By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic
Wakefield Kirkgate is the worst station in Britain. At least, it was in 2009 when the then Secretary of State for Transport minister Lord Adonis visited it after a rape, a serious assault and several robberies took place there, including a brutal baseball bat attack the week he visited.
The locals hardly rolled out the red carpet for him, but his observations were also hardly slanderous. As a kid, I made the journey to the sketchier side of Wakefield on numerous occasions to catch the train that ran directly to my home village. The station, neighbouring four twelve-storey H-plan tower blocks, a derelict pub and a should-be-derelict-pub was allowed to fall into disrepute in the later stages of the 20th century and the start of the millennium, with most traffic (and therefore investment) ploughed into its sister station Westgate which runs frequent train services and is closer to the centre of Wakefield.
If it wasn’t for the direct route home I wouldn’t have ventured within a mile of Kirkgate station. At night, a handful of rusty light bulbs would light the platforms and the tunnel that connected the platforms carried a familiar stench of Special Brew and urine. The main station building hadn’t housed a business in years and even railway staff were too afraid to use it. Other than the infrequent Pacer Diesel Trains that would pull up and disappear the station was effectively redundant.
But since reaching new lows on the week of Lord Adonis’ visit the station has been slowly reborn. Following successful regeneration activity on the Waterfront, Merchant Gate and Trinity Walk, the council has focussed on Kirkgate area in an attempt to create an accessible quarter of the city centre with good links to the heart of the retail area and to the Waterfront.
At the heart of that is the station.
A £5.6 million restoration of Wakefield Kirkgate Railway Station began in August 2013 and was completed last month after two year’s hard work by environmental charity Groundwork. Improvements include a new cafe and upgraded passenger facilities with better CCTV, lobby and subway. Retail space, offices, meeting rooms and incubation units for start-up businesses have also been added with new tenants already moving in.
A spokesperson said the upgraded station would unlock £38 million of future regeneration for the southern part of Wakefield, bringing the historic building “back to its former glory”.
Key to its revival has been new transport links which have created the right environment for business to grow. In 2010, Grand Central restored a direct train link from London Kings Cross to Wakefield Kirkgate for the first time in over 30 years. The direct Intercity style services offer a swift two hour ride to London stopping only at Doncaster (and Pontefract on some services) compared to the old British Rail service which ended in May 1978 and took 2 hours and 51 minutes to complete the journey.
The new station is also part of a new Northern Rail route from Leeds to Nottingham which offers express connections to nearby towns such as Barnsley, Sheffield and Chesterfield.
Mixed with traditional stopping routes to Leeds, Knottingley and Huddersfield, the new services have transformed Kirkgate’s ugly legacy into a vibrant transport hub.
Trains from London to Wakefield run four times a day with tickets starting from as little as £14.50 for a single ticket.