Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Leave Wakefield Westgate Alone

This blog runs the risk of becoming a diatribe against the great British railways. I've previously written about my loathing of HS2 and the problems that could arise from closing small ticket offices. Today, as George Osborne announces money going towards rail infrastructure projects in Yorkshire, I have a new gripe.

£6.6 million is being given to Wakefield Westgate station to rebuild and refurbish. You'd think I'd be happy. I use the station several times a week, after all, and theoretically it should be in Wakefield's best interests to have it rebuilt. However, I don't believe it is.

The idea to 'move' the station down a few yards was mooted years ago. It was accepted that it would finally be done and then the refurbishment plan disappeared from the Network Rail website and everything went quiet. For the last few years Wakefield Council have been insisting that the work would happen while the transport authorities have just blanked the idea. If the original suggestions are being used then (in my understanding) the station would be moved along a bit. For Wakefield people, it would be moved slightly further away from Westgate bridge and towards the Balne Lane bridge. This was fine when the plans were first suggested. But I see one major flaw here: they've since built a hideously ugly multi-storey car park near this area. They can't just pick it up and move it so does that hamper plans? These are the details already announced by the local paper: "New shops, a travel centre, a First Class lounge, a customer reception and information screens will be developed at a brand new station building. It will be built next to the multi-storey car park which opened last year to provide better access." See my next point.

Secondly, I'm happy to admit that Wakefield Westgate is not a hub station. The majority of people who get on and off the train don't wait around for a connecting service. It's a destination, that's all. As such, I believe the station as it is can cope. You don't have too many people hanging around and the services it's got are sufficient: cash machines, shop, cafe, toilets ticket offices, information desk along with first class and regular waiting rooms. It might be a little scruffy but it's hardly in the direst of circumstances. I wonder if the powers that be are merely trying to make the station look more attractive to businessmen travelling through from Leeds. Quite an expensive vanity project if they are.

Finally, there is the most important point. Wakefield has two railway stations and this one isn't the one desperate for a bit of TLC. Wakefield Kirkgate has been the scene of at least one serious sexual assault in recent history and is an unmanned eyesore. It does, however, offer a direct Grand Central service to London. The problem is, no one will dare risk going via that station because of the dangers. Wakefield Kirkgate is the closer station to the new Hepworth Gallery and refurbishment of that could easily help visitors to the attraction. The waterfront area nearby has also been heavily redeveloped recent years: why not build a station to go with the new prosperity of the area?

So, you see, I'm not saying no money for Wakefield's rail system. I'm just asking for it to be put in the right place and to help local people in favour of anyone else.

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