854, Central Station served passengers for nearly 125 years. The station was practical yet lacking in character or style. With 8 platforms, it carried passengers and goods for LNER. By the mid 20th century, the decision was made to consolidate the rail network in Leeds down to a single station, and Leeds Central closed in 1967.

The viaduct to the station still exists; when looking on a modern map it appears like a bridge to no-where. Ongoing development of multiple high-rise residential blocks surrounds the Monk Bridge viaduct, which has itself has been transformed into a garden for residents and visitors to enjoy.

The line that served Leeds Central ran alongside the existing line for Wellington and New Station past what is now Armley Gyratory.

Wellington and New Station — Eventually City Station

The permanent Wellington station opened in 1850 and boasted seven platforms serving the Midland railway. Nearly 20 years later in 1869, New Station was opened, doubling rail capacity of the city centre. Both stations were brought together in 1938 to form City Station with the majority of the new engineering going towards New Station. The tracks and offices of Wellington station still exist, buried around 80 yards below the current Leeds City station.

Upon the closure of Leeds Central in 1967, Leeds City station took on the role of primary station in Leeds, with the site being extensively refurbished and platforms upgraded to cope with the increased traffic.

Outward Connections

Away from the city centre, Leeds’ railway revolution spread far and wide. Whilst some stations still exist, residents may wish their local train station still existed.

Otley Railway Station

Towards the south of the town of Otley down the now cobbled street of Station Road, once stood Otley Railway Station. From its opening in 1865, the station served passengers on the Otley and Ilkley Joint Railway, operated by North Eastern Railway and Midland Railway.

The Otley Branch of the line fell into disuse and was closed in 1965. Whilst no buildings survive of Otley Station, the route that the track once took forms the Otley Bypass A660 with a small portal tunnel where the Willow Bank roundabout now stands. On modern maps, the remnants of the railway can still be seen meandering east until it meets Arthington Junction, where trains still run between Harrogate and Leeds today.

Kirkstall Station

In West Leeds, Kirkstall proper is woefully connected to the rest of the city. Despite the new Kirkstall Forge station to the north of Kirkstall Abbey opening in 2016, the area features lost lines and stations forgotten by time. Kirkstall-proper once had its own station just off Kirkstall bridge with only two platforms, carrying passengers for Leeds and Bradford Rail, Midland Rail and eventually London, Midland and Scottish Rail. The station opened in 1846 and remained open until it was closed as a part of the Beeching Cuts, a wide-reaching piece of government legislation that closed many rail lines of the time.

Castlefield - Garforth Line

On the other side of the city in East Leeds, the remnants of the Castlefield – Garforth line still wind hauntingly thorough the rural towns of Kippax and Bowers. A station opened at Ledston(e) in 1878, and closed to passengers in 1951. The line was operated by north eastern railway between 1878 and 1951 and, whilst much of the is track now removed, some of the infrastructure remains and modern challenges mean that are still conversations over whether the line could be reopened. In 2009, Network Rail were rumoured to be considering reopening the line however, owing to the associated costs and low expected passenger numbers, the plans did not go ahead.

The line ran from Castleford, through Ledstone, Bowers and Kippax to Garforth, and eventually carried on to Cross Gates, Osmondthorpe and Leeds railway stations Marsh Lane and City Station.

Stanningley and Pudsey Lowtown

Despite the tracks that form the “Pudsey Loop” no longer in existence, an aerial view of the area shows plainly where the rail line once ran. The two stations of Pudsey Greenside and Pudsey Lowtown formed a standalone branch of the Leeds, Bradford and Halifax Junction Railway, which eventually terminated in Bradford Adolphus street. Both stations opened in 1878, and closed in 1964, with New Pudsey opening a few years later in 1967. The east portal for the tunnel that ran from Pudsey Greenside is still visible under Carlisle Road.

a map showing pudsey greenside station overlaid upon a satellite image

Stanningley Station is perhaps the only disused station covered here still standing. Having opened in 1854 with the rest of the Leeds, Bradford and Halifax Junction Railway, and during its prime the station served both passengers and goods. The station closed in 1968 and the tracks are still used to this day as part of the Leeds – Bradford line. The building currently houses a private business.

For overlays of old OS maps, see maps.nls.uk

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