A new mass transit system serving the county's towns and cities could start construction by the mid-2020s as part of a wider programme of transport investment over the next 20 years, West Yorkshire Combined Authority said today.
The authority, which leads on transport and economic growth for Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Kirklees and Calderdale, is publishing its Connectivity Infrastructure Plan and Mass Transit Vision 2040 today and asking people to have their say.
Though the plans for a mass transit system are still at an early stage, the authority has produced a map setting out how the system could look and how it would fit in with the existing bus and train network as well as bigger projects like HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.
And it sets out the possible technologies that might be used, including 'ultra light rail' which exists nowhere else in the country. Other options include a tram-train system like South Yorkshire, a light rail or tram system like Birmingham's or 'advanced bus rapid transit' like in Belfast.
The combined authority is now preparing an outline business case to be submitted to government by next year and is hoping to use a share of the £4.2bn fund set aside for transport.
But leaders said today that any such scheme would cost billions of pounds. The aim would be to be start with one line and develop the scheme from there.
And its report said: "We are planning for construction to start in the mid-2020s. The timing, shape and form of the mass transit system will be subject to engineering feasibility, environmental assessment, its business case and funding availability."
A map setting out how the mass transit system could look shows plans for interchanges in West Yorkshire's biggest towns and cities as well as at smaller areas in between.
In Leeds, there is an opportunity for the mass transit system to go up to Alwoodley in the north of the city and Cross Gates to the east.
There are suggested stops in the centre of Bradford as well as in Shipley and Baildon, while the system would also serve Wakefield and its surrounding five towns of Pontefract, Castleford, Knottingley, Featherstone and Normanton.
The report says mass transit and rail would serve different travel markets, adding that while rail will be best for many longer public transport journeys, "mass transit will connect with local rail services, inter-city services, HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail".
Shortly after the December 2019 General Election, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his newly-elected government will "remedy the scandal that Leeds should be the largest city in Western Europe without light rail or a metro”.
In 2016, plans to build a £250m trolley bus network in Leeds were rejected by the Government. The Department for Transport accepted a report from a planning inspector who said the scheme was “not in the public interest”.
That summer, transport bosses in West Yorkshire appealed for experts from around the world to come forward with ideas in the aim to develop designs for an advanced urban transit system that could be delivered by 2033.
Asked why people in West Yorkshire should be more optimistic this time round, Susan Hinchcliffe, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leader of Bradford Council, said:"We've heard from governments and senior politicians, the Prime Minister mentioned about our region not having mass transit.
"I think it's something that government want to see us invest in. We're wanting to make it happen. We know it needs to happen for the sake of our economy, so there's a real drive from all local leaders to make it happen.
"Having the added fillip of being a mayoral combined authority now with additional monies that that provides, gives us additional resource to deliver it so I think the time is right now to get motoring with it. But it is a long term plan, you can't do this overnight."
If completed, a new mass transit system would improve transport connections for up to 675,000 people in the 20 per cent most deprived communities in West Yorkshire.
Officials hope it would connect up to 35 housing growth areas, 17 employment growth areas and five hospitals.
The overall connectivity plan will make the case for rail electrification and investment in new infrastructure enabling a minimum of two trains per hour to and from every rail station in the region alongside improved intercity connections to the rest of the UK
Kim Groves, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Committee, said: “A new mass transit system for West Yorkshire will be a key of our transport system, linking our communities with a quick and reliable service and integrated with bus, rail, walking and cycling.
“This will represent a bold investment; a transformational transport system that will benefit many generations to come.”
Have your say on the Connectivity Infrastructure Plan here.