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When shall we travel again? – late spring update

Copley Via 195
Copley viaduct, on the Bradford arm of our Calder Valley Line, geographical focus for HADRAG. The new Northern train, amid Covid-19 lockdown, may have no more than half a dozen passengers aboard. If the “Northern Sparks” promise of 2015’s electrification task force had been respected by government this train could have been electric. We keep up the campaign, HADRAG’s Stephen Waring, in this blog reflecting a personal view plus an idea where HADRAG might be going in these strange times. There is a dystopian nightmare, but as campaigners we hold out hope of a better, greener society connected by active and public transport. See also our associated Electric Railway Charter website

WHEN SHALL we travel on the train again?

When (asks HADRAG Chair Stephen Waring) shall we go to Manchester or Leeds for work, for the shops, for the art gallery or theatre, for a good night out where we dance and hug? When shall we hop on our Calder Valley train, avoid the dismal A646, and take a turn (on foot or wheels) along the canal bank, stagger up the hill to Stoodley Pike, visit friends, sing in a choir or sit in an audience, or just occupy a café?

The Calder Valley line is a wonderful community asset. But at the end of May (as we update this blog), with the coronavirus lockdown (ambiguously?) easing, near-empty trains still run for essential journeys only. Workers are urged to go back, but work from home if the can – which many essential workers can not. Enclosed space makes public transport vehicles a potential arena for infection. Walk, or cycle, says the government – sustainable ideals. Or use the car – the opposite. This feels like a somewhat dirty exit in terms of what we should be doing to protect local environments and fight global heating. What if you don’t have a car or morally object to using it? Train companies are being paid by the government to run trains whilst discouraging people from using them, a policy that sounds crazy but has logic where we are now. Thanks are due to rail staff at all levels who keep these services going for essential workers, The intention is safety, preventing infection, and where we are now is the right thing to do. But…

Early in May polling suggested UK citizens feared early easing of lockdown. Looking ahead, friends for whom rail travel would always be first choice vow not to go on a train until they can get vaccinated. Immunity hopes rise, there’s talk of massive factories manufacturing vaccine, but as yet there is no guarantee. What if there is no vaccine?

The Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank has advocated peak fare increases to discourage passengers. Staggered work times could help to ease the lockdown, spreading passenger demand for travel. Social distancing onboard trains means a tenth the capacity of normal passenger loadings. Clearly that cannot go on indefinitely.

Social dstncng Northern 195 cropped
New Northern train equipped for social distancing. This can not be permanent.

Public transport must either come back, supported as a public need, or die.

As Calder Valley Line commuters remember only too well from pre-lockdown, those early morning and teatime trains used to be disgracefully overcrowded. Rail commuting was not a choice, but a punishment for city working. Already, people were learning to work from home. Going into the office maybe just once a week could turn the rush-hour into history.

The nightmare… and the hope…

With or without an anti-coronavirus vaccine, there’s a dystopian nightmare here. People travel – only when they have to – singly or in permitted police-enforced groups, in driverless automatic pods centrally controlled to maximise road capacity (note: “road”). People meet on-line, but must log-in their immunity passports to meet physically. There are no passenger trains, buses or trams. But rail freight has replaced thousands of HGVs, and distributes food and hardware via thousands of robotic vans. The good news in this science-fiction world is that both the freight trains and the driverless road vehicles are powered by zero-carbon electricity. The bad news – it is simply not human as we understand the term. An ideal, but not one we’d want.

Science fiction, yes… maybe.

The worry is public transport really may not recover. The “right” to car travel, in bigger and bigger vehicles, it would seem, still largely powered directly or indirectly by fossil fuels, will be reasserted. We feel safe in in our sealed 4-wheeled travelling cage. The quieter roads and cleaner air we enjoyed during the early weeks of lockdown may be but a footnote in the narrative of environmental catastrophe.

The hope is that a better world is possible… and that people realise it must be done…

We are optimists about green reconstruction, post-Covid

As campaigners for clean transport (some of us have been doing this since that cuts congestion, protects the environment, and fights global heating, we are optimists. Our assumption must be that this coronavirus will be dealt with (dare we hope with lessons learnt for the future?). The climate emergency will still be there, more and more pressing. Post-Covid reconstruction must, surely, be about green, good growth, not about reseeding the old disasters. We shall need people using public transport for more and more different types of journey, cutting congestion locally and fighting local and global disaster. Even if every car is electric, and every electron in the grid system has been mobilised by renewable energy, we need to clear our roads and streets so people can move sustainably, sociably, using active and public transport, and where communities thrive.

We must recognise likely changes in the nature of travel. If city-based work is decimated, where does this leave high speed rail (HS2, NPR etc…) that links only the biggest cities and a few regional hubs? Is there an opportunity to better serve communities that focus on their local train stations. People need to travel, to explore, to get together, to be creative, to enjoy active leisure. Social interaction must again become possible. Should not transport be about promoting quality of life, not just work for work’s sake? Trains, trams and buses really can enable this. And enable environmental excellence.

Electric trains can be spacious and comfortable for passengers. With a more flexible approach to work they can enable a new commuting that is a comfortable, relaxing start and finish to the day, not a sardine-canned, unhygienic ordeal. Low-pollution, energy-efficient, ideal for routes with lots of stations, electrics can run on zero-carbon energy.

So, what is HADRAG doing?

Given the present situation, is this blog just deckchair shifting on a public-transport Titanic? It may be an act of faith, but we must make cautiously optimistic assumptions and keep up the campaign.

Northern Rail, the train company, was renationalised on 1 March. (Farewell, Arriva!). However much has happened since then, we are committed to press the new controllers of Northern Trains Ltd for three aims:

  • A timetable that works and delivers a reliable service. Latest update on the new company’s plan suggests a recast performance-based timetable is the official objective for December 2021.
  • Delivery of promises, including trains from Calderdale across Manchester to Oxford Road and Piccadilly stations, probably to the airport. It’s not that we want to encourage lots environmentally damaging air travel. But there are important work and leisure destinations on the southern fringe of Manchester city – universities, hospitals, theatres and concert halls, leisure and heritage attractions – all places where people must congregate in the future if people are to fulfil the potential of being human. And of course connections to destinations beyond.
  • Better deal for all our stations. All trains should stop at Sowerby Bridge. HADRAG held a successful public meeting here on February 1st, and we had an excellent discussion wit rail manager from West Yorkhire Combined Authority, Richard Cravtreee. Sowerby Bridge station serves a population equalling that of Hebden Bridge and Todmorden combined – you could call this the Upper Valley Equivalence Criterion. And of course the Brighouse Line needs a much better service, especially as we expect the opening of Elland station in a couple of years’ time. Each of Elland and Brighouse also meets the Upper Valley Criterion – they should have as good a service as Hebden Bridge and Tod.  Then there is Mytholmroyd, a village station, bit one that should soon get a large new station car park. Could MYT offer some relief to HBD?  Where we are now, with doubt over the future role of city living and working, can we reasonably demand the franchise promise of three trains an hour Bradford-Manchester? Or would we be better asking for more trains serving lower Calderdale and the Brighouse and Elland communities and encouraging their development? We must also press these points with Transport for the North, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Calderdale Council. What should we be asking for?

Let’s put “Northern Sparks” and classic rail capacity ahead of planning high-speed links between cities

We have responded to Network Rail’s latest consultation on TRU, the TransPennine Route upgrade. They asked for views on revised proposals for Huddersfield-Dewsbury 4-tracking, grade separation (flying junction) at Ravensthorpe, and local station rebuilding schemes, before a Transport and Works Act application. We simply state this work is essential and must go ahead without delay, without waiting for some protracted inquiry into how it links with the future Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) scheme. We need the extra tracks through Mirfield and into Huddersfield so more trans can run via the Elland-Brighouse corridor from Calderdale towards Huddersfield, Wakefield, Dewsbury and Leeds. This is about expanding local and regional connectivity to create an attractive alternative to damaging road transport. It cannot wait for high speed proposals that are still decades away, that will only link the big cities (albeit possibly including Bradford), and that may be irrelevant post-Covid.

And have also now responded (29 May) to a call for evidence from the National Infrastructure Commission on Rail Needs for the Midlands and North. This follows the February government announcement confirming go-ahead for HS2 Phase 1 (London-Birmingham) and proposal for an integrated rail plan for that big tract of England north of the Trent , coordinating HS2, NPR and other rail proposals. This, surely, is an opportunity to make the point that, notwithstanding the present disease threat, there are long-delayed projects to increase rail capacity in the North of England that simply need to go ahead now. In three headings, these are:

  • Northern Sparks – rail electrification across our region, across the Pennines. To state again: the full Calder Valley Line, Leeds to both Preston and Manchester via both Bradford and Brighouse was top-ranked scheme of the Northern Electrification Task Force five, yes five years ago…
  • … that needs to go ahead following full Huddersfield Line electrification, and promised capacity increases under TransPennine Route Upgrade (including four tracks along the Huddersfield-Mirfield-Dewsbury corridor). Another promise for which we have been waiting five years.
  • Manchester capacity. Extra platforms at Manchester Piccadilly allowing more trains including Calder Valley ones round the new Ordsall chord railway were planned – you guessed it – five years ago. We hoped the new government’s first budget might have given this the go ahead. But still we wait. An alternative being mooted could be a new tunnelled railway from the Liverpool and Bolton lines coming in at Ordsall (Salford) under the city to Manchester Piccadilly. Might this be done quicker than a scheme that was shovel-ready years ago?
  • Other enhancements that could make our service better including passing loops to get freight trains out of the way of our services, and possible station improvements including, just maybe, a third platform at Halifax to enable future timetable development.
  • And a bit of extra capacity at city terminals could enable new services over existing but under-used routes. We are thinking of a west-east service from East Lancs, through Calderdale, Wakefield and Castleford to York, via an existing freight and diversionary avoiding Leeds. The lines are there and in use, and there is space for an extra bay platform at York station. More in our response to the NIC

Whatever the future of country-town commuting or city-city business travel, our ideas above are projects that we need so that future transport meets community needs, supports human wellbeing, and does not contribute to wreckage of the local and global environment. How bad would it be if post-Covid reassessment of needs killed HS2 or NPR (aka HS3)? If you have a view, tell us.

This is why we keep campaigning.>> – JSW

Featured

Upgrades across Pennines needed now (no use waiting decades for high speed)

BGH 180
Brighouse station saw massive growth in passenger numbers over ten years but is now constrained by a poor service, just hourly to each destination. We need the TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU) to deliver extra tracks around Mirfield so more trains from Halifax and upper Calderdale can come through Brighouse to Huddersfield and Leeds. Transport campaigners are protesting because Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of Network Rail has been quoted casting doubt in the TRU scheme. HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail are decades away and will not help local stations.

CAMPAIGNERS in West Yorkshire are extremely concerned about lack of progress by the Government and Network Rail on infrastructure proposals that should deliver improvements for travellers in the next few years, including the TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU) and enhancements in Manchester if the railway is to honour promises made to the Calder Valley line and other routes across the North.  Three rail user groups and the Yorkshire Branch of Railfuture have written to Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of Network Rail, who was recently been quoted as casting doubt on TRU. In a magazine interview (RAIL 897, 29 Jan’2020) Haines had said the scope of TRU could depend on the high-speed rail proposal “Northern Powerhouse Rail” (NPR). The campaigners, in Stalybridge Huddersfield Rail Users Group and Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Sustainable Transport Group, say NPR is decades away and will not benefit stations on regional routes that desperately need investment now.

The groups have also written to Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps MP, and to the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, calling for urgent, overdue projects to go ahead without further delay.

Last August Network Rail opened consultation on proposals to upgrade the railway between Huddersfield and Dewsbury to four tracks (https://www.networkrail.co.uk/running-the-railway/railway-upgrade-plan/key-projects/transpennine-route-upgrade/huddersfield-to-westtown-dewsbury/) with separate lines for fast expresses and local services and grade separated junctions (flyovers) to reduce conflicts in the timetable. These proposals would not only allow for faster journeys along the TransPennine route via Huddersfield, but also enable:

  • A 30-minute (2 trains per hour) service throughout the day at the four busy stations between Huddersfield and Stalybridge which currently only have an hourly service, and better services at local stations between Huddersfield and Leeds/Wakefield.
  • Improved services along the linked Calder Valley Line through Brighouse using the extra tracks TRU should provide towards Huddersfield and Leeds. In effect Brighouse at present only has an hourly service (though on two routes). But the station saw high growth in footfall over ten years, and serves a population of significantly more than 20,000, comparable with many stations with a minimum of two trains per hour. A new station planned at Elland (next to Brighouse) will serve a similar population.

Despite last week’s prime-ministerial announcement on high speed rail, it is still unclear when NPR will be complete. It seems very unlikely to be before 2035 and probably considerably later. In the meantime the need for more capacity on classic rail routes is urgent but progress on planned schemes seems to be at a halt.

class-195-sowerby-bridge-jsw
New trains now work on Blackpool-York and Chester-Manchester-Leeds services  through Halifax. But the Northern trains franchise also promised services across Manchester to Oxford Road station (near the university) and the Airport, as well as increased frequency Bradford-Manchester. But now that can’t happen because extra platforms through Manchester Piccadilly station, planned five years ago to complement the new Ordsall Chord (which was built), have still to be approved by Government. We have written (again!) to transport secretary Grant Shapps, and to the new Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak asking for this work to go ahead. 

The campaigners’ letters to Haines, Shapps and Sunak ask for TRU and other schemes to go ahead, without being scaled back, leading to much earlier benefits for communities that will not directly benefit from NPR when it comes, and in any case cannot wait that long to have their service improved.

The call is for significantly improving regional connectivity in the next five years, making train travel more attractive for more people as an alternative to congested roads, and part of the transition towards low-pollution, zero-carbon transport.

Along with TRU, the groups are calling for:

  • enhancements around Manchester Piccadilly and Oxford Road stations (Castlefield corridor) that were planned more than five years ago, essential to provide additional capacity reducing delays to existing services, and allowing additional services. A new hourly service from Bradford and the Calder Valley Line to Manchester Airport should have started last December but has yet to be delivered. The January 2020 Transport for the North board meeting again called on the government to give this work the go ahead (https://transportforthenorth.com/wp-content/uploads/Item-5-Central-Manchester-Report.pdf ).
  • a rolling programme of electrification across the North, based on the recommendations of the still-current 2015 Northern Electrification Task Force report (https://transportforthenorth.com/wp-content/uploads/EFT_Report_FINAL_web.pdf ), which gave the Calder Valley Line top ranking.

Nina Smith, Chair of Railfuture Yorkshire Branch and UCVRSTG said: “The Trans Pennine upgrade and work to improve capacity across central Manchester – including the Castlefield corridor – must be started as a matter of urgency now. They are complementary to the longer-term Northern Powerhouse Rail, which is years away and will not directly benefit local commuters. It is not an ‘either-or’. Until these essential works are completed, passengers using local stations on the Leeds to Manchester via Huddersfield route will continue to have a poor service, as will Brighouse passengers. The poor connectivity from the upper Calder Valley to Huddersfield will continue, and the Calder Valley line will not see the promised services to Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport.

Stephen Waring, Chair of HADRAG and joint coordinator of the Electric Railway Charter (www.electriccharter.wordpress.com ) said “We need the TransPennine Route Upgrade to restore a four track railway into Huddersfield so we can have a better service through Brighouse and the planned new station at Elland. Twenty years ago Brighouse succeeded in getting its station reopened, but the town is still waiting for a decent service, prevented by track capacity through Huddersfield and Mirfield. The TransPennine Route Upgrade opens up massive possibilities but now we are worried the Chief Executive of Network Rail is questioning the amount of 4-tracking. We need that full scheme.

“And we need full electrification. It’s just about 5 years since the Northern Electrification Task Force effectively proposed a rolling programme of electrification across the North. Strategic routes across the Pennines including our Calder Valley Line need to be wired if we are to create a modern, reliable, zero-carbon transport system. The Electric Railway Charter will keep up the campaign.”

Mark Ashmore, Chair of SHRUG said “With the banning of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2035/40, and the government’s commitment to the UK becoming carbon neutral by 2050 the need for full electrification of the trans-Pennine route from Manchester to Huddersfield, Leeds and York, along with more four-tracking, has never been more necessary.”

TransPennine Route Upgrade: get it done!

Network Rail has done a second consultation on the Huddersfield-Dewsbury 4-track plan prior to a Transport and Works Act application as part of the TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU). The scheme, which includes grade separation (flyover/under) at Ravensthorpe, links with the Brighouse line at Mirfield and Bradley; it will increase capacity and reduce junction conflicts.

HADRAG’s response is a simple message: that this work has to be done without further delay, and without waiting for an inquiry into how it might interact with high speed proposals that could still be decades away. Whether city-connecting Northern Powerhouse Rail goes ahead or not, we need present lines upgrading to enable better services not least on Calderdale’s Elland-Brighouse corridor towards Huddersfield, Wakefield and Leeds. Surely rail in the post-Covid world trains must serve communities even if city-based work is history?

Header Image: “Heaton Lodge Jct Sep 2005” flickr photo by Ravensthorpe https://flickr.com/photos/ravensthorpe/51948302 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Grand Central…Back Soon?

Update 30 June: Grand Central have announced their return.

No surprise midlockdown, our local inter-city operator Grand Central suspended all services on 3 April initially for a two-month “hibernation”. Since 2010 GC has run trains from Bradford, Halifax, and Brighouse to London, originally three trains, more recently four a day. An open-access operator, GC does not receive the government support that is keeping franchised train operators running in the present crisis, but has been able to make use of the government furlough scheme.

In a statement online (3 April) GC’s managing director Richard McClean said this was “necessary but temporary”. The company would “keep in contact with the three main rail unions,” and “A skeleton team will continue working to ensure Grand Central is ready to resume services as a thriving train operator, serving communities…, once restrictions ease.”

The promise is a come-back “stronger and more resilient”. Trains to London have become an expectation at our stations. They must come back.

Essential Journeys Only

The key workers’ service on our line is hourly Leeds-Manchester on both Bradford and Brighouse routes and 2-hourly Leeds-Preston, with the Bradford-Huddersfield shuttle running hourly. This continued at the 18th May usual timetable change date. Planned enhancements are deferred. The service is for essential workers only. Leisure and other nonessential journeys are not allowed, reflecting the government message and more specifically to protect staff and passengers and avoid spreading the infection. To quote Northern (15 May): “If your only option is to travel by train, please: buy tickets online; respect the 2-metre rule; follow instructions at stations and from train staff; use a face covering if you can; wash your hands before and after your journey; take your face covering and litter with you; and allow extra time for your journey.”

Very few HADRAG contacts have been commuting. We heard there were typically three or four passengers in each carriage which increased only slightly after that slight easing of lockdown. That makes 2-metre social distancing possible, but the limit is said to be no more than 10 per cent of normal loadings. Northern’s average on 15 May was apparently 12.7 passengers/train. Pressure will grow if commuting resumes. The reduced Calder Valley Line service seems to be 3-car or 2×2-car class 195s (the new trains] with 4-car 158s on the Leeds-Brighouse-Manchesters, and single 153s coupled to make two on Bradford-Hud. We gather end-compartments are taped off so conductors can social-distance whilst operating the doors. Clearly longer trains are needed to carry a fraction of normal loadings until we have beaten this virus.

Meanwhile can face-covering help? To quote an update to Northern’s stakeholders (15 May] “it still isn’t clear how effective [masks] are, and whether their use will be mandated on-train.” But by the end of April Germany was requiring face covering on buses and local trains, with masks on sale from machines in at least some stations. And, reinstating something like its normal train service on 11 May, Swiss Railways website said: “Transport companies are counting on their customers to show personal responsibility and solidarity. When a distance of two metres cannot be maintained, the wearing of protective masks is recommended. You can obtain these at various shops at SBB railway stations and elsewhere.” So, back on UK rail, we shall see. 

Please do all stay safe and think of others.

Header Image: “Covid19-Pandenic-Signage-P1640052” flickr photo by citytransportinfo https://flickr.com/photos/citytransportinfo/49814818696 shared into the public domain using (CC0)

Covid 19 and HADRAG Meetings

In normal times we’d have our annual general meeting (AGM) with a speaker in late May or June. That of course is prevented by the need for continuing social distancing, which equally obviously means cancellation of committee meetings for the time being. We had hoped to have our 2020 AGM in Brighouse, just 20 years since the town’s station opened. We’ll hold that meeting as soon as we can – though it may have to be a 21st rather than 20th anniversary. Focus will remain the need to improve services on the arm of the Calder Valley line that serves not just Brighouse but the proposed new station at Elland and potentially improves links between upper Calderdale and Huddersfield, Wakefield, Dewsbury and Leeds.

Some groups have been meeting on-line (formally or informally) using facilities such as Zoom. We are conscious this would not suit all of our members. But should we consider holding one or two informal Zoom meetings for members who would like to be in involved in an on-line discussion?

In the meantime essential AGM business will be conducted by HADRAG’s committee and members by correspondence to be ratified or amended by a conventional meeting later. Just when that can be remains unclear. Let’s all stay safe.

How good is your train?

BRAND new “Class 195” trains already working Calder Valley-Manchester/Chester services began phasing in to York-Halifax-Blackpool in December.

We remain concerned about the need for more peak-hour strengthening. Units can be coupled together but platform lengths at Leeds (notably short bays like P10) are a limitation. New “Platform 0” and lengthening of P1-6 will help, but it will be another year before these works are complete. The evening peak is highly stressful for commuters and staff coping with overcrowding. There used to be four trains from Leeds to Calderdale between 1700 and 1730 but with standardisation of the hourly pattern this is now just three (1712 to Manchester, 1717 via Brighouse and 1727 to Halifax). Surely strengthening is essential but, it seems, often does not happen.

On the Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester-Wigan service, use of 3-car Class 158s marks progress, but a miscellany of  more old-fashioned types continue including single “153s” coupled to a 158, impairing acceleration and limiting maximum speed.  To us, the new trains look ideal for this line with smart acceleration between frequent stops. The new Bradford-Huddersfield “shuttle” is usually a single-car “153”. Pacers (fingers crossed) seem to have gone.

Having only one toilet on the new trains is surely a serious design error. Dare we hope for a later order of extra coaches with more facilities for services taking commuters to work, students to college, families to the seaside or historical attractions, and hens and stags on happy weekends?

 

Catching up with Smart Tickets

ONE DAY the whole of the North will have smart ticketing. Touch in, touch out, “pay as you go” and the system will cap your total fare daily and weekly at a reasonable maximum price for the zones you travelled in. Just like they’ve had in London with Oyster for nearly two decades. Smart travel in most of the rest of the country is laboriously catching up, every authority seemingly reinventing the wheel. West Yorkshire Ticketing Company Ltd runs the MCards now familiar as replacement for the old MetroCards.  So, for example, a pink MCard can be loaded up with weekly or longer period travel for the zones you want, rail+bus or bus only. But it seems sales of rail+bus multi-modal tickets have fallen relative to rail-only daily/season tickets. Work patterns are changing; the “9 to 5”, 5-day week is not what it was. And if your train is seriously delayed you can claim “Delay Repay” on rail-only but not multimodal tickets.

Pay-as-you-go could be (sorry) just the ticket. But we need the technology installing.

 

Calder Valley Line stations lose passengers, but Mytholmroyd surprises!

If service is poor people will vote with their feet. Latest statistics from the Office of Road and Rail cover the year including May 2018 timetable chaos. So it’s no surprise that many stations show a drop in passenger footfall. Bits of good news include figures for Mytholmroyd where the ORR records nearly 15% annual growth and attributes it to improved service in May 2018. But Sowerby Bridge had the same improvement at the same time and appears to have lost passengers to the tune of 5½%. Other factors affect our valley, such as traffic problems on the dreaded A646. Sadly, increased service frequency given to SOW and MYT in 2018 has now been taken away—likely to be reflected in next year’s statistics. But when Mytholmroyd gets its big new car park (soon!) with spaces for a couple of hundred daily park and riders the station could see another surge. Mytholmroyd has real potential to relieve Hebden Bridge — but only if the service is improved. Usage also increased at Todmorden where upcoming access improvements could attract even more. Walsden is another to watch, a 6.3% surge reversing gradual decline over ten years — and only an hourly service! Brighouse still tops the CV Line league for biggest 10-year percentage growth, but its messed-up service over two years (effectively only one train an hour to Leeds) has begun to throw away the gains. We’ll keep an eye on how the Bradford-Huddersfield shuttle performs. Great start for first two years of Low Moor.

Our table adapts the ORR’s spreadsheet. Explore link above for national picture. Interpretation may require a pinch of salt. Nobody’s been counting actual passengers: figures estimate total entrances and exits from ticket sales, with adjustments for multimodal tickets like MCard.  Note comment on methodology for the GM stations, where free concessionary travel has been evaluated and included for the first time. So apparent surge over the border is journeys suddenly being counted and high growth compared with the Yorkshire side is more apparent than real. It is right to include these journeys and the comparison will again become valid in future results.

Halifax is 324th busiest station nationally (down from 300th). Leeds is third busiest station outside London, behind Birmingham and Glasgow Central. London Waterloo retains the overall title.

Our (latest) letter to Grant Shapps

Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport,

Great Minster House, 33 Horseferry Road, LONDON SW1P 4DR

14 January 2020

Dear Secretary of State,

Northern railways and the Calder Valley Line – towards solutions

HADRAG is a campaigning rail users’ group, a supportive, positive and respected “critical friend” of the railway. We seek a modern, sustainable railway that more and more people want to use.

Failure of the railway collectively to deliver either day-to-day service reliability or promised enhancements is a desperate disappointment. We welcome your recent statements. We understand that you have a process in place to resolve the Northern franchise issues. From a passenger viewpoint, we wholeheartedly agree that action is needed. Thank you in anticipation for considering the following.

We were concerned by reports of a proposal to split Northern (Arriva Rail North) into two separate east and west companies:

  • Such a suggestion poses more questions for our Calder Valley Line than for on any other Northern-operated route. Four cross-boundary services per hour penetrate deep into east and west Pennine territories. Yorkshire commuters travel regularly into Manchester and Lancashire, using services that span York, Leeds, Preston, Blackpool, Manchester, Wigan and Chester.
  • We agree that Northern is geographically large. But we believe an already fragmented railway needs to be re-integrated, not split into further smaller parts
  • Such re-integration should, we believe, go beyond the existing Northern TOC bringing in TransPennine Express and the infrastructure operator Network Rail. Vertical integration – literally across the “wheel-rail interface” is perhaps more critical than geographical boundaries. But the cross-Pennine services of Northern and TPE should also be brought together since they are complementary and need to be operated in cooperation.

Whatever the future structure, the railway in the North must be collectively tasked with the duty, and provided with the financial and physical resources, to achieve the following priorities:

  1. To run a reliable and punctual and comfortable service in the short term and going forward.
  2. To deliver benefits that were promised by the 2015 franchise. These must include enhancements such as (on our line) increased frequency between Bradford and Manchester, and a regular link with the south side of Manchester, for which we know there is demand in terms of access to employment, education, attractions and connections. Locally, it is a major disappointment that the present franchise is unable to deliver these commitments.
  3. To plan for further improvements to services and new services. In the Calder Valley there is a pressing need for a better service on the Brighouse route (which will hopefully have an additional station at Elland in 2-3 years). Since December 2019 Brighouse has only one train an hour Leeds-Manchester plus a Bradford-Huddersfield shuttle – a cut in service which fails to comply with the Train Service Requirement (TSR) in the original franchise agreement.

The recent collapse in service performance on both Northern and TransPennine Express sadly coincided with the introduction of new rolling stock, turning good news into bad. We hear that new trains were introduced with staff training insufficiently complete on both TOCs. Meanwhile, regular late-running by TPE causes hold-ups at Manchester, Leeds and York, hitting the performance of Northern-operated Calder Valley trains, showing the inter-dependence of the two TOCs.

The train companies seem to have offered too much with too little resources or allowance for contingencies. But failure to deliver franchise commitments for the Calder Valley Line is due in part to capacity on the Ordsall and Castlefield route through south Manchester. The Ordsall chord was built to carry both long-distance TPE trains and Northern’s Calder Valley services. Complementing Ordsall, we should by now have two more through platforms in use at Manchester Piccadilly and other works completed to allow longer dwell times and more trains. But the go ahead for this work was not given. We know other possible enhancements in the area are being considered. Meanwhile, Northern have told us they are banned from bidding for the additional Calder Valley services. Yet TPE is allowed to run 2 trains/hour from North East England to Manchester Airport via the Huddersfield line and Ordsall.

We respectfully ask therefore:

  • That you give the go-ahead – now – to the Castlefield enhancements planned originally for CP5 (2014-19). These are essential to deliver the priorities (1) and (2) above – franchise commitments.
  • That service planning should treat Northern and TPE as complementary and equal priorities. As we wait for more capacity, it may be necessary to run fewer trains – for now – via Castlefield. All we ask, however, is a fair share of the available paths, and delivery of promises that were made for our line. We look for imaginative interim solutions to deliver benefits.
  • For a realisation that Calder Valley line passengers find it unreasonable that present reliability and potential future services are being damaged because other train operators take priority. Connectivity across Yorkshire, Manchester and Lancashire are at least as important as connectivity between Tyne/Tees and Manchester Airport.
  • For further infrastructure enhancements to allow better timetabling and performance. Examples include additional tracks at pinch points, passing loops so that freight traffic does not hinder the passenger service, and of course electrification – essential for decarbonisation.

Whatever the short-term fix, we call for “one railway” involving both TOCs and Network Rail. We have no wish to pre-empt the (overdue) Williams Review. But:

  • Please do not keep us waiting any longer for publication of Williams and of your White Paper!
  • Could some of the ideas generated by Williams be brought forward as a pilot to tackle the problems of the railway in the North of England, a process that is now urgent?
  • Train planning functions at present seemingly in “silos” at the separate TOCs and in Network Rail have obstructed apparently easy service improvements. Two local stations one of which serves the significant catchment area of Sowerby Bridge have seen cuts in service with trains missing out stops late at night, their latest blow being loss of daytime services to York, Preston and Blackpool. Planning must be unified, and devolved as far possible to ensure that decisions are informed by local detail and responsive to common sense proposals.

We look for an alliance of train operators, Network Rail, local/combined authorities and Transport for the North to plan a service pattern that is fair to all, design a timetable that works, and operate it through a system that is adequately funded, swift-acting, and well-communicating within the railway and outside it.

Yours sincerely, and with thanks again,

(by email)

J Stephen Waring, Chair, HADRAG

cc MPs, local leaders, media, neighbouring rail user groups, Railfuture