Halifax station. Wanted: future-proof design!


Overview of Halifax station concept design. Note: natural stone extension of 1855 Building to north with modern glazed concourse attached; restored pedestrian underpass using Navigation Road archway.


Calderdale Council is setting the ball rolling to transform Halifax station. The expected result  will be a new centrepiece in the lower part of town linking with Halifax’s developing cultural hub, shopping and business areas. 

Bus-rail interchange should improve with bus stands serving a wide range of destinations located by a new public square below the complex of attractions around the Piece Hall. New pedestrian access to the train station is expected to be via improved public domain in the new square and pleasant “station gardens”. Direct routes will lead pedestrians arriving by train towards Square Chapel, Library, Piece Hall, Industrial Museum as well as the towns shopping and business areas.  As currently envisaged the  transformation will include a new glazed concourse complementing and literally reflecting the original 1855 station. There will be space for increased numbers of passengers and increased facilities for them both in both new and old buildings. The 1855 building could be home to new leisure or retail facilities attracting more people to the site. The original Navigation Road underpass will be opened up as a pedestrian link not just for station users but for anyone needing to access between new development to the east around the Nestlé site and the town centre.

Comparison has been drawn with Sheffield where the rail station, at bottom of town as in Halifax, now opens out onto a modern public square.

It needs to be emphasised that concept designs described in the report to the council’s cabinet on Monday 19 March are just a starting point. HADRAG will keep up pressure to get a final design that puts first the needs of train passengers, whether they access on foot, on bike, by park and ride or by drop-off/pick-up/taxi. And we encourage others to make their views known.

HADRAG fully supports the transformational aspirations. There now seems to be a consensus that the present road approach bridge with its road congestion and indeed safety issues has to go. The bridge, inadequate for the coming and goings of station users on foot or in vehicles, is also an architectural detraction from the glorious original 1855 station building .

Initial suggestions in the concept design would relocate not just rail users’ car-parking but also taxis and drop-off/pick-up to the east side of the railway. All levels from restored underpass up through the new concourse to the footbridge would be connected by a new lift. Clearly the lift will have to be highly reliable! But we have a serious concern that the proposed arrangements could mean indirect and inconvenient transfer routes between car and train. We say this needs further thinking. One idea known to be under consideration is having a further lift and stairway going up through the Navigation Road archway direct to Platforms 1 and 2.

Restoration of the archway below the station pedestrian link will put the station on a through route for pedestrians between the town centre and potential new development to the east. So the station will no longer be a dead end for people on foot.  An underused office block owned by sweet manufacturer Nestlé (who make Mackintosh’s Quality Street on the site) could be demolished to make way for the new car park. Could this be a general as well as rail users’ car park?

We also want a design that offers flexibility to develop new and improved train services, and we shall be working to persuade the railway authorities that our station needs not just the reinstatement of Platform 3  to deal with growing numbers of passengers, but also a third operational train track to deal with potentially increased and more complex services in the future.

The concept designs envisage widening, building out P3 to serve the track currently serving P2. This would vastly increase circulation space for passengers with trains going west and south using P1 (as now) and trains for Bradford, Leeds and York using the restored enlarged P3. In effect the station would be doubled in size, creating physical room for crowds arriving for events at the Piece Hall as well as providing a spacious, modern environment for business and tourist visitors.

At present rail infrastructure company Network Rail seems to be saying it can not see the need for a third operational train platform within its current planning horizon. At a station where passenger footfall has roundly doubled in a decade, we ask whether the railway is being sufficiently ambitious. We want a design that is truly future-proof!

Here is the statement given to Halifax Courier by HADRAG chair Stephen Waring: (published Fri 9 Mar’2018): 

“It is many years since HADRAG first called for Halifax train station to be transformed as a welcoming gateway between railway and town. The station gateway proposal coming from Calderdale Council shows the ambition to do this. We discussed the concept designs at HADRAG’s committee meeting this week (Monday 12 March), and they look truly transformational, making the station itself a much more attractive feature at the centre of a greatly enhanced environment linking with new bus stops, the Piece Hall, cultural hub and town centre.

“HADRAG therefore welcomes the broad concept as presented but wants to see further work done to ensure the best possible access for existing rail users. Wherever possible, level horizontal routes are better than either stairs or lifts. The architects of the final scheme must consider how passengers will negotiate changes in levels, as well as the need to create a direct route between the proposed new east-side car park and the current station platform.

“We also think that, rather than completely segregating pedestrian and vehicle access, drop-off, pick-up, cycle and taxi access could be retained on the west side of the station – the “town side” – where pedestrians will access through the proposed station gardens and a new public square.

“The final design must be future-proof, allowing for greatly increased train services and new service patterns. Reinstatement of platform 3 will create space for growing numbers of passengers. We think it should be done so as to allow in the future for an additional railway track, giving three fully operational lines so that more trains can run through, terminate and reverse in the station. So far the railway authorities haven’t seemed interested in doing this. We need to persuade Network Rail and the train companies to have greater ambition matching the local ambition of the station scheme itself.

“Opening up the Navigation Road arch puts the station on a transformed pedestrian route between new development east of the line and the town centre. This should make the station a centrepiece. With new development in and around the historic 1855 Building the station hub should become an attraction its own right.

“But most importantly it must also be designed to work for train passengers, better for both existing users and increasing numbers in the future.

“HADRAG hopes there will be early public consultation on the proposals, getting present-day station users involved.”

And here is a link to the report to Cabinet: https://www.calderdale.gov.uk/nweb/COUNCIL.minutes_pkg.view_doc?p_Type=AR&p_ID=56987

— JSW 


Ordall Chord

On the day the Ordsall Chord opened last December, a Calder Valley train from Manchester Oxford Road leaves Deansgate station. Ours is the first service to use the new line, hourly on Sundays and a few trains continuing round the chord during the week. These trains will be extended to Manchester Airport, every hour, early morning till late night, when Northern has enough trains to do it.

The Oxford Rd service calls at Deansgate, useful for workplaces, Castlefield attractions, and trams to Altrincham and MediaCityUK.

But when our trains go on to the Airport it seems they’ll  trundle through Deansgate non-stop. The two track section through to Piccadilly is an issue for timetabling. We need those extra platforms at Picc to make room for all the new services round Ordsall and a better timetable for routes across the North.

We hope the DfT has got the message.


Northern Meeting: Rolling Stock

Copley viaduct, on the line from Sowerby Bridge to Halifax and Bradford. Lower bridge over the Calder is route of Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester trains that come through Elland and Greetland. By chance both trains in this shot are 30-year old  “Class 150” Sprinter types — the ones with cramped 2+3 seating. 150s should be banished from this line, though not from Northern, in less than two years’ time. Northern Connect services crossing the viaduct en route to Blackpool, Chester, Manchester Airport, Leeds and York will be brand new trains now being built in Spain, whilst the “valley bottom service” (soon to be extended to Southport) is expected, in less than a year, to get refurbished millennium-vintage “Turbostars” arriving from Scotland; these will be a lot better than 150s or Pacers or even the “express” 158s — trust us! We hear Northern hope to replace of more of the older units. So maybe things really can get better.


Northern Meeting: Stations and Information

Halifax station should get three new ticket vending machines in the near future as Northern installs more and more of its shiny “smartwalls” across the network. Let’s support our staffed booking offices, expanded maybe to offer a wider range of services.  More local and tourist information would be a start. Northern seem to be saying they want to develop the role of the booking office. Stations like Sowerby Bridge — at present unstaffed — could get modular buildings for staff to serve the public.

People still want printed timetables. HADRAG has criticised the current Northern style  where you need three separate booklets to find the whole Calder Valley Line service. We understand the plan is for a smaller number of area-based timetables. That could be a step forward.

Image: Sowerby Bridge Station (flickr photo by calflier001 https://flickr.com/photos/calflier001/4605598267 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license)

Northern Meeting: Capacity, Service patterns

HADRAG takes up issues with Northern. No quick fix for overcrowding but a glimmer of hope the first lot of new trains could be followed by more. We keep up pressure on serious timetable issues for Halifax and Calder Valley Line stations whilst train planners wrestle with the May 2018 timetable.

Last Autumn HADRAG wrote to the new managing director of Northern (Arriva Rail North) with a familiar catalogue of issues. Commuting capacity—can anything be done short term to relieve some of the outrageous overcrowding? Service patterns—our concerns about the May 2018 plan and what happens in 2019, particularly for Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd. Hopes for a better deal on the Brighouse line (and Elland station). And issues about retailing and information—stations and booking offices, and the poor quality timetable booklets. In January a group from HADRAG met Northern at their office. It was a good meeting with mutual respect. We were listened to as equals.

We started with the bad news. Bolton line electrification is (further) delayed because of the sort of problems you only find when you start digging. So there’s a delay to the “cascade” of diesel trains to other services. Northern’s train planners are working to figure our how much of the May 2018 timetable plan can actually be delivered on 20/05/18 and which enhancements will have to be postponed, perhaps till December. (Remember May’18 was originally supposed to be December 2017!) For our line the May 2018 plan includes extension services to Southport (the Brighouse “valley bottom” service), Chester and Manchester Airport with earlier morning and later night trains at least for some stations. They expect to tell us in early March what they can actually deliver in May, and what will be postponed until maybe Autumn.

Questioning the Wisdom

On capacity and overcrowding we had questioned the wisdom of the refurbishment programme when the shortage of carriages is so obvious. But refurbishment is part of the franchise agreement and committed. (We can all draw our own conclusions about unwanted consequences of franchising.) It seems we can shout as loud as we like that current sardine-can conditions are unacceptable but there does not seem to be any sign of a quick fix to relieve conditions before new trains start arriving or our line. The new trains are now being built in Spain.  The glimmer of hope is that further orders could follow and more reasonably modern trains from other operators could be cascaded to Northern. Meanwhile, expect an improvement on the Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester-Southport service which should get refurbished “Turbostars” (Class 170) in less than a year’s time. Northern will receive about 16 of these trains from Scotland starting in a few weeks. The first of them are expected to be deployed on Harrogate services, perhaps in May.

There does seem to be an acceptance that the franchise capacity promise, a 37% increase by 2020, may not be enough. Many Calder Valley Line commuters would argue their train is already 100% overcrowded, with some trains leaving passengers behind at stations such as New Pudsey and Castleton that are near the end of the route. And we’ve seen it happen at Halifax.

For the train companies and the DfT, capacity includes standing room. But let’s be reasonable. You might not mind standing from New Pudsey to Leeds if there is a bearable amount of space. But if you are travelling from Halifax to Leeds or Manchester it’s reasonable to expect a seat and a fair share of elbow room. If you can’t be sure whether you’ll be able to get on the train, and when you do everyone is crammed nose-to-nose, that surely, ought to be unacceptable.

Serious Concerns

Earlier in February we saw details on Open Train Times and Real Time Trains websites of provisional May 2018 timings. We knew this was subject to change, as explained, because of the Bolton line issue. But what we saw gave us continuing serious concerns about aspects of the proposed Calder Valley timetable pattern. Along with other groups, we first raised these in response to a consultation last summer.

We strongly welcome the positives. If all goes to plan we get, if not in May by the end of the year, hourly services to Manchester Airport and Chester. Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd will be served by the York-Blackpool trains all day, seven days a week. Brighouse-Manchester gets better timings with fast running  Rochdale-Manchester. There are new early morning and late night services, with an earlier first train from Brighouse at 0632 direct to Leeds. (But this also means users of the present 0702 will have to get up earlier!) All good news but…

Northern timings from 20th May have now disappeared from view online. We understand the timetable will now appear around 8th March.1  We hope issues we have pressed on Northern again since we met them will be addressed:

  • Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd Manchester service.
  • “Missing trains” that were in the draft timetable that did not appear in the recent online version—hopefully accidental omissions that will be restored. Our concern is for Low Moor and Halifax-Manchester commuters.
  • Whether the 0728 Halifax-Leeds “extra”, the 5-car Grand Central train, will continue. Its omission would leave a serious gap in the proposed peak Halifax-Leeds service.
  • Clockface patterns, not least from Halifax towards Leeds. If we have 4 trains/hour it’s reasonable to expect reasonably even spacing, though we accept that precise quarter-hourly is impossible.

We have asked Northern to address all of these points. We believe the red line should be no loss of connectivity or worsening of service for any station. For example in the evenings and on Sundays end-to-end journey time is surely less important than ensuring that all intermediate stations retain a decent service, whilst maintaining frequency of commuter trains should be sacrosanct.

Other concerns include:

  • Connections upper Calderdale stations-Huddersfield at Brighouse/Halifax.
  • Leeds-Brighouse service pattern if the train via Bradford is overtaken by the train via Dewsbury.
  • Need for Sunday service Leeds-Brighouse-upper Calderdale-Manchester.
  • Extended journey times Bradford-Brighouse-Huddersfield due to difficult “pathing” with extended dwell times. Surely, we have said to Northern, some better solution is available?
  • Calder Valley-Manchester Airport trains planned not to call at Deansgate station in Manchester, even though the present trains to Oxford Road do so.

We understand Northern’s train planners face a massive challenge. But the price of welcome new destinations such as Manchester Piccadilly/Airport and Chester should not be loss of decent local connectivity at sensible timetable intervals. If some of the May changes are to be delayed by circumstances outside Northern’s control maybe there is a chance to come up with something better later in the year.  —JSW


The Electric Railway Charter — watch out for our launch!

Quick recap: big station, fully electrified since 1960. But five out of six trains in our picture are still diesel. Seems a waste? It’s blindingly obvious more could be electrics, helping to keep the air in the station safe to breathe, helping to combat global warming, if only more lines had the “wires” up. Britain lags other advanced European countries in terms of electric rail-km. Yet the Department for Transport seems to be saying that buying fleets of trains laden with both electric pick-up and diesel-generator equipment is a sensible substitute. As explained in our Autumn issue, we don’t agree. “Bimodes” are inefficient, underpowered on diesel, overweight on electric, more complex and costlier to maintain, bad for business and bad for the environment. If diesel or bimode traction were to be the norm for another generation those polluting trains would still be running when fossil fuel power is coming to an end on the roads. Of course electrification means major investment, and, like any improvement scheme, some disruption. But as has been shown the cost is recouped by operational savings (such less fuel, less maintenance) and the “sparks effect” of trains that more people want to use.

Network Rail is the national agency that has the multifarious tasks of managing day to day operation of the system, maintaining tracks and signalling and organising upgrades. Having let engineering expertise go it has, with its contractors, been learning the hard way how to electrify railways in the North West, in Scotland and on the Great Western. An effectively managed rolling programme would capitalise on the skills gained. Nearly three years ago a politically balanced task force backed by professional research recommended a dozen northern routes for electrification by the mid-2020s. You won’t need reminding that the Calder Valley Line, from Leeds to both Manchester and Preston via both Bradford and Brighouse was the top-scoring scheme.

Campaigning train user groups along the length of the line are not giving up. In the coming weeks, HADRAG, STORM (Rochdale), Bradford Rail Users and our colleagues in the Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Sustainable Transport Group are to jointly launch the Electric Railway Charter. The charter will be a declaration calling for implementation of the task force recommendations with our line at the top. It will promise to keep up the campaign for an economically and environmentally sustainable railway. And it will call on a wide range of other groups—business, environmental, political, workplace, community—to support us. We are already supported by the Yorkshire branch of Railfuture, the national independent group campaigning for a better rail network for both passenger and freight. Spread the word.


Divided we Stop

Disturbing incident, early February, when a 30 year-old “sprinter” train entering Leeds station on a Calder Valley service, became uncoupled, its two coaches separating as they came to a halt. Thankfully such incidents are rare. And on a railway designed to be fail-safe, when the compressed-air pipe running along the train is broken, the brakes come on automatically to stop in the shortest distance possible. So passengers waiting at the station were delayed whilst several lines were closed allowing passengers on the broken unit to be helped out and walked to safety. There will doubtless be an inquiry about why the coupling on this train failed, and we must await the results patiently. But, meanwhile, we can’t help thinking: is pressure on depot time a factor in this kind of failure, given the shortage of trains? Isn’t this another argument for keeping guards on all trains? And what if, instead of mid-afternoon, this train that split in two exposing gaping gangways had been a crush-loaded commuter service?

Header Image: “Leeds station name sign (3 Mar 17)” flickr photo by Daniel H Wright https://flickr.com/photos/danielhwright/32482341114 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license