After 170 years a footbridge was finally installed at Woodlesford station. It was lifted into place in the early hours of Sunday 21 November 2010 by two large cranes positioned on either side of the line. Construction work for Network Rail was carried out by contractors Spencer. The new structure replaced a foot and barrow crossing between the station’s staggered platforms which had been in use since the station opened as part of the North Midland Railway in 1840.
According to a Network Rail media statement: “The construction was part of a programme of works to remove crossings that have a history of misuse and, by permanently separating pedestrians and trains, will improve safety. Warrick Dent, area general manager for Network Rail, said: “This crossing had a history of misuse – where pedestrians dashed across the tracks while the warning lights were showing. This behaviour was obviously incredibly dangerous.”
The bridge, part of which was built on the site of the original station building, has ramps giving full disabled access. Preliminary work to cut down trees on the Up side of the line took place earlier in 2010.
Before Woodlesford became unmanned in 1970, and lost its signalbox two years later, passengers and staff could easily tell whether it was safe to cross the line because they could see signals for both Up and Down trains. A bell was also rung in the station office to warn of the arrival of stopping trains.
One of the few known deaths on the crossing was that of Reader Free, a local ganger, who lost his life when he crossed behind one train, only to be hit by an express going in the opposite direction. Since the 1970s an audible siren and and flashing red light has been provided to warn passengers, but in recent years with the increase in traffic of heavy coal trains and the semi-fast service between Leeds and Sheffield, the crossing has become more dangerous.
Added to that some passengers would often wilfully cross the line listening to music on their headphones whilst the lights were still flashing. On some Up services for Knottingley or Sheffield conductors would often delay opening the doors on arriving trains if they were warned of one in the opposite direction by a signal from the driver.
The new bridge has been welcomed by passengers and train crew alike. These comments were made on the northernrailways.co.uk forum. “Having worked over the line from a conductor point of view, you hoped that passengers took notice of the announcements and also understood why we didn’t open the doors because of trains coming towards Leeds on the adjacent line.”
“I am glad Network Rail and Northern have decided to remove the risk here which I believe has had incidents in the past, hence the local instruction for drivers to buzz conductors not to open the doors! It is about time. Only the other day I made the usual announcement not to cross the line unless the light is showing a green aspect and this dickhead cyclist raced over it as it turned to red as we were standing there. Needless to say I shouted at him and asked him if he was deaf and blind in my usual abrupt way. It just goes to prove that it’s the users that make these kinds of crossing dangerous.”
Regrettably two curved stone retaining walls to a wagon turntable, built as part of the original station, were demolished during the installation of the new footbridge. Stone work on the station’s freight loading bay still remains as do original bridges in the vicinity and the retaining walls on the railway cutting.
A similar footbridge has been built at nearby Normanton which had a foot crossing across the Up Line to the island platform, although unlike Woodlesford, for many years it did have a proper footbridge until it was demolished in the 1980s. Similar work has been carried out at Bolton-upon-Deane and Moorthorpe.