Bradford NPR Station Worry

NORTHERN Powerhouse Rail envisions a high- speed rail line through “central” Bradford. Calder Valley line trains would also use the station, no longer having to reverse and do the final leg Bradford-Leeds in ten minutes or less. In March Bradford council revealed a proposal to build the station on the site of council-owned St James’s market. This would be in the middle of a new southern gateway development – but outside the present inner ring road probably a 10 minute walk from today’s city-centre “gateway” at Hall Ings, another five minutes or so from the media museum, Alhambra theatre and markets area.

You could stay on the train and be in Leeds quicker!

In our response to the WY strategy HADRAG, and other groups including Yorkshire Railfuture, have marked this as a serious concern.

Bradford’s NPR ‘Plan on a Page’

Queensbury Lines for Mass Transit?

West Yorkshire’s ambitious 2040 mass-transit vision shows a potential route from Bradford through Queensbury, Illingworth, Ovenden to Halifax, Calderdale Hospital, Elland, Brighouse and back to Bradford via Chain Bar. Interchanges with rail are suggested at Halifax, Elland, Brighouse and Low Moor. An obvious question is could we see trams running through a reopened Queensbury Tunnel and down through Holmfield along the former Great Northern Railway track bed? The initial proposal for reopening the tunnel is a greenway for cycling and walking, linking with the Great Northern Trail. We must surely support such active travel alternatives encouraging healthy as well as zero- carbon commuting and leisure. At the same time there’s an intriguing possibility of using the GNR line whether for some form of tram or advanced, bus down to Dean Clough and on to Halifax train station. Mass transit could be 20 years away so much could change.

Header Image: “Holmfield Station” flickr photo by Alan Burnett https://flickr.com/photos/alanburnett/49813617448 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Hull Cuts Hit Halifax

The May timetable change restored most Calder Valley line services that had been cut during lockdown. But not quite all. The hourly Halifax-Hull services  introduced in December 2019 is for now just one train every two hours. In hours when the Hull train is missing  there is a gap of more than 30 min. in the Halifax pattern towards Leeds. The local service east of Leeds is also affected. We suggested to Northern that it would be better to stop the Hull service until it can be fully restored and instead run hourly Halifax-Selby. Apparently one complication is to do with operation by Hull-based crews and trains. HADRAG is chewing over some other suggestions we might put forward. Long term, wouldn’t it make sense to extend the hourly Hull-Halifax’s through Brighouse to Huddersfield, supplementing the Bradford-Huddersfield shuttle? Any other ideas?

Header Image: “Paragon Duo” flickr photo by JohnGreyTurner https://flickr.com/photos/johngreyturner/44376177800 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

White paper step forward on electrification?

Strongest hint yet of a rolling programme. But must we really wait for “feet under table” at Great British Railways?

The government’s Great British Railways white paper says “Transport generates over a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, … the largest emitting sector of the economy. But rail produces around 1% of Great Britain’s transport emissions, despite carrying almost 10% of all passenger miles and nearly 9% of freight moved before the pandemic.” (p88 of the Report)

We say absolutely right. Rail already has the capability to move passenger and goods with net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. “ There are huge opportunities for rail to contribute … through further electrification.” That, at last, is getting close to what we should be hearing. The document continues:

Electrification is likely to be the main way of decarbonising the majority of the network. Electrification does not merely decarbonise existing rail journeys: it has a clear record of attracting new passengers and freight customers to rail, the so called ‘sparks effect’, thereby decarbonising journeys that would otherwise have been by road. The government has announced almost £600 million to start work on electrifying the Trans-Pennine route between Leeds and Manchester, design work to extend electrification to Market Harborough is underway, and the government will announce further electrification projects in England … shortly.

Great British Railways, the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail

That may not be quite a commitment to a rolling programme, but is the nearest we’ve had yet. It’s not absolutely clear if this is a commitment to full electrification of the route through Huddersfield and Stalybridge but it feels like a strong hint. Market Harborough is on the Midland Main Line where, the next step must surely be through to Nottingham Sheffield and on to Leeds. We want to see these commitments firmed up, beyond vague ministerial (indeed prime ministerial) promises to a national programme that includes the March 2015 Northern Sparks task force recommendations headed by our full Calder Valley Line.

Note: “the main way” of decarbonising the majority of the network. We make no apology here for repeating figures showing what the split between electrification, battery power and hydrogen should be – based on Network Rail’s traction decarbonisation network strategy published last autumn. We think the DfT and ministers get this.

The worry is the word “shortly”. Here’s the next bit. You can spot our slight concern here:

Great British Railways will bring forward costed options to decarbonise the whole network to meet the government’s commitment to a net-zero society as part of the 30-year strategy. These plans will help to kickstart innovation and change across the sector, support long-term funding commitments and build on the forthcoming Transport Decarbonisation Plan and Great British Railways will bring forward costed options to decarbonise the whole network to meet the government’s commitment to a net-zero society as part of the 30-year strategy. These plans will help to kickstart innovation and change across the sector, support long-term funding commitments and build on the forthcoming Transport Decarbonisation Plan and Network Rail’s recent Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy.

Great British Railways, the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail

So the new “guiding mind” of our national rail network will offer options with price tags to the government. Meanwhile the DfT’s transport decarbonisation plan is coming soon. And at least the ground-breaking TDNS is acknowledged. But does this mean we have to wait until the still-to-be-appointed chief executive of GBR has established their feet under the table? Surely, Network Rail has schemes that it can be getting on with, and needs to be drawing up a rolling programme now? Yes, we have said it before, but let’s start getting electrification done.

Over and over again rail industry bodies call for ongoing electrification where teams stay together, developing and improving techniques as they move from scheme to scheme. This is network electrification, it reduces the overall costs, and multiplies the benefits as it cuts the number of non-electric trains operating “under the wires”. In Scotland all four routes between Edinburgh and Glasgow are electrified and there’s a plan to electrify all but the most remote outposts of the rail network. That’s a local example of good practice for the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year. Even better would be a plan for the rest of the UK to catch up with Scotland.

Neighbouring schemes have mutual benefits – like the Calder Valley line naturally following on or even getting started in tandem with TransPennine Route Upgrade.

We do not disagree that some routes will have battery or hydrogen powered trains. Batteries and hydrogen are important ways of storing energy – but not the only ones. Storage is essential because the wind does not blow all the time even out at sea where the turbines spin. But hydrogen and battery powered trains may – in terms of track miles needing to be decarbonised – be no more than 15% of the total. The white paper says:

Battery and hydrogen-powered trains will be trialled for passenger routes where conventional electrification is an uneconomic solution, in order to support the government’s ambition to remove diesel-only trains from the network by 2040. Advances in technology, deployment and more appropriate regulation will be instrumental to achieving this in an affordable way, while also minimising disruption to passengers and freight customers.

“Trialled” – is someone admitting here that battery and hydrogen trains have still to be proven? And “diesel-only trains” removed from the network by 2040 – does that mean there will still be diesel bi-modes running, still wasting energy carrying around dead weight, still increasing maintenance costs, still burning carbon? Of course there are schemes under development to take the diesel engines out of electro-diesel bimodes and replace them with batteries – a form of electrification “without wires”, albeit limited. 

And “where conventional electrification is an uneconomic solution” – who decides on the economics? We know that a rolling programme will cut costs of wiring, maybe by a third, maybe even by half.

We also know that electric trains:

  • use less energy to run because overhead wires are the most efficient way of delivering traction energy. So they are cheaper to buy and cheaper to run.
  • are much less complicated than diesels, bi-modes or hydrogen-power meaning they are more reliable and cheaper to maintain.

And electrics deliver business benefits:

  • Lower mass, carrying  more passengers for the same amount of power;
  • Better acceleration reducing journey times even with more stops serving more stations on lines such as the Calder Valley;
  • Attractive to would-be passengers as clean, quiet, more spacious and more modern – and green. That’s the sparks effect mentioned in the white paper.

Now add in the economic benefit of having clean air, safety, roads freed of congestion by having more people using public transport, and saving future generations from climate catastrophe. Surely, then you have the economic case. With a stake in both tracks and trains Great British Railways should put the case effectively.  Grant Shapps must get the message to the Treasury. And readers, please tell your MPs!

Header Image: “Electrification work at Cardiff Central” flickr photo by Dai Lygad https://flickr.com/photos/126337928@N05/48892795197 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Response to Halifax Gateway Plans

HADRAG has welcomed the latest stage of plans for Halifax station. A pedestrian footbridge will give level access to and from to town. A new concourse building on two levels will provide a much more spacious waiting area for passengers. Concerns include need for more lifts, and perhaps a better ticket office. We also highlighted needs for climate awareness and green design. There will be a further  consultation later this year. Meanwhile here is an edited version of our February response.

Positives

The latest plan includes the following essential features, greatly improved on earlier iterations:

(a) Level pedestrian bridge between concourse at ticket hall level and town centre will be a massive improvement on the present congested approach bridge, and will mean pedestrians and cyclists will continue to have level access.

(a)            potentially much better café and retailing facilities.

(b)           potential for community rail development e.g. work by local students, artists, poets and performers, heritage displays, space for community events. Diverse and inclusive. We ask:

  • How about developing links with the varied and fascinating history of local transport? Part of the “future development” retail areas on the ground floor could be a “pop-up” exhibition area or mini-museum. (Perhaps it could even be a “taster” installation for the nearby Calderdale Industrial Museum.)
  • Could a community room be provided for meetings and events?
  • We would like to see encouragement of a station adoption “Friends” group to develop the station’s role in the community, working alongside the station operator and the proposed Calder Valley Line Community Rail Partnership.

(c)            Wider access links – very good, particularly for walking and cycling with links to the Hebble Trail as well as town. Indeed the station will become a hub linking the Hebble valley and town centre.

(d)           Bus stops: whilst the bus stops in are not as close to the station entrance as we might have liked, this must will be turned into an opportunity:

  • We hope bus operators will be persuaded to serve the new stops providing interchange from the train station to all parts of Halifax.
  • We welcome the long-needed provision for rail replacement buses to pick up immediately outside the station entrance.
  • Whilst the nearest stops for main buses will be in Alfred St East, Horton Street and Church Street, we hope the station entrance by the drop-off point might become a terminus for a round-Halifax local minibus service linking train and bus stations, shopping and leisure areas close to town as well as Dean Clough business area, and visitor attractions such as Bankfield Museum and Shibden Hall. The design must allow for this.

(e)            Improved car parking. Whilst people understandably continue to demand “park and ride” at rail stations, sustainable access to the station must be encouraged. We note that Eureka pay-parking will be available in addition to the parking specified by the railway. Electric vehicle charging is mentioned, and we hope most if not all parking spots will have EV charging points nearby.

Concerns and suggestions

(b)    Ticket office/travel centre/information: as with many modern stations, proposed ticket windows look to be direct onto the concourse, potentially causing difficulty because of noise or other distractions. Would a walk-in ticket office more like the one in the present station building would be better? – a travel centre providing a wide variety of information on journey options and local facilities. It is assumed that ticket vending machines would be located at several points about the concourse. We hope information screens, at various points around the concourse will show local bus and other information as well as train times.

(c)     Access to platforms (existing footbridge and single lift). We hope this will not be a step from bright modern newness into an old building looking down-at-heel. Work will be needed to keep the heritage buildings around the island  platform at their best. Concern that there will still only be a single lift (the existing one) down to the platforms needs to be logged as a priority for future investment though we appreciate there is no simple solution.

(d)    We understand here may be some changes on the platform to help reduce passenger congestion. We hope these will include features to encourage waiting passengers to move away from the narrowest part next to the waiting room. Assuming new modern toilets in the concourse building will allow the present unsatisfactory single unit, could this make space for an exit from the waiting room at its south end, accessing the widest covered part of the platform area? There needs to be liaison with and between Network Rail and the train company about where trains stop along the length of the platforms and how this affect passenger movement and efficient boarding and alighting.

Finally

Final big positive: Town footbridge concept – the consultants have given three examples of iconic designs reflecting local heritage in a modern way. It’s a concept worth supporting. We say the gateway must make a big mark. It must be visible from a distance – for example from the Southowram hillside as well as lower parts of the town – and attract people towards the station. Seating should be provided on the bridge, alongside art and heritage displays reflecting the history and diversity of our community. – JSW

Better timetable for our line?

There remains the former franchise promise of a service from Bradford to Manchester Oxford Rd, Piccadilly and the airport. Responding to the MRRTF report, we asked for this to be included in the recast expected next year. We showed how the Calder Valley line to Bradford serves a similar population to the Bolton line to Preston, but has a much less well-connected service. Demanding a new link when other routes in the area are having to accept cuts is a big ask, but we ask for a fair approach, saying Calder Valley and TransPennine Express could both have an hourly path round the “Ordsall Chord” to Castlefield, with connections at Man Vic – see our diagram (times are illustrative only). We also say that is that if there is to be a wider recast of the timetable next year the opportunity must be taken to deal with the faults in the present Calder Valley
service pattern. Fast trains timed to go slow following freight trains. Missing late night stops for Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd. And no Manchester trains at Mytholmroyd on Sundays. We need more trains to stop at Sowerby Bridge including the York-Blackpools. And a better service on the Brighouse/Elland line – including more trains going up the valley on Sundays for leisure trips. Keeping up the struggle – JSW

Update sounds like better news on Northern’s metal fatigue problem

Update 10 June – Northern and CAF engineers have now carried out temporary modifications to yaw dampers on their new trains, and a permanent solution will follow. Immediate good news is that most of the trains are now quickly and safely coming back into service. Northern’s recent (10 June) press statement is here, but if you want to know what the heck is a yaw damper, read on below!

Metal fatigue hits new trains (from our recent newsletter). At the end of May we understand about 30 of Northern’s CAF-built new trains were out of service including some of the “195s” used on our line. The problem is cracks on the brackets attaching a gadget called a yaw damper to the train body. A yaw damper is designed to stop the bogie wobbling from side to side as it rolls along. This transmits an oscillating force to the mounting and body, leading to metal fatigue, and ultimately cracking Lightweight aluminium used in construction is more prone to metal fatigue than steel. Yaw damper problems have also hit Hitachi high speed trains run by LNER, GWR and TransPennine Express, though it was cracks in jacking points that took those trains out of service recently. The issue is not new. British Rail had to redesign damper mountings on our familiar Class 158 units 30 years ago. It’s about designing components to reduce concentration of stress – avoiding sharp corners etc. Have modern train designers not learnt lessons?

Repairs will take time. It’s fortunate that with fewer passengers, for now, Northern can manage with shorter trains. As we write this most Calder Valley trains seem to be correct.

UPDATE: More at Train operator Northern issues update on Class 195 and 331 fault (railadvent.co.uk)

POSTPONED: HADRAG update June 2021 Zoom AGM coming up

With apologies to those planning to attend, the Group has had to postpone it’s Annual General Meeting. A revised date will appear here once agreed.

Thanks to everyone who attended our on-line meeting back in January. We agreed to continue to for press for action on electrification and improving the Calder Valley line and its links, making that a priority ahead of long-term ambitions such as high-speed rail.

And we have been busy since then responding to consultations on Halifax stations plans, Manchester timetable options, and West Yorkshire’s connectivity plans and rail vision – see our post HADRAG responds on Halifax station, Manchester timetables, and West Yorkshire connectivity strategy – Halifax and District Rail Action Group below where you will find links to the consultations and our comments.

We are holding an on-line annual general meeting on Saturday 26th June at 10.30am. Members will have received full details including Zoom link by emailed newsletter. Like everyone else we hope to get back to normal later this year, but for now it’s clear caution is still required. If you are not a HADRAG member but would like to attend then please get in touch!

HADRAG responds on Halifax station, Manchester timetables, and West Yorkshire connectivity strategy

HADRAG has responded to three consultations so far this year.

Halifax station gateway is moving toward the final stage of plans (see Halifax Railway Station | Calderdale Next Chapter) We have welcomed the latest iteration of this transformational scheme for a new concourse building, parking and drop-off area, and pedestrian bridge linking to town. And we are pleased to note that the scheme is now designed to allow from possible reinstatement of a third operational platform in the future. Platform 3 is not going to be used in the present scheme but it will be left undamaged for a possible use as the train service is increased. Our response the consultation held in February this year is here .

A DfT and rail industry task force on Manchester Rail Recovery (MRRTF) reported early this year (see Manchester Recovery Task Force: Public Consultation (publishing.service.gov.uk)). Whilst the wait continues for major infrastructure enhancement, the idea was to come up with a timetacle that could work reliably over the complex routes in Manchester, notably the Castlefield corridor shown on HADRAG’s map below:

Three options were put out to consultation. We were disappointed, but not surprised, that there was no proposal to provide the service from Bradford, Calderdale and Rochdale via the “Ordsall chord” to stations on the south side of Manchester city and the airport. Connectivity to Deansgate, Oxford Road and Piccadilly stations would open up a wide range of travel opportunities for work, education, heritage and the arts as well as onward connections. And it would better connect our area for visitors coming in. We ask for the link promised by the now defunct Northern franchise, and for other improvements to the service on the Calder Valley line. Our response is here.

Finally, we have responded to the West Yorkshire connectivity strategy and Rail Vision . Alongside a bold vision for a network of mass transit routes across the county there are plans to continue upgrading a rail lines. We are pleased that WYCA continues to support electrification as recommended by the Northern Sparks task force six years ago, putting the Calder Valley Line as number one scheme. Our response supports the mass transit proposals, where we comment on suggestions for Bradford-Halifax routes serving Queensbury, Ovenden and Calderdale hospital, with rail, interchanges and Halifax, Elland and Low Moor. On the rail vision we welcome plans for capacity upgrades and possibe new services over existing lines. We want a better timetable for the Calder Valley line, a fair deal for Sowerby Bridge, Elland and Brighouse, and new services, for example to York via Brighouse, Wakefield and Castleford.

Comments on the governments “Great British Railways” white paper to follow.

No regrets and a quick win for TRU and Calder Valley?

Network Rail is about to submit a list of “no regret” schemes to accelerate electrification to the government, ahead of the DfT’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan (expected in March 2021).

Quoted in New Civil Engineer (17 Dec 2020) Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, said the no regret list aimed “to present a series of quick wins that can be worked on as soon as government gives the go ahead.” Haines said many schemes had good business cases “even after Covid”, and that “we have to bust a gut” to prove that to the Treasury. Haines adds that he will “fight anyone to the death” over a suggestion of doing nothing for the next two or three years. He described the Huddersfield line Transpennine Route Upgrade (TRU) as “waiting to go”.

What about the Calder Valley then? We wrote to Mr Haines and two of his regional managing directors just before Christmas. (An immediate acknowledgement promised a detailed reply early in January.) Picking items firstly for which planning might be somewhat advanced, we said:

May we therefore express the wish that your list of schemes about to go to the DfT will include:

– Completion of Midland Main Line electrification at least to Sheffield, plus full electrification in the TransPennine Route Upgrade (Manchester-Huddersfield-York). Within the latter, Church Fenton to Leeds (Neville Hill) would be a quick-win extension of already planned Colton Jn-Church Fenton.

– Top priorities of the March 2015 Northern Electrification Task Force report (Northern Sparks). The top-ranked (as we understand it on business, economic and environmental criteria) Northern Sparks recommendation was of course the Calder Valley line – Leeds via Brighouse and via Bradford to Rochdale and Manchester and to East Lancs and Preston. A start on this linked to TRU electrification would surely be logical.

This is a call, therefore, for you to press the government to make a start on schemes – such as the Calder Valley and Huddersfield lines -that seemed to be promised several years ago. We note that the recent National Infrastructure Commission report, though mainly about priorities for new high-speed lines and regional enhancements, also recommends a rolling programme of electrification.

We are not suggesting that Calder Valley electrification is ready to go in the same sense as the Transpennine upgrade (first announced as a full electrification scheme nearly a decade ago) or Midland Main Line (cancelled north of Bedford in 2017). But we would argue that planning needs to start for our line, almost six years since it was prioritised by the Northern Sparks report. Could early stages start alongside TRU, extending up the valley from Mirfield towards Hebden Bridge and beyond? And could North West wiring at Manchester Victoria be quickly extended not only to Stalybridge – where work actually started several years ago – but to Rochdale or Littleborough? Interim train operation might require bimodes – maybe batteries rather than diesels? Leeds-Bradford-Halifax will be challenging, but achievable with the latest engineering and the skills retention of a rolling programme. It is surely time we had a plan for full wiring.

TDNS, Calder Valley, and across North

The TDNS business plan sets out recommendations for just about all unelectrified lines. Some routes have “multiple options”. All of the Northern Sparks “full” Calder Valley route is recommended for electrification, via both Bradford and Brighouse through Rochdale to Manchester, and through East Lancs to Preston. There is a multiple option in East Lancs, but electrification is recommended: “Regional passenger service between Colne and Blackburn could operate as battery…” but “electrification would provide completed eastwest link towards Halifax and Leeds”. (We’d add: a reopened Colne-Skipton line would link with the electric Airedale route.) Electrification is recommended for Bolton-Hellifield and Skipton-Lancaster/Carlisle.

Freight is a strong factor favouring electric trains.

Harrogate-York could be battery, with electrification Leeds-Harrogate. Where’s the hydrogen then? Maybe on the Yorkshire coast through Bridlington (but could be battery with full wiring Hull-Beverley). Maybe Middlesbrough-Saltburn. But even in the Tees “hydrogen hub”, first choice long-term seems to be electric. Battery trains to Bishop Auckland and Whitby could charge under the wires Darlington-Middlesbrough. Technology should double battery storage capacity by 2035. Hydrogen could be just an interim solution on some lines.

Electrification pays for itself

So the argument for electrification is won. We think maybe the DfT gets it. But we have to convince the Treasury. A rolling programme potentially halves wiring costs. Long term, electric trains are cheaper to buy, less complex and cheaper to run. Electricity in overhead wires will be cheaper than any kind of hydrogen. A holistic economic view would show electrification paying for itself. Northern Sparks must be brought to life! – JSW

Sources include: Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy – Interim Programme Business Case (networkrail.co.uk) and Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy – Executive Summary (networkrail.co.uk) http://www.railengineer.co.uk

Network Rail draws up list of ‘no regret’ electrification schemes – New Civil Engineer

More at electriccharter.wordress.com


Featured Image: “Northern Electrics branding” flickr photo by hugh llewelyn https://flickr.com/photos/camperdown/20658157925 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license