Timetables, tickets, and the human “touch”

No-one is surprised that train companies are not printing timetable booklets at present. Nothing is permanent, nothing worth printing. But even pdf timetables can be difficult to find on train company websites. A worrying movement says people can look up times on phones, so there is no need to bring back printed booklets. Wrong. Paper timetables can be browsed in a way that can’t be done on your pocket digital friend. And instead of leaving in ticket offices used by people who already know what time the train is they could be distributed in local shops, cafés, and other community outlets. Station adoption groups could help with distribution.

We also fear ticket offices are about to be run down as more people buy on line or use ticket vending machines (TVMs). But Halifax’s always seems to have customers, and staff can make sure passengers get the right ticket at the right fare. A recent trip up the valley, with queue in booking office, involved more than 20 touches of the TVM screen; this was a railcard return to Todmorden, not Tonypandy!

You can’t beat the human “touch” – even through a glass screen!

Valley Line Partnership Gets Up and Running!

by HADRAG’s Richard Lysons, Calder Valley Line Community Rail Partnership steering group member

Four years ago, at the launch of the Electric Railway Charter at Calderdale Industrial Museum, I expressed my hope that not only would the Calder Valley line be electrified, but it would become a community rail partnership!

Well, after years of patient campaigning, liaison and behind the scenes work by local authority elected officers and officers, the Calder Valley Community Rail Partnership (CRP) has arrived!

The partnership is jointly supported by Calderdale and Rochdale councils. Route covers (for now) the stations in the two boroughs from Mills Hills to Halifax and Brighouse. Market towns, villages and district centres are included as is the planned station at Elland on the Halifax-Huddersfield and Sowerby Bridge-lower Calderdale routes. (Extensions to into Bradford, Leeds and Manchester might be a future possibility.) 

Karen Hornby has recently been appointed rail officer for the partnership. She brings with her over 30 years’ experience of working for Network Rail in the north west. Karen has already started meeting volunteers and station adopters along the route, building working relationships.

The DfT’s community rail strategy aims to provide a voice for the community, promote sustainable and healthy travel, bring communities together and support social and economic development. There are more than 80 community rail partnerships around the country, supported by the Community Rail Network. Railway lines with such a partnership have seen growth in passenger numbers, improvements at stations and socio-economic development.

Red spots are in Calderdale and Rochdale and so are in the CRP area. Elland should join in 2024. Low Moor (Bradford) could join later.

Promoting Green Tourism

There is great potential for the Calder Valley Line partnership to encourage green tourism with the possibility of walking guides, especially using the adjacent Rochdale Canal and Calder & Hebble Navigation.

Many community rail partnerships have line-based artwork and link up to work with young people and disadvantaged groups. In many cases a clear “line identity” has been created with slogans (such as “The Poacher Line”) and printed timetables have been sponsored by the rail partnerships to encourage tourism and greater off-peak travel.

Our friends and colleagues at Community Rail Lancashire are supporting the new partnership and we can learn from their many successful initiatives. HADRAG is represented on the partnership’s Stakeholders’ Group and looks forward to supporting the various projects that are planned. There are huge opportunities to both build on current good practice along the route and start on new initiatives to involve local groups and communities. The Calder Valley Community Rail Partnership’s Prospectus is available to download at Calder Valley Line Partnership Prospectus (rochdale.gov.uk).

Working Together

From Brighouse to Mills Hill, station adoption groups are already doing fantastic work. They all have their own themes, creating diversity along the line. The CRP will take a more regional perspective linking across the Pennines and developing whole-line themes interacting with a wider community. That is not a threat to the station groups’ valuable and continuing work. Long may they thrive! – JSW


Header Image: “Todmorden Station” flickr photo by Tim Green aka atoach https://flickr.com/photos/atoach/51362234511 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Elland Latest

Elland station of course is not just a rail station, but a whole local package.

The access package received planning approval last September. Planning permission for the station is pending with a long list of documents on the planning department website (refs 21/00824/FUL for the station & 21/00017/LAA for the access package).

To reach the elevated platforms users will have a choice of stairs, lifts or ramps. The car park will have  12 blue badge spaces and 15 EV-charge spaces among 100-plus in total. Proposed access between car park and north side platform has been improved.

“FBC” (full business case) milestone should be later this year, with completion of the station in 2024. Network Rail, Northern Trains, and WY Combined Authority are all involved alongside Calderdale and consultants. Our Northern contact is involved in discussions and reports no major cause for concern. Trains on both Bradford-Huddersfield and Wigan-Brighouse-Leeds trains will call.

HADRAG wants to see service frequency doubled. Campaigners were disappointed when Brighouse reopened 22 years ago, Elland having been dropped. Now we see White Rose station moving ahead. So there is frustration that we are still not – quite – there.

Summer Timetable – We Trust Cuts Are Temporary

Northern Trains are to cut the hourly (Monday-Saturday) Halifax-Hull to two-hourly from May. This segment of the Calder Valley line timetable has been 3 trains every 4 hours since January. It could be argued that straight 2-hourly is less confusing for would-be passengers, but it is still the second stage of a two-stage cut. We hope and trust these and other cuts are temporary.

The timetable has been visible on the “RTT” (Real Time Trains) website and on www.nationalrail.co.uk for a couple of months but Northern (prudently) declined to respond to our questions until trains shown on the latter as subject to possible change were confirmed.

Confirmation came in mid-March, along with a note in Northern’s list of services explaining that halving Hull-Halifax trains allows reinstatement of hourly stopping Hull-Bridlington trains. So the Calder Valley’s loss is the Wolds Coast’s gain. Which is understandable but, we would argue, not exactly fair. And, Northern managers told a Railfuture Yorkshire webinar in March, the full pattern would come back. What is not clear is when it will come back.

Meantime, a mess is made of our local timetable, because 3 trains/hour does not mean every 20 minutes. Oh no. In a “full” hour trains from Halifax to Leeds go typically at 05, 17 (Hull train), 38, and 53 (precise times vary). In some hours the 38 is actually about 42 . That means that when the Hull train is missing there is a gap of typically 33 min, sometimes 37 min before the next train to Leeds. So if you turn up at the wrong hour miss the five-past you will likely have more than half an hour to wait. The Halifax-Hull cut also reduces the local service at east Leeds stations to 3 trains every 4 hours.

Bradford-Huddersfield was cut to 2-hourly in January, making it truly a back-and-forth shuttle. If one service misses, there is a minimum 4-hour gap. We have seen that happen. And what use is a 2-hourly service for a town that has potential to serve a population equal to Hebden Bridge and Todmorden combined? Thankfully the hourly Wigan-Brighouse-Leeds service is unaffected, as are Chester/Manchester-Halifax-Leeds and Blackpool-Halifax-York trains.

But the “Tod Curve” service Blackburn-Rochdale-Manchester-Wigan retains annoying gaps about every five hours. In other words three segments of our service remain reduced for the summer – or at least part of it.

Training Backlog Blamed

In the end-of-March update from Northern’s Pete Myers, regional stakeholder manager, wrote:

One look at the cancellation figures  [Northern’s east region 5.44% cancelled for present period (punctuality was nearly 86% within 3 minutes)] will [show] that these are too high. The reason for this is the lack of consistent and available resources (in the most part traincrew). We are not short of drivers or conductors, but in the case of train drivers we do have a gap in training and qualification, which comes from the first months of the pandemic when no training took place. [Training] is a serious issue, and while we have moved mountains in this regard, it is the backlog that drives most of the changes planned. What is not pushing these changes is the number of people using the trains, nor is it an attempt to save money, what it is, is a need to be able to deliver our timetable reliably this summer and to do this we must better use our available resources. There are other reasons for this resource gap, which I won’t go into here, but these are short-term changes that we will reverse as soon as we are able to do so.” The other reasons include an ASLEF ban on drivers’ rest day working which “sadly continues and when coupled to the above training backlog and absence rates it simply further exacerbates the situation ”. Mention of absence rates reminds us that the pandemic is not over. Looking more widely at this May, some other routes are as badly affected as ours. Bradford to Airedale and Wharfedale is cut from half-hourly to hourly. Huddersfield-Wakefield has no trains at all (just a few buses). And there are cuts to the hourly pattern on the two Leeds-Knottingley routes. Sheffield-Gainsborough, a franchise-promised all-day hourly service is just a few morning and teatime trains. Harrogate loses two early morning services and “gains” a 2-hour gap in the evening. Hourly fast extras are very much on the back burner, as are York-Scarborough locals that may in the end be supplied in some form by TransPennine Express.

Still Campaigning for Brighouse, Sowerby Bridge Elland!

RTT goes further ahead than National Rail’s journey planner. Hull-Halifax, Bradford-Huddersfield and Tod Curve cuts now look to continue all summer. We must heed Northern’s warning against using RTT as a reliable predictor. Some future trains may, we suspect, be shown to safeguard paths for future use.   

HADRAG campaigned to get the Brighouse line opened, and saw success in May 2000. We are still waiting for the second station – Elland. Each of Brighouse, future Elland, and present-day Sowerby Bridge serves catchment population as great as Todmorden and Hebden Bridge combined. But the two upper valley towns have a lot more trains. It feels like stations such as Brighouse and services like the “Tod curve” are treated as soft options for temporary cuts whenever there are problems. ORR footfall figures showed Brighouse as fastest growing local CV line stations[1] over a decade 2008-18, +343%, with Sowerby Bridge second on 94%. We say all trains that serve Hebden Bridge should serve Sowerby Bridge. Bradford-Brighouse-Huddersfield should be doubled, as should the east-west “valley bottom” service. The Calder Valley line is really a network, and we see a taktfahrplan approach employing connecting services on the different arms (our ‘Taktfahrplan‘ for example). How about a service from Bradford to Manchester Piccadilly linking our line with Huddersfield-Manchester Piccadilly? That would be while we are waiting – how long?! – for that other yet-to-be delivered promise, a Calder Valley-Manchester Airport hourly service. – JSW


Could Hull-Halifax and Bradford-Huddersfield be combined?

Why do we have separate Hull-Halifax and Bradford-Brighouse-Huddersfield services? Hourly service as specified needs (in terms of train provision):

4 (Hull-Hfx) + 2 (Bradfd-Hud) = 6 units.

This summer will be 2-hourly on both routes so that will need 3. Combining the 2 services so that Hull-Hfx trains continue to Hud and back would require 5 units, saving one.

How about Selby-Bradfd-Hud hourly? That would need 4 units, maintaining frequency Selby-Leeds-Bradford-Hudfd. Selby-Hull would be maintained by TransPennine and Northern’s York-Hull trains. Complications include pathing at Huddersfield and current use of Hull-based train crews. Nothing is ever simple. Could it be worth a try?


[1] In Bradford, Calderdale and Rochdale

HADRAG Responds

Integrated Rail Plan: Select Committee Call for Evidence
Northern and TPE Dec’22/May’23 timetable plans
Halifax Station Gateway

LINKS above will take you to HADRAG responses to recent consultations[1]. It was a busy winter. The Integrated Rail Plan proposed a high speed line from Warrington to Marsden, after which “Northern Powerhouse Rail” would be conventional 3-track, 4-track and a final 8 miles of just 2 tracks Dewsbury-Leeds. We say we will support NPR if it benefits our area. So how about extending the line from Marsden in a tunnel to Bradford? A station at Elland could serve Calderdale, linking with local trains, buses and mass transit. We say more important and more urgent than high speed rail is improving our existing Calder Valley line service, getting trains across Manchester, and getting the line electrified

Other consultations have included the December 2022 and May’23 timetables, following the Manchester Recovery Task Force reports. We have repeated our concern that the idea of a service from Bradford, Calderdale and Rochdale to Manchester seems to be indefinitely shelved. Yet this was a central promise when Manchester’s “Northern Hub” was first put forward. The Ordsall chord line, opened to a limited Calder Valley service in 2017 now has just one TransPennineExpress (TPE) train every hour. Which looks like a fixed pattern until “Castlefield corridor” capacity through Oxford Road on the way to Piccadilly is improved.

It’s not just that we all want to get to the Airport, a dodgy objective in world that must, to secure a civilised future, transition to zero-carbon. But Calder Valley passengers need better access to the south side of Manchester city for work, higher education, health services, history and culture, the arts, and sports attractions, as well as onward regional and inter-city connections.

As an interim measure we have suggested extension of the Manchester Piccadilly-Huddersfield stopping service to Bradford via Brighouse, benefiting lower rather than upper Calderdale, but providing useful regional links. It would also provide a useful service from stations such as Greenfield, Marsden and Slaithwaite to Calderdale and Bradford for commuting and outdoor leisure.

We have repeated our concerns about the Calder Valley service pattern, not least trains that miss out places like Sowerby Bridge and as well as the need for a better service via Brighouse and Elland.

Halifax station gateway plans should now move towards local planning approval. We have written a generally supportive response to the second consultation. The new building and foot (& cycle?) bridge will transform of the whole area. We have expressed concern at a decision to put the ticket office on the ground floor, OK for people arriving by car but useless for those accessing on foot via the new bridge. We say ticket offices will still be needed in the future and putting them out of the way of half the passengers is unhelpful. Just an idea, but how about combining ticket issuing with general retailing? This has been done stations such as Southport and Liverpool Central for years.             Train operator Northern told us they want the ticket office downstairs so that staff can keep an eye on people going into the toilets.         Understandable. But you couldn’t make it up, could you?


[1] Postal members of HADRAG will be sent paper copies.

Loop for TransPennine Route Upgrade Work

Assuming it’s going ahead, TransPennine route (aka Huddersfield line) upgrade will mean services being diverted via the Calder Valley whilst various parts of the Huddersfield route are blocked. Apart from 4- tracking Huddersfield-Dewsbury there is major track and platform remodelling, and of course electrification (we hope). You may know more by the time this newsletter reaches you and we’ll update in our next issues.

We do know that a westbound loop is being planned between Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge allowing diverted fast TPE services to overtake Calder Valley “locals” during TRU works. So some of our trains will be slower whenever the diversions are taking place. No pain no gain. What we don’t know yet is whether the loop will be long enough to shift freights out of the way of our passenger trains. It would seem short sight-sighted for it not to be.

Header Image: “185142+120 Diverted TPE Liverpool Service At Hebden Bridge” flickr photo by RyanTaylor1986 https://flickr.com/photos/ryantaylorphotography/6084429293 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Calder Valley Community Rail Partnership

The new community rail partnership now has the backing both Rochdale and Calderdale councils. Making an initial mark the CRP had a stall at an all-day event at Manchester Piccadilly station on Monday 18 October. An impressive prospectus has been produced. More in our next issue.

Header Image: “Station-1” flickr photo by geraldmurphyx https://flickr.com/photos/147928530@N03/51243636731 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license

Halifax station gateway: latest plan consultation deadline in new year

Exciting plans! Latest version of Halifax station gateway proposals are on-line, including iconic new pedestrian bridge linking with town and bus stops, car park at ground level and brand-new 2-storey containing shops and café. Slightly worryingly the ticket office is now shown on the ground floor, though pedestrians arriving over the new bridge will access the station at first floor level.

Ground floor. Booking office is at this level. Are we sure that is right?

Plans available here Halifax Railway Station | Calderdale Next Chapter include several videos showing routes through the new building. The videos are very good! See for example: https://youtu.be/165g1DbmOkA

The info pages are here.

Continuing concerns include location of booking office. We accept that with online bookings and tickets on phones, ticket offices are being less well used. But staff need to be available, both to help people use the ticket vending machines, and to provide information and advance booking that even the internet can’t provide.

One idea might be to combine the ticket office with the station shop, so ticket sales could be combined with more general retailing. Please tell us what you think, and more important send in your own response to the consultation by 16 January. More thoughts below.

1 Ticket office location. The circulated materials say little about this, which is slightly worrying. The office appears to have moved from the first floor to ground floor and looks to be out-of-the-way for many potential users. OK for people arriving by car, but a long way and on a different floor from the main pedestrian entrance via the town bridge. We can see how this might work in term of having all staff accommodation together. Northern Trains say the use ticket offices had declined during the pandemic. Out response is that ticket offices need to be reinvented to encourage a greater range of functions and dissemination of material not just about rail travel but about local attractions etc with expanded retailing or even combination with other forms of retailing:

  • it must be agreed that a ticket and information desk is essential, must be centrally located, and must be staffed throughout most station opening hours; 
  • there should also be staff on the concourse and platforms not least to help people use the ticket vending machines, which become no less complex for users, especially occasional users and people not familiar with the jargon of ticketing;
  • many station users will arrive from the new town bridge at first floor level and if they then have to drop down to a ground-level ticket office then come back up again to access the footbridge that will be inconvenient, annoying, and increase effective journey time; 
  • alternative solutions for the booking office might be considered:
    • it could be located on the first floor as originally planned;
    • it could be incorporated into the first floor retail unit giving a combined rail ticket, information, news and wider retail unit; examples of this arrangement exist at Merseyside stations (Southport, Liverpool Central…).
    • there could be an island or peninsula staffed desk on the concourse, able to issue tickets and info, provided if necessary with protective glass screens. This could replace some of the seating on the upper concourse. (We expect most passengers to wait for trains on the platform.)
    • one reason for having a booking office is for people to arrange longer more complex journeys as well as obtain information in a comfortable environment. Whilst a lot of this type of booking is now done online there are also good reasons why people should not be discouraged from visiting the station to book or obtain info. In fact, they should be encouraged. Interaction with staff should be encouraged. Let’s make it a busy place!
    • Location of TVMs is not particularly clear.

2 Lift – We remain concerned that there is only one public lift between ground and first floor. Lifts are not 100% reliable. 

3 Lots of good points including the community room though the access route to this is not all that clear, and access via the underpass to the Hebble Trail for walkers and cyclists. Video here .

4 Provision for future platform 3 is welcome. Needs to be direct ground-level access as well as “up and down”.

The above are our instant reaction. HADRAG’s formal response to follow, after the consultation briefing in January.

Taktfahrplan* Calder Valley

Vision of coordinated timetable Bradford, Halifax, upper Calderdale, Elland and Brighouse, with additional connectivity by changing trains

The proposed May 22 timetable has trains from Halifax to Hebden Bridge at 17, 27, and 44 min past each the standard hour, in the reverse direction from HBD at 27, 42 and 50: three trains in less than half an hour then nothing for more than half an hour. On the Brighouse route Elland station should open soon. Like Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse and Elland each serve a population equivalent to about 2 council wards, i.e. as many potential passengers as Todmorden and Hebden Bridge combined. The present hourly service on each of two routes through Brighouse is inadequate.

We suggest the following as an unfinished idea which could be developed when TransPennine Route Upgrade delivers additional capacity through Mirfield:

East-west via Bradford, Halifax and Hebden Bg

York/Hull/Leeds-Halifax to Blackpool/Manchester/Chester/Manchester etc

3+ trains/hr(could be 3/hr west of Hfx if evenly spaced) Blackpool, York, Hull, Chester, MIA each 1/hr

East-west via Brighouse and Hebden Bg

Could be present Wigan-Leeds, plus additional train Preston-Burnley-Leeds or to York via Wakefield and Castleford. Or possible Bradford-Brighouse-Wakefield-York service. Pending completion of TRU Mirfield area enhanced service to Wakefield/York could be more helpful.

2 trains/hr

North-south Bradford-Brighouse-Huddersfield

Could be present Bradford-Huddersfield shuttle doubled (2nd could be Hull-Hfx extended to Huddersfield)

2 trains/hr

Connections between N-S and E-W routes at Brighouse/Elland (or Halifax) giving a half-hourly link to Huddersfield from upper Calderdale, Lancashire and Rochdale. Alternatively, how about an hourly service upper Calderdale-Huddersfield, connecting at Elland/Brighouse with a Bradford-Halifax-Wakefield-York?

Sunday services should evolve towards weekday off-peak frequency.

*“Taktfahrplan” means the timetable repeats and connects regularly. We propose at least 5 trains/hr through Halifax and Hebden Bridge and 2/hr N-S and 2/hr E-W though Elland and Brighouse. Freight and open-access (Grand Central) would be extra.

Dare we dream this might be possible? HADRAG would welcome the opportunity to discuss the above ideas in more detail with Northern, Great British Railways, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and TfN.

Header Image: “York Station Clock” flickr photo by ahisgett https://flickr.com/photos/hisgett/5441620708 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Elland Progress

Elland station plans are with Calderdale planning department awaiting approval as we write this.

With a linked access package involving new foot and cycle links along the canal bank to Greetland already approved, we still hope the station will open in about 18 months’ time – if not less. The station will be on the embankment next to Lowfields business park, close to Morrison’s, housing, and around Elland Lane and Lower Edge Road, the Calderdale Way main road and local bus stops. Clear potential exists to serve a wide surrounding area.

Latest plans show ramped access to the platforms, as well as stairs and lifts.