THERE were sighs of relief in some quarters in 1906 when plans to build a 5,000-yard long tunnel under the east side of Bradford to take trains through the city were finally abandoned.

For some, it was a welcome end to a project which would have caused huge upheaval, including the diversion of Bradford Beck and the building of new sewers.

The Yorkshire Observer, one of the newspapers eventually absorbed into the Telegraph & Argus, saw things very differently, however. With the remarkable prescience sometimes granted to newspaper editors, it commented: “Bradford is today ‘on a siding’ and there, if this scheme is allowed to lapse, it may remain to the crack of doom.”

Despite the passing of a Bill, known as the Bradford Through Lines Act, in 1911 – which would have seen a hugely ambitious plan for an overhead railway and a two-decker station in Forster Square – the city was left with two main stations separated by less than a quarter of a mile and a difference in height of 30 feet.

Despite several attempts to revive it in the 100 or so years since, the idea of Bradford’s own crossrail has never borne fruit – and has frequently been cited, along with the collapse of the wool industry, as one of the key reasons for the city’s declining status ever since.

Through rail, and direct mainline links to London and Scotland, would undoubtedly have made a huge difference to Bradford’s fortunes and would surely have seen a city that once outshone Leeds in terms of both population and shops frontages, taking a much bigger role on the national stage.

Britain has moved on, of course, and the concern today is less about links to London and much more about the strength of the northern economy as a region with massive growth potential as a counterpoint to the overcrowded south-east of the country.

Bradford, in its position smack at the centre of the so-called Northern Powerhouse, has an incredible opportunity to play an enormous role in that development.

To fulfil that role, however, it needs to be far better connected. To be taken seriously, Bradford needs to be a place that can be reached quickly and smoothly by all those who want to do business here, who want to work, live and learn here and who want to base themselves at the heart of the new northern industrial revolution.

Enter Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), connecting four cities and 1.3 million people in less than an hour. Add to that Hull in the east and Newcastle to the north-east and it’s easy to see that Bradford could be the very hub of it all.

With a population of more than 530,000 (almost a quarter of which is under 16), a £9.5 billion economy and 17,000 businesses, the district is poised to take full advantage of the opportunity the Northern Powerhouse presents.

Last month, Transport for the North (TfN) unveiled its strategic plan for NPR which gives Bradford a station on a new high-speed rail line which would place it just seven minutes from Leeds and 20 from Manchester.

For that to make a real impact, though, the new station must be at the heart of the city. The case for that was discussed this week at a consultation event at Bradford College. We must hope TfN walked away with the very clear message that an out-of-town station would be unthinkable.

The Next Stop Bradford group says bringing high-speed rail right into the core area would boost the local economy by £1.3 billion.

They are urging people to show their support by taking part in the consultation (go to: which runs until April 17 and which will inform the Strategic Outline Business Case for NPR, which will be released by the Department for Transport and TfN by the end of the year.

Common sense makes the argument for a central station very simple: the whole point of a high-speed link is to get people to where they need to be – the decision-making core of the city – as quickly as possible.

The idea of having to find secondary transport on arrival out of the centre, however slick that might be, is completely at odds with that requirement. Suddenly, the 45,000 people – or 74 per cent of the total number – who might have abandoned their daily commute between Bradford and Leeds are starting to think “why bother?”

Businesses and communities develop organically around transport hubs. Bradford city centre is ripe with opportunities for new offices and workplaces, new shops and new homes and ease of travel will make it far more desirable.

Being a central hub for easy access to both edges of the Northern Powerhouse region could be the key to Bradford’s regeneration and our growing, youthful population, combined with a strong manufacturing sector and rapidly growing skills base, are the icing on the cake and the cherry on top.

But unless the station is right in the heart of the city, Bradford might as well stay on a branch line and that gloomy forecast of remaining in a siding until the “crack of doom” could well become irreversible.