Back on track �€“ why villagers want Arthington railway station to reopen

Campaigners claim the reopening of a local railway station is the answer to increasing traffic congestion but not everyone agrees as Penny Wainwright discovers

The village of Pool-in-Wharfedale, with its traditional stone cottages, church, school, pubs – even a post office – all snugly set near the river between Otley and Harrogate, is undoubtedly an enviable place to live. But residents feel that their quality of life is being gradually eroded by traffic.

A constant stream of cars and lorries passes through the village’s narrow high street, the main road between Bradford and Harrogate, while Leeds Bradford Airport, three miles away, brings plenty more. The growing success of the airport with cheap flights and the ever-increasing choice of new destinations means that things are almost certain to get worse.

Parish councillor Steve Brady has an answer: reopen nearby Arthington Station which would ease congestion and allow residents to leave the car at home for many journeys, especially to Leeds, Harrogate and York. ‘It would change the quality of life in Pool,’ he says. ‘For example, young people who don’t have cars could travel to work in Leeds. Now it means two buses which can take one-and-a-half hours.’

Headteacher of Pool C of E Primary School, Mark McDermid, agrees. ‘A lot of people pass through Pool. It’s very busy for a small village. Reopening the station would reduce car travel and provide a convenience for the local populace. For instance, you could get to York, our capital. There’s a good green argument, too.’

Trains already run tantalisingly close to the village, hurtling through Arthington a mile up the road where they used to stop, until the station became one of Dr Beeching’s casualties in 1965.

Pool Parish Council is driving the initiative to reopen the station. An overwhelmingly positive response to a questionnaire delivered to every local household was an encouraging start. ‘We sent out just short of 1,000 leaflets and had 241 returned. Of those, 95.9 percent would like to see the station reopened,’ says Steve. ‘Seventy people said they would use the station daily, and 80 would use it weekly. We’re planning to expand the survey to encompass Bramhope, Arthington and Otley. We’re trying to build a business case based on usage and revenue.’

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Some huge figures have been mentioned in the case against reopening the station, such as �5 million for a new station and more than 300 spaces for a car park, neither of which Steve Brady feels is realistic.

After consulting construction firms, he reckons the work needed to reopen the station could be kept to about �500,000. Half of that would cover the cost of two new platforms and the rest would create a new slope and pay for Tarmac. ‘They’re better than some of the figures that have been bandied around and scared people off,’ says Steve. ‘Some people said we’d need a 300-space car park, but I reckon we can do with what’s already there.’

He’s got a point: next stop on the line at Weeton has space for only 17 cars, but it services over 50,000 tickets sales annually.

A proposal by Sustrans (the organisation that promotes sustainable travel) to reopen the Otley to Pool railway path as a cycle track, which could then easily be extended to Arthington, is currently under discussion, making joined-up transport a possibility - though cycling is a more attractive prospect for leisure than commuting, as people commented to sub postmistress Sue Duncan when dropping off their questionnaires. You’d be hot and sticky after cycling and would need a shower when you got to work.

Is reopening the station really a realistic prospect at a time of economic cuts? ‘I’m looking at the income that would be generated which will cover expenditure. It stacks up as a business case,’ says Steve.

Local historian and chartered accountant Martin Bairstow is not so sure. ‘It’s not that I don’t want to see the station reopened, but there are greater priorities with far better business cases and Arthington would be joining a queue that would take 20 years to get through,’ he says. ‘There are also issues on the Harrogate line of stopping trains, and there’s no room on them so you would have to lease more diesel units at considerable cost.’

But new signalling, which is due to be in place by 2012, should allow more trains to run along the line and stop at Arthington, counters Steve.Naturally the station isn’t the only issue on the parish council’s agenda. ‘We’re going to try to get like-minded people who have knowledge of the subject, like Steve, to form a committee to move this forward,’ says Hazel Lee, the chairman. ‘The station’s not in our parish, so we have to convince other people but we’re prepared to support it. Metro is concentrating on cities, but rural areas are overlooked. It’s very frustrating, but we’re ever-optimistic.’

If more evidence were needed to show what a community-minded place Pool is, Hazel also mentions that October saw their fifth annual Honorary Citizen Award: this year it went to longstanding resident Harry Wardman who, Hazel says, ‘is hardworking, reliable and has done lots of voluntary work on the recreation grounds and was one of the instigators of the skate park.’

It’s that sort of commitment that’s needed if Pool is to see its dream of a station realised.

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