After years of planning, 2022’s surge of inflation got the better of several West Yorkshire capital schemes. One was Halifax station’s Gateway, a project complicated by involving five (at least) different legal stakeholders. Calderdale Council, owner of ground-level property leased by the Eureka! museum including their car park and the 1855 original station building. Northern Trains and Network Rail have the railway premises. And West Yorkshire Combined Authority (Metro) have an oversight in terms of transport policy and the money from government – money that is no longer enough. (If we have got any of this wrong, please tell us.) So we have moved from about to go ahead to “pause and pipeline”. Pause is obvious. Pipeline means, we think, hoping that funding will come from alternative sources yet to be identified.
So what next for rail’s gateway to our town? The station is ideal as an access point for Square Chapel Arts Centre, the library, the unique Piece Hall and all the shops, cafés and events it hosts. We could go on. With so much work done on planning the Gateway scheme we can see there’s an argument for not doing anything until full funding appears. How long could that be? Five years? Ten?? “Option zero” (our phrase) – wait until the whole scheme can be funded – seems to be in favour. That means waiting for alternative sources of investment.
The plans could be improved. It was good that a new bridge was to be provided for pedestrians – and we hope cyclists – to access the first floor concourse, the bad news was that the ticket office was to be on the ground floor. We were told this was because Northern felt it necessary to keep a physical eye on people going in and out of the public toilet also on the ground floor. But access to the trains is via the footbridge, rather obviously on the first floor. You couldn’t make it up.
“Option 1” would be a programme of incremental improvements retaining what we have without sabotaging future development. Do we really need to demolish the present building containing booking office and shop? Could it be retained and improved, built upon?
What are our priorities?
The issue of “public conveniences” seems to have painfully emerged more often than anything else about Halifax station over 38 years (heaven help us) of HADRAG meetings. Toilets on the station are important, not least because our new trains have only one and if that one is not working discomfort (at best) will result. The present station facility is a single unit at the back of the platform waiting room, so not accessible outside staffing hours. During autumn 2022 it was out of order for several weeks. When it reopened HADRAG’s anonymous secret consumer decently took a peep, initially put off by the lock indicator which has always suggested “engaged” when “vacant”. The sink contained an empty whisky bottle and a crisp packet. Everything else looked “normal”: reasonably clean, but suggestive of a previous century.
- A new unit be installed at the station entrance where an eye could be kept by staff on who is going in and coming out. There is a staff toilet at that level so this proposal would seem achievable.
- In Greater Manchester there is a programme of new modular toilet installations (as pictured) at stations including Littleborough. Clearly this must be spread across the Northern network.
Platform access – lift, doors and footbridge
The lift, essential for some rail users to access trains, seems to work but is another feature with a last-century air. What can be done at low cost to modernise it?
- Sliding doors from the foot of the stairs to the platform have never worked and need to be removed.
- The footbridge itself appears to need structural repair.
- How might waiting passengers be encouraged to stand in the best place, promoting efficient boarding and alighting, and on-time departures, whilst and not blocking access from the footbridge stairs to what is actually the narrowest part of the platform. Do trains stop in the best place?
Approach bridge – remove general parking and refurbish
Able-bodied drivers who fill the station car park on the approach bridge early in the morning could park at ground level. A deal could be reached with Eureka! to provide free parking for rail users. Removal of general parking on the bridge ease movement everyone.
- Direct access by ramp (possibly lift) would be required from ground level to the station entrance.
- The approach bridge would then be free for walkers, disabled car users and cyclists.
- There would be more space on the bridge for drop-off, pick-up, and taxis.
- With at least medium-term future assured the bridge needs serious refurbishment with attractive paint colours.
- The ticket office and shop are both well used. Many people will queue in the booking office rather than battle with awkward ticket vending machines that can never deliver the ticket and information services provided by the station’s excellent staff. Not everyone wants to depend on a mobile phone.
More platforms and future use of 1855 building?
The original 1855 station is part of the Eureka! estate but seems to be little used. It was rejected in early iterations of the Gateway scheme. A strength of the Gateway project was provision for possible future reinstatement of Platform 3, alongside the 1855 building.
Why stop at Platform 3? If mass transit eventually reaches Halifax, or more complex service patterns develop in a future where public, not private, transport is the norm, why not Platform 4 as well? Future plans must respect that possibility.
Community rail at Halifax
If you have seen posters at Halifax station featuring Calderdale scenes and Anne Lister they are down to students at Calderdale College. The college and Northern have developed a station adoption arrangement, involving young people in support for the station. HADRAG enthusiastically supports this.
- Now that the station is going to stay as it is for the time being, could the posters be more permanent?
- Community rail groups and the Calder Valley Community Rail Partnership should be involved in developing an action plan for the station.
Conclusion: There is much that can be done and must be done to improve Halifax station for rail passengers and the local community. This cannot wait 5 years or more for a grand scheme to attract funding. A step-by-step process must be considered. – JSW