Some notes from HADRAG while you review the proposals
Much as it would be nice to re-use the 1851 building, it appears too narrow to hold the modern facilities needed.
We believe the layout and plan is future-proofed to a degree: allowing for developments in the future, but need to stress keeping the option of a new ‘platform 3’.
Importance of the pedestrian bridge access, and the need to support active travel which is proposed by the reinstated underpass and refurbished ramped pathways (cycle and pedestrian) to Berry Lane and Waterside, as well as at the front of the station
Bus stops are some distance away, and earlier versions of the scheme proposed a mini-bus station at car park level. At least the pedestrian bridge provides reasonably direct access, albeit with a road crossing. The scheme does include space for rail replacement buses to access when needed and that will be a massive improvement.
Could a high-quality minibus service linking town centre, train and bus stations, Dean Clough and attractions (e.g. Shibden Hall, Bankfield Museum) start from the station entrance? This, of course, would be a separate development.
We’d suggest a possible improvement to ticket office, which is shown, as in many modern stations, with the counter opening directly onto the concourse. Maybe a more enclosed design that would be quieter for people negotiating complex transactions?
Access between ticket hall and ground level. Only one public lift is proposed. Could the proposed goods lift be re-used for public use? An alternative would be ramped access but that would be a major additional structure.
Access to platforms. I don’t think the present plans involve any significant changes to the island platform but access should improve at least cosmetically.
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Earlier in the Autumn Northern Trains did an online stakeholder survey. One question asked for our longer-term vision for the company. Here, edited for this newsletter, is what we put.
Working together and integration
Northern needs to work with local authorities (e.g. Calderdale), the combined authorities (e.g. WYCA) and Transport for the North. And all train operating companies need to work together cooperatively to rebuild a better railway, integrated with Network Rail. One railway, wheel and rail as one machine.
We hope this will be brought about by the long-awaited outcome of the Williams Rail Review. For the passenger, examples of useful integration would include:
combined timetable displays and booklets on lines where more than one TOC operates, so that the would-be passenger can see the whole service at a glance.
simple fares, integrated with other modes, aimed at encouraging “walk-up” travel and an end the confusion caused by different operators having different fares.
strong regional/local branding encouraging the idea that this is “our railway”, not a system dictated either by the London-centric DfT or by an organisation with profit as priority.
Sociable transport – and no more sardine cans!
As we emerge from Covid 19, “sardine-can commuting” should become history. Crowded commuter trains were always unhealthy.
It seems likely that city-working will be decreased permanently, as working at home reduces the need to go into the office every day. This should be an opportunity rather than a threat. Rail must be repurposed to build a much wider market serving the whole community. The whole community supports rail and other forms of transport through taxation. Our trains should provide for as wide a range of journeys as possible, providing an attractive alternative. Human beings will always wish to travel, for work, leisure and human interaction, for sport, the arts and culture, for personal business as well as for work and commerce.
When we are over Covid19, the climate emergency will still be there, and we shall need a zero-carbon transport system – including electrified railways – that also improves the local environment and cuts road congestion promoting physical and mental health. Let us promote and rebrand public transport as “sociable transport” building on the benefits of travelling together (rather than in the isolation of a private vehicle). In a sense all railways should be community railways.
Local transport links to rail stations need to be improved – buses and active transport options with direct traffic-free access
In the more usual and specific sense of community rail we look forward to the formation of a Calder Valley community rail partnership.
A timetable that works must be top priority for the train operator.
Punctual, reliable, frequent, and repeating each hour so people can turn up and go.
An end to irritating variations and unpredictability. (An example of this is that in the present timetable four of the supposedly “fast” Calder Valley services Leeds 0712, 1112, 2112 and 2212 to Manchester have significant apparently additional time because of they follow freight services. Aspects of the timetabling process that lead to this need to be reconsidered.)
The pandemic has shown on the Calder Valley line that a reliable service can be operated in a situation where passengers are fewer. The challenge now is to regain passenger numbers: hopefully with a spreading of demand to avoid a return to overcrowding, whilst maintaining excellent performance.
The earliest opportunity possible must be taken to improve the service at stations such as Sowerby Bridge (see 4.2 below).
Beyond the basic reliable timetable we expect progress with the key promises made by the now-superseded Northern franchise, and further new services widening the usefulness of rail:
For the Calder Valley Line we want to see a regular service to the south side of Manchester serving the stations at Deansgate, Oxford Road, Piccadilly and (possibly) the Airport. This would recreate and build upon the limited and short-lived Calder Valley to Man Oxford Rd service that operated Dec’2017-May-2018 (billed as a stepping-stone). That would open up connectivity for people in Bradford, Calderdale and Rochdale districts to work, education and leisure, as well as longer-distance connections. Northern and the Calder Valley line need to get a fair deal alongside other operators and other Northern routes. Whilst waiting for major capacity enhancements we need the best use to be made of the existing network including the new and underused Ordsall chord in Manchester. This must be done in a fair way that does not prioritise long-distance services to Manchester Airport over those for example from the Calder Valley where there is demand for travel to the south side of Manchester.
Better deal for more of our Calder Valley line stations.
With a philosophy of spreading the benefits of rail travel to the whole community, the service needs to be improved at stations including Sowerby Bridge, which potentially serves a population equal to that of Hebden Bridge and Todmorden combined but has much less frequent trains. All Calder Valley trains need to stop at Sowerby Bridge including the faster Manchester services and the York-Blackpools (which did for a time up to Dec’2019). Mytholmroyd, with a big new car park, also needs more trains.
Brighouse serves a similar catchment to Sowerby Bridge but has what amounts to no more than an hourly service to each main destination. On the same section of line, a new station at Elland is being developed and is expected to open by the end of 2022. The Elland-Brighouse line is served by two routes Bradford-Huddersfield and Manchester-Todmorden-Dewsbury-Leeds; opening Elland will strengthen the case for both of these hourly services to be increased to half-hourly, including good connections between upper Calderdale and Huddersfield.
Wider aspirations around our area include the following which might be linked:
Increased frequency on the popular the Blackpool/Preston-Calderdale-York route (and restoration of stops at Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd). If a second service is introduced each hour it could be routed via Elland and Brighouse.
Regional hourly service over the direct route to York via Brighouse, Wakefield Kirkgate and Castleford, providing a long-desired alternative to travel via Leeds. As mentioned, it is not all about the big cities!
Decarbonisation means electrification of the Calder Valley line!
We hope Northern will press the Government to go ahead with a rolling programme of rail electrification, including the full Calder Valley Line as recommended by the Northern Electrification Task Force report of March 2015 (“Northern Sparks”) and now by Network Rail’s Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy.
Our long-term vision is a modern, zero-carbon railway serving the whole community, first choice travel mode for an increased range of purposes.
Controversy alert. How much will commuting be permanently cut after Covid? Conversations and back-of-envelope estimates suggest… what?… 30%?… 50%? Is that a threat to our railways or is it an opportunity?
Should we welcome working and conferencing from home as reducing the need for planet-damaging travel and improving work-life balance? Maybe up to a point. All who meet on “Zoom”, plus teachers and students struggling to engage in distance learning, vital NHS and other key workers including rail staff, know you just need to meet physically. And in the arts and music human interaction sparks creativity – surely a growing part of a future green economy.
As we decarbonise, travel becomes less damaging. More walking and cycling, plus electric trains, trams, cars and buses. Railways will be vital in a green economy supporting human creativity and wider wellbeing, through “sociable” transport serving the whole community. Here are seven suggested principles for discussion:
Crowded trains were never healthy. So no going back to sardine-can commuting. Let’s spread demand across the day making load factors more even. Social distancing is with us for some time.
If frequencies have to be cut, let it be just that. No line closures.
And no cuts in track capacity. Might some big projects be delayed
favouring regional enhancements? “Northern Sparks” electrification is essential. But what about HS2 and NPR?
No cuts on minimal service lines like Leeds-Lancaster/Carlisle, the Whitby line – or our Brighouse line. The principle of half-hourly minimum service on urban routes remains sound. The Calder Valley has more than that and needs it.
If some peak services are reduced, released rolling stock must improve reliability, open up off-peak travel for more people and maybe avoid some capacity investment.
London may be most affected by more working from home. So no making so-called “loss-making” lines up North suffer most. Remember levelling up! Let it be fair, North with South, and Calder Valley with Trans-Pennine.
To get traffic off roads onto rail, let’s have deep integration with reregulated buses, trams and active travel routes. Make sociable transport competitive against cars for more complex journeys that are not focussed on city centres. Many people never use the train, so there’s a huge potential market to be tapped.
It stretches credibility to demand trains run nearly empty in a nominally rich nation where we seem to struggle to feed all of our children or look after older people.
Let us have trains that carry comfortable loads of people with services designed to be useful to more and more. It’s not all about the big cities.
WE HAVE a reply – HERE – from the Department for Transport to our September letter to Grant Shapps (see previous post).
There is reassurance that Elland station is still on schedule for the end of 2022 (see also below), and that Network Rail’s revolutionary TDNS (the interim traction decarbonisation network strategy, published September 2020) will inform the Department’s wider decarbonisation strategy.
Meanwhile, at the Yorkshire Post’s Great Northern Conference earlier this Autumn, the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps replied to our question. The tone was a little sotto voce, but yes, the Secretary of State said, we’ll be electrifying more railways. He also mentioned hydrogen but said it took a lot of of power to generate, which seemed to be an acknowledgement that hydrogen trains are a much less efficient way of delivering traction energy than overhead electric wires.
We are optimists. We see evidence the Department for Transport gets it, understands the science. With a holistic economic view electrification will pay for itself through future savings in train operating costs – as well as through the benefits to humanity of having zero-carbon transport. We still have to convince the Treasury and must press the case through our MPs. More on the Electric Railway Charter blog. This should be headline stuff right now with Boris Johnson’s new target to cut greenhouse gases by 68% by 2039, amid a perfect storm of cuts to Network Rail’s budget and lack of progress on schemes promised five or ten years ago. The TransPennine route upgrade was announced in 2011 as a full-electrification project. A decision on how much of the Manchester-Huddersfield-York route will actually be electrified is now expected in mid 2021. That’s a decade gone.
TDNS provides backing for the Northern Sparks task force report that recommended electrification – well beyond TRU – of the Calder Valley and other northern routes. That was to be 12 routes in an initial 5-year plan, recommendations made almost six years ago. There is a clear match-up, as a short report at a November meeting of Yorkshire and neighbouring Railfuture branches explained.
Elland station could be no more than two years away. Ground for optimism include the possibility of the new station providing an alternative railhead when the route through Huddersfield is closed for work on TRU. We know from more than one source that this has been under discussion. With planning on TRU -both 4-tracking between Huddersfield and Dewsbury and the extent of electrification – still under discussion, it makes sense to get Elland done first.
HADRAG wrote to Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport, six weeks ago. We want him to press Network Rail to get Elland station open by the end of 2022. And we want him to give the go-ahead to a rolling programme of electrification. Network Rail’s “TDNS” (the interim Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy) says that the majority of present diesel-only routes should be electrified. That includes the Calder Valley Line that was top scheme in the Northern Sparks task force report (March 2015). We are waiting for a reply from Mr Shapps.
Our letter is below:
Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport, Great Minster House, 33 Horseferry Road, LONDON SW1P 4DR
Originally sent by email: 22 September 2020 and again on 21 October. Awaiting reply so re-sending in post in case not received
Dear Secretary of State,
The Calder Valley Line, Elland station and rail development across the North post-Covid
Thank you for replies to previous letters. You know our concern is the Calder Valley Line (CVL) train service, linked to:
the need for progress on TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU),
the need for long-awaited capacity improvements in Manchester (as well as locations such as Leeds and York),
the need for electrification (including our Calder Valley line), now evidenced by Network Rail’s interim Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy (TDNS), and requiring a positive government response.
The development of sustainable, “sociable” public transport, with a clear plan for decarbonisation, providing an attractive alternative to transport modes that cause health-damaging congestion and pollution will be even more important in a post-Covid world. We link these national/global issues, and alert you to urgency for progress on a long-awaited new rail station proposed at Elland, next to Brighouse on the Calder Valley Line. Elland station must not be delayed by TRU works, and we hope you will press Network Rail to coordinate these projects to best effect locally.
1 TRU and the Elland/Brighouse Line
We want to thank you massively for your July announcement of £589M for TRU. We feel more hopeful that this scheme will now eventually mean electrification without gaps Manchester to York (and beyond).
As well as inter-city journeys TRU will benefit regional services on routes such as the arm of the strategic Calder Valley Line through Elland/Brighouse which joins the Manchester-Huddersfield-Leeds route at Huddersfield and Mirfield[i]. Four tracks Huddersfield-Mirfield-Dewsbury will allow more services over the Bradford-Huddersfield and (Manchester/East Lancs-)upper Calderdale-Brighouse-Leeds corridors through Calderdale. Brighouse currently has only an hourly service to each main destination. Comparing with stations serving smaller catchments such as Todmorden and Hebden Bridge, you will see that this branch of the CV line should have at least 2 trains /hour to each destination.
Elland station should have opened alongside Brighouse precisely 20 years ago. The local community has campaigned ever since for a station that will serve a similar catchment area to Brighouse or Todmorden/Hebden Bridge. Promoted by West Yorkshire Combined Authority with Calderdale Council, the station will have transformative local links for sustainable and active travel for work, business and leisure in our beautiful valley. The station has passed outline business case and further consultation towards full business case. Projected opening is by December 2022.
But concern has been raised locally that building of Elland station could be delayed because of work on TRU, which will affect connected routes and at times require diversion of TP Express services via the CV line. Given the potential timescale for TRU, any delay to Elland would cause massive local disappointment. Elland should if anything be brought forward. When remodelling of Huddersfield station and other works are taking place as part of TRU, a station at Elland on the diversionary route would be an ideal alternative railhead for passengers who would normally use Huddersfield. We understand this possibility is being considered. Given all of the above points:
Will you please require Network Rail and other bodies involved to ensure that opening of Elland station before the end of 2022 is not delayed?
We welcome recent initiatives by Network Rail to speed up delivery of projects, and also your announcement in July of a Northern Infrastructure Acceleration Council. Might there be a mechanism here to ensure that projects such as Elland station go ahead, on time, as planned?
2 Electrification, decarbonisation – TDNS and the need for a rolling programme
We enthusiastically welcome recent publication by Network Rail of the interim Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy. This clearly shows that the majority of lines that are at present not electrified require electrification. It is acknowledged that there are short-distance routes where batteries may be used and more remote routes with infrequent and lower speed services where hydrogen may be appropriate. But TDNS confirms our Electric Railway Charter view that routes such as the Calder Valley Line (CVL) between Leeds and both Manchester and Preston via both Halifax and Brighouse need to be electrified. As you know, a 5-year initial programme of 12 routes was recommended in the March 2015 report “Northern Sparks” by the Northern Electrification Task Force[ii]. The 12 routes included the full CVLas top-ranked scheme on economic, business and environmental criteria. TDNS suggests that parts of this route could be electrified at an earlier stage as part of a Manchester Rail Strategy[iii].
TDNS confirms that electrification is the way ahead. Electrification wins in a holistic economic assessment as capital costs of electrifying the lines will be paid for by future savings to train operators in both lower capital costs of electric trains and lower operating costs through reduced energy use, reduced complexity[iv] and therefore increased reliability, as well increased revenue through the “sparks effect”. As existing electrification schemes are completed, it is important that skilled engineering teams are kept together. A rolling programme will build on experience and on improved technology, making electrification of existing routes easier to achieve. Scotland already has most central belt lines electrified including 4 routes between Edinburgh and Glasgow, with proposals for near full electrification of the country over the next 15-25 years. We expect only the same for the North of England and therefore ask:
Please will you and your government colleagues now give the go-ahead to rolling programmes of rail electrification in England and Wales, based on regional proposals, including the March 2015 NETF report?
3 Concluding remarks – beyond Covid, towards a sustainable, sociable railway
Driving, as we are sometimes forced to do, across Northern England, we say to you, let us not go back to congested, polluted roads that damage our physical and mental health. Nor do we want a return to the unhealthy sardine-can transit of pre-pandemic commuting. Our railways (like our transport as a whole) are supported by the whole community through taxes. So let the whole community benefit. In the post-Covid world office workers may need to spend less time in the city, traveling into the city, or traveling between cities. But people will still need to make countless journeys, for leisure as well as work, for personal as well as corporate development – because they are human beings. We cannot forever travel in isolation, and so we want to see public transport reinvented as sociable transportwhere people’s wellbeing is enhanced by traveling together, and where the local and global environment is protected.
So please listen to our idea that all railways should be community railways, attractive to a future generation with the environment at its heart and helping the wider economy. Zero-carbon, zero-pollution, congestion cutting and serving the widest variety of local needs. We hope you can help us achieve Elland station without further delay, and an electric railway across our region.
With thanks in anticipation,
J Stephen Waring, Chair, HADRAG
cc MPs, local leaders, media, rail and Electric Railway Charter contacts
ELLAND station should open by the end of 2022. HADRAG says it’s a brilliant project with a superb local access package encouraging active travel – walking and cycling – to get people via regenerated parkland, new bridges and canal side to the station, Lowfields business park and all along from Greetland to Park Road. A phase 2 public consultation here closes on Sunday 16 August – get in quick to support the project and comment on the latest details (you’ll find there’s feedback to read from the earlier consultation). We are determined not to accept any further delay to Elland. The Calder Valley Line will be used for diversions when work is being done for the TransPennine Route upgrade. Elland station could be an ideal alternative railhead for Huddersfield passengers at times when their station is out of use. So we say let’s get Elland done first. More below, and read HADRAG and Railfuture Yorkshire’s response to the consultation at this link. Link to WYCA website for consultation is https://www.yourvoice.westyorks-ca.gov.uk/elland2020#!
ELLAND station is already 20 years late and counting, having been shelved to save money when Brighouse opened in May 2000. As planning proceeds to full business case with a target to open before the end of 2022, we say any further delay can not be acceptable.
TRU concern. Following a government announcement last month of £589 million for the TransPennine Route Upgrade on the Huddersfield line, it still is not quite clear when that project will start. When it does start there will be periods when the Calder Valley Line is used for diversions and that won’t just affect the service at the new Elland station. The rumour machine has suggested Elland could be held up while TRU is completed, and whilst we have been told that is not expected to happen, the concern remains. If Elland had to wait for TRU it could take another 5 years, maybe more and that would be massive disappointment for local people who want their railway station and are eager to use the linked package of new and upgraded active travel routes linking the station to town centre, Park Road and Greetland via new bridges and canal path.
So we say get Elland done first.The official target is still to open the station by the December 2022 timetable change. The TRU work will mean there will be periods when Huddersfield station is closed for remodelling work. TransPennine Express services may then be diverted via the Calder Valley Line. If Elland station is already built it could be an ideal alternative railhead for passengers who normally use Huddersfield. The railway geography also tells us there will be periods when the service along the Brighouse and Elland line is also disrupted. But this will also affect other existing stations, and is no reason to delay Elland.
HADRAG will be pressing the case for Elland first, with local representatives, council and WYCA contacts, MPs and the transport secretary Grant Shapps. if anything, we argue, Elland needs to be brought forward by a few months, not put back. Along with the £589M for TRU, Mr Shapps announced a new Northern Transport Acceleration Council to speed up projects across our greater region. There was some understandable disquiet at what seemed to be top-down imposition, but maybe the new body could not just get planning of TRU and other schemes accelerated but also make sure schemes like Elland are not left behind.
Consultation response: HADRAG has submitted a joint response with Railfuture Yorkshire Branch to the Phase 2 consultation by West Yorkshire Combined Authority on Elland. You can read our response at this link. If you are reading this before 16 August you also have time to send in your own response (details here). We praise the wider access package of active travel links that will open up Calderdale’s countryside to visitors arriving by rail, as well providing healthy access to the station. And we renew our call for a better service on the Elland-Brighouse line; the aim should be at least half-hourly on both east-west and north-south routes in line with WYCA policy and we say this will be an essential development in the years after the station opens. We expect the TransPennine Route Upgraded, when it is complete, to provide new capacity through Huddersfield and Mirfield that will allow more trains from Calderdale to Huddersfield, Leeds and Wakefield. But we still say let’s build Elland first! From the start, we hope Grand Central will call at Elland with its popular Bradford-London trains, so the new station will immediately have more than Northern’s Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester-Wigan and Bradford-Huddersfield local trains.
Bus and hospital links. We also call for the new station to be joined up with local bus routes taking people around Elland, Greetland and Stainland. This will need a bus stop by the station on Lowfields Way, and we have suggested a new network of local “hopper” routes. This should be easier as the proposed mayoral devolution deal for West Yorkshire should allow the county to take back control of buses.
We also say Elland could be an excellent railhead for people from the upper valley to access Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS hospitals – staff, patients and visitors. We suggest a minibus link which could be demand-responsive and might even be free to use.
The station will have a reasonably large car park. Past experience suggests station car parks are never quite “big enough”. Covid-19 means transport is in crisis now, but we must work for a future where the car and congested, polluted roads are no longer first choice. Public transport must become sociable transport, popular but not overcrowded, first choice for the whole community. And of course electric as advocated by the Electric Railway Charter.
FUNDING for the TransPennine route upgrade, £598M announced by transport secretary Grant Shapps this week (23 July 2020), should be good news for the Calder Valley as well as the Huddersfield line. New tracks through Huddersfield-Mirfield should mean capacity for more trains via Brighouse and Elland where plans for the new station are approaching the next gateway. But also relevant to our line, uncertainty remains (despite a recent £10M batch of development funding) about a solution the Manchester “Castlefield” problem where promised services will never be delivered without congestion-busting capacity. We welcome the government’s commitment to these schemes but ask now for a truly modern, zero-carbon railway. That means electrification across our region including the full Calder Valley line as recommended in the 2015 Northern Sparksreport. West Yorkshire Combined Authority calls for Calder Valley electrification in its recent submission to the National Infrastructure Commission. In the much longer term a new station in Bradford serving both the proposed Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) high speed route and the Calder Valley Line is advocated. That’s a long way ahead. The good news is there is now a realisation that the North of England cannot be kept waiting decades for a high speed route which even when it comes will serve the big cities, not local communities. We have to get on now with upgrading the “classic” routes. More on all this below:
As public transport – let’s call it “sociable transport” – rebuilds after Covid we want to see a railway that serves more and more of the community. City working may be permanently reduced in the future. The old rush-hour with commuters paying peak-rate fares crammed in the worst conditions could be history. So we need to look at a service for the whole community that gets people on trains for a wider range of purposes.
Latest news is that the long-awaited TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU) seems to have the go-ahead. Critical not just for the Manchester-Huddersfield-Leeds route but also the linked Calder Valley line, the plan includes an increase from 2-track to 4-track between Huddersfield and Dewsbury. We expect this to allow more trains off the Elland-Brighouse Calder Valley corridor both into Huddersfield (where there will be more platforms) and through Mirfield towards Leeds/Wakefield. There will be a conflict reducing grade-separated junction (flyover/diveunder) at Ravensthorpe. These extra tracks will probably be vital if the Brighouse/Elland line is ever to get a proper half-hourly service on both Bradford-Huddersfield and upper Calderdale-Leeds services.
As HADRAG has pointed out many times, a fast journey from Brighouse to Leeds via Dewsbury could take about 20 minutes or less compared with today’s almost 35 minutes. This time saving would also benefit trips from upper Calderdale to Leeds via the Brighouse route.
The Elland station project is now on its way towards full business case under WYCA and Calderdale supervision. The required phase 2 public consultation is in progress. As far as we know the planned completion date remains 2022, but there is some concern about how this will marry up with TRU. Fear is that uncertainty about TRU and the phasing of works requiring diversion of TransPennine Express trains via the Calder Valley could delay the new station. Also the major works at Huddersfield station and through Mirfield are likely to affect trains via Brighouse. But if Elland has to wait for all the TRU work to be completed that could be another five, or even ten years, surely not acceptable given that the station originally should have opened alongside Brighouse in May 2000.
HADRAG says if anything Elland station should be opened sooner rather than later, and could be an alternative railhead for Huddersfield station users when diversions are in operation during the TRU works.
The consultation on Elland Rail Station and Access Package Phase 2 is open until 16th August 2020, details at this link: https://www.yourvoice.westyorks-ca.gov.uk/elland2020 . This is an ambitious scheme, not just a train station but a package of transformative local improvements. Make your views known!
Electrification – and NPR
As reported in our previous post, HADRAG responded to the National Infrastructure Commission call for evidence on rail needs in the North (here).
We also strongly welcome the submission made by West Yorkshire Combined Authority (jointly with W&N Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce) – at this link. They call for “a single strategic programme of investment in rail covering the next 30 years”, and say this must include improvements at Leeds City station, completion of TRU by 2026, links to HS2, and
“Delivery of the NPR network including a new station in the centre of Bradford incorporating both NPR and Calder Valley services and early delivery of a new line between Leeds and Bradford”
“A rolling programme of electrification to create an electrified city region metro rail network the supports the government’s wider plans to decarbonise the economy, starting with the Calder Valley line” (we’ve added the italics).
Whilst CV electrification is the last item in a 6-point list, HADRAG would expect this to be the next scheme after TransPennine route upgrade, as recommended by the March 2015 task force report Northern Sparks. We need a zero-carbon transport system if we are to build better, post-Covid. More on electrification, and Grant Shapps’s TRU announcement on our Electric Railway Charter site.
Remove Bradford turnback?
HADRAG has expressed concern that a high-speed line between Leeds, Bradford and Manchester would do little for Calderdale. The Bradford “NPR plus Calder Valley” station proposal is perhaps rather long term, though we note the request for “early delivery” of a high-speed Leeds-Bradford route. The WYCA submission says the possibility of integrating the Bradford station with the Calder Valley line could remove the turnback at Bradford Interchange and create “a new through station which would also improve services [from Leeds] to Calderdale and east Lancashire”. So that is potentially good news for our line.
HADRAG has previously said that if Calder Valley trains could run on the NPR high speed line from Bradford to Leeds that would cut Halifax-Leeds journey time from the present 35 minutes plus, to about 20 minutes. Maybe we’ve been heard! We have also said in our own submission to NIC that NPR should have more intermediate stations including one in Calderdale itself.
Classic routes and Manchester capacity
Meanwhile the classic routes need improving. The government seems to realise we need upgrades way ahead of NPR. Alongside the TRU they promise the capacity issues in Manchester and Leeds will be addressed. £10M has been allocated for more design/development work on the Castlefield corridor where lack of through platforms is preventing improvements, including Calder Valley-Manchester Airport services, that were promised by the Northern franchise. There was of course a plan about 5 years ago for remodelling Oxford Road and providing two extra platforms at Piccadilly. We can only assume this is still one of the options. Another possibility is a tunnel from Ordsall Junction (west of the city) to Piccadilly station. This, on the face of it, could be decades away. Perhaps the Northern Transport Acceleration Council announced by Mr Shapps really will bring this forward.
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?
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.
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.