Parking charges could be introduced at rail stations across the district, it has been revealed.

The proposal, outlined in a new report, is designed to generate income to fund future expansion of overcrowded station car parks.

The parking charges could also help to manage the soaring peak period demand for park-and-ride facilities, ensuring that spaces are still available for off-peak passengers.

The majority of station car parks are full by 7.30am on weekdays – the result of a 34 per cent increase in rail travel in the morning peak period across West Yorkshire in the last seven years.

At a number of stations on the Airedale and Wharfedale lines, car parking spills over beyond the formal car park and has become a nuisance to nearby residents and a frustration to passengers.

But rail users fear parking charges could lead to even more passengers leaving their cars in nearby streets to dodge station parking fees, creating further misery for residents.

The policy of Metro, the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority, is that car parking for rail users is free of charge wherever practical.

But the new report urges Metro to “re-think” its policy and consider introducing charges at some station car parks to fund construction of extra parking facilities.

Now the district’s main train operator has hinted that easier parking for passengers could create more overcrowding on busier services.

The report, which went before Metro’s Rail Working Group yesterday, said: “Northern Rail has raised concerns about the impact of additional parking on services that are already overcrowded.”

But Northern’s fears might be eased by news that extra rolling stock will be provided by the Department for Transport over the next five years, while infrastructure improvements such as platform lengthening are proposed.

A Northern Rail spokesman said: “Since the franchise started, passenger numbers have gone up by 31 per cent, so operators have seen an increased demand for parking at stations.

“It’s an issue we are looking at carefully and working with bodies such as Metro to see what can be done.”

David Hoggarth, Metro’s director of development, said: “Machines in car parks would be the obvious thing to do but we would be looking at making sure we encourage more rail travel by providing discounts for season ticket holders and Metro card holders.

“If you travel off-peak, it’s very difficult to park at the moment. You have to get there really early, so people are saying they want more spaces so they can park.

“Residents have been concerned about the over-spill from station car parks so, when we do this future work, we will do it in conjunction with Bradford Council to look at the whole area, including the surrounding streets.”

Mr Hoggarth said some stations had parking restrictions on nearby streets and others did not, adding that any anomalies would be addressed.

The report said: “A future expansion of car park capacity is likely to have to be supported by additional revenue generation.”

In the last decade, extra parking spaces have been provided at Menston, Steeton and Silsden, Guiseley, New Pudsey and Brighouse.

But all the straightforward and cost-effective extensions have now been carried out and, although more schemes are in the pipeline, these are expected to be more difficult and expensive.

A bid has been submitted to the Regional Transport Board for two new stations and car parks at Apperley Bridge and Kirkstall Forge, together with car park extensions at Crossflatts, Mirfield and four other stations in West Yorkshire.

Meanwhile, a new 60-space station car park is due to open at Keighley in 2010 in partnership with Keighley College and Bradford Council.

Bradford Councillor Chris Greaves, chairman of West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority, said: “It’s early days in this review of parking and no decisions have been made yet. The important thing is that we have got to look at it location by location because there’s a large difference between the suburban stations and the middle of Leeds.

“The last thing we want is empty station car parks in places like Menston because of the charges and all the surrounding streets choked up and blocked off with cars.”

Coun Greaves said regional and national funding was needed to find more land for car parking sites near stations. He said there was also potential to dig down or build up to create two-level car parks in some places.

He added: “Rail usage in West Yorkshire has increased by 30 per cent in four years and, if we want people to use the trains, we have got to provide the facilities.”

Peter Wilkinson, chairman of Wharfedale Rail Users Group, said the proposal would not go down well with passengers or residents who live near stations.

He said: “If they bring in charges, people will park on the streets – it’s as simple as that. The trouble with car parks on the Wharfedale line is that they just aren’t big enough.

“The other problem is that people move down the line from Guiseley and drive to Menston to park their car because it’s a bigger car park.

“The whole thing hinges on how they are going to solve the overcrowding.”

Spaces at local stations: Batley 23; Bingley 26; Bradford Forster Square 88; Bramley 21; Brighouse 64; Burley-in-Wharfedale 56; Crossflatts 67; Dewsbury 172; Guiseley 93; Halifax 40; Hebden Bridge 94; Horsforth 67; Huddersfield 150; Ilkley 52; Keighley 85; Menston 123; Morley 21; New Pudsey 245; Shipley 182; Sowerby Bridge 82; Steeton and Silsden 144.