Station near Doncaster Airport 'must serve more than just airport and could solve level crossing problem'

A parkway station near Doncaster Sheffield Airport must serve more than just the airport and could solve problems related to a level crossing in Rossington.

That is among the views on the railways raised in part three of our latest Doncaster Free Press round table event, on the subject of transport, held at Doncaster Sheffield Airport.

An artists impression of the proposed station at Doncaster Sheffield Airport

An artists impression of the proposed station at Doncaster Sheffield Airport

A station serving the east of the borough as well the re-opening of the former Askern Station are proposed.

Taking part were: John Huddleston, communications and corporate affairs manager at Doncaster Sheffield Airport; Neil Firth, head of Service for major projects and infrastructure at Doncaster Council; John Hoare, chairman, South Yorkshire Transport Users Group; Caroline Flint, MP for Don Valley; Alan Riggall, head of commercial, First South Yorkshire, David Budd, assistant director-transport, Sheffield City Region; Ben Gilligan, director of public transport, South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive; Francis Jackson, mayor of Askern, Graham Moss, chairman, Friends of Askern Railway Station.

How should we improve Doncaster's rail network?

Graham Moss: We've got a population of 11,500 in Askern. We've got a 1000 houses just gone up and that's potentially 2,000 plus people. The last major employer in Askern moved out a couple of months ago moving to South Elmsall, that was Askern Saw Mills. Now apart from local shops there's no employment in Askern. People have got to travel out to work. The A19 is packed. The bus services is abysmal. We've got a rail line that runs right through the village. We're the only town in Doncaster borough that's got a railway line through it with a passenger service on it that's not got a station. We've got the land secured to put a station there, that's not a problem at all. We're looking at a cost of about £1 million to put two platforms back which would make such a difference . It would take a tremendous amount of traffic off the road. The benefits of this town would be enormous. It would enable people to get to work easily and to get to leisure easily. We're looking at a service between Doncaster and Leeds. The cost is minimal, the potential is enormous.

Doncaster Free Press roundtable event at Doncaster Airport. Pic: Chris Etchells

Doncaster Free Press roundtable event at Doncaster Airport. Pic: Chris Etchells

Francis Jackson: If the airport gets its station, Askern itself, where the woodyard is, is development land which is scheduled for hotels. It's an ideal connection for the airport.

John Huddleston: You make a very good point about how rail connectivity needs to enable more than just one outcome. It can be around new housing, new employment zones, local connectivity like a parkway function as well as more headline grabbing stuff about going 80 minutes north and 80 minutes south. I think when we look at rail investment we need to see how we make sure investments spin off to have a wider effect, so places can sustain themselves.

John Hoare: If you want to travel from Doncaster in the Sheffield direction during the day, there are five trains within about 32 minutes, then a 28 minute wait . The service is totally uneven. The time table is daft in the Sheffield direction. And if you're getting the train into Doncaster, particularly coming from the Sheffield direction, you can wait five minutes before you can get into Doncaster station. It sometimes applies coming from Leeds, sometimes from London. I think there are not enough platforms or signalling issues.

Caroline Flint: Doncaster is a victim of its own success which is a good thing. We've had new services come on line but there's no doubt its full to capacity. Travelling to Westminster, I don't think there's a time now that you don't stop outside the station waiting to come in.

Not taking away from Frank, and £1 million for Askern Station, these are important too, but the development of a parkway station is very important. The reason I say parkway station rather than airport station, is it will cost a lot of money, I think we're talking about £170 million, and public money will be sought for that. It is not sustainable, much as I support our airport, to have it just as an airport facliity. And it makes sense, as the area around the airport is growing with housing. People from beyond Doncaster may then come in to use that station as well. It would alleviate the problems at Doncaster station too. It doesn't mean they won't exist, but we would have two prime stations rather than just one. At the moment, a loop is being envisaged. That would mean some of the trains on the East Cost would stop there. I think that there needs to be some serious research from Network Rail into diverting the East Coast mainline, with about four miles of track, to skirt the airport with a station so that all the fast trains go through that route. That would also help with the problem we have in Rossington which currently still has high speed trains cutting off the village with the level crossing that is still there. There was a proposal to build a road bridge over it. That was stopped. But that would mean that crossing could shut down and the village would no longer be cut in half. It resolves the problem of having a bridge and anything that would involve, like demolishing people's homes, it would make sense to have a direct route to the airport rather than a loop. It has to make the case that it is bigger than just the airport

Neil Firth: I think on the Doncaster Airport, or parkway station, one of the major benefits is attracting passengers to the airport. If and when we do get the rail line it would make it the best connected airport in the country by far. The greater factor is about the agglomeration and growth that would happen around this area to housing, jobs and not just in Donaster but across the city region. We've got the talk of a station in Askern, linking to Leeds, so the benefactors will not even be limited to the Sheffield City Region. The benefits of this are quite incredible.

We've sold Doncaster as a great place to do business and to live because of its multimodal transport connections, and if this opens, then we're pretty much covered the lot.

The next thing, the station at the airport, is not just to secure the growth of the airport but also has benefits for the overheating south east. It's under an hour and a half to central London and even less than that when the new Azuma trains come on board. We've got to be careful that we don't lose the bigger picture. Doncaster needs to present itself to the inward investors about how great it is here.

CF: We need to be mindful when talking about the big projects that that may not be the every day travelling experience of people in Doncaster. If they don't hear something for them, and some of the issues raised by people like John and Frank, they can feel left out of it, so I think we need to manage the conversation about this and make sure that everyone feels their benefiting in someway.

John Hoare: If we leave the big aspirations for a moment, if you want to travel on the transpennine train, you're fighting to get onto it and fighting to climb over the luggage. Until we have the promise that those trains will be longer, if you're travelling to Sheffield you're travelling in an uncomfortable little rattling train, which again is liable to be overcrowded. There are immediate issues of capacity of local services which are not million pound jobs to deal with - they're a matter of providing longer trains rather than more of them, and comfortable trains at that. These are not impossible things to demand. But we do need more electrification and I think the Government withdrawn of the electrification to Sheffield was a great mistake. It shouldn't have stopped at Sheffield, it should have gone on to Donaster and to Wakefield so we had the whole of the railways in South and West Yorkshire linked and electric. I think it we could do that, its not a big cost compared to what they're talking about on HS2.

CF: It again speaks about that concern when people hear about big projects, and thinking where do I fit into this. I say to people in London they're very lucky with what they've got. People should be able to live in Doncaster but go the Sheffield easily and share cultural experiences like concerts. There might be people who want to live in Sheffield, who we want to come and work in our schools and hospital, and we have to have the transport for that.

David Budd: Transport for the north's remit is round pan northern inter-regional travel but they are the first to acknowledge that if we're going to achieve a transport system for the northern powerhouse agenda, its not about modes, its not about northern powerhouse rail between Sheffield and Leeds or even Doncaster and Hull, its about thinking about them as overall journeys and about what the people need, front door to end destination, whether that's a hospital or a local employment opportunity. So for all the investment that Transport for the North are lobbying for as part of their long term investment plan, there is an equal need for investment at a local level whether that is links from Askern to Doncaster centre, because fundamentally, to catch a train from Manchester to Askern you catch it from whenever your local centre is and if we don't have those links then we're not getting the added value that we 'd get from northern powerhouse rail. I think Neil made and important point, that we have to have the discussion in the context of a lot of financial and political contraints that we work with in terms of managing the expectations of the whole population and a tight funding envelope . What we do as an industry, and as Doncaster and partners in the PTE, is maximise every opportunity we have available to us, and the current opportunity is through the Government's transforming cities programme. There are opportunities for investment in the network. We have to relieve some of the capacity constraints that we have talked about and that's why we having discussion with Alan and his colleagues at Arriva to undertstand where we need to invest in the network to unlock some of the challegnes that we've spoken of. We're limited. The fund won't allow for land acquision even if it was regarded as an appropriate solution . Where the opportunity exists were working together as a collection to try to spend the money in the best way possible.