Great news for most – better needed for Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge!

Under two new franchises across the North of England £1.2 billion will be invested in trains, stations and smart ticketing. In total there will be 500 brand new carriages designed for 100mph running on Northern and 125 mph on TransPennine Express (TPE). 40,000 extra seats at peak times are planned to tackle overcrowding.

TPE operates services via Huddersfield, Sheffield, long distance trains linking North East, Yorkshire & Humber, Manchester Airport, Liverpool and Scotland.  Under the new franchise TPE will also cover local stops on the Leeds-Huddersfield-Manchester Line. TPE has been operated by First Group in partnership with French company Keolis for a decade. The new franchise will be First in its own right. Regular travellers on the Huddersfield line know about overcrowding and problems with First TPE’s 3-car trains which although modern and pleasant when there is space, have needed more coaches for years. TPE’s new trains will be longer and go faster and they plan to run to Edinburgh via the East Coast Main Line. First group beat off bids from its former partner Keolis with the Go-Ahead group, and from Stagecoach.

The Northern franchise has been won by German-owned Arriva Rail North (see also our back page piece), seeing off rivals Abellio (Dutch railways – who own 50% of the outgoing Northern Rail) and Govia (another partnership of Go-Ahead + Keolis).

Halifax and Calder Valley Benefits

Arriva is to invest £400 million in more than 280 brand-new carriages formed as 98 trains, a mix of 2, 3 and 4-car units. About 43 trains will be electrics for Airedale, Wharefdale, Leeds-Doncaster and Manchester-Glossop and so on. And 55 will be diesels. In total this is significantly more than the 120 new carriages (maybe about 50 trains in total) demanded by the Invitation to Tender (ITT). Remember the ITT was the Department for Transport (DfT)’s franchise specification. The diesels will be modern 100 mph intercity-style units for use on a new network of express services – Northern Connect – that will include the majority of trains on the Calder Valley Line. Clearly Arriva has agreed with HADRAG that our line is well overdue an injection of new rolling stock.

Northern Connect is perhaps best defined as a network of regular, inter-city standard fast or at least semi-fast services. New service patterns to be introduced over the next four years will give increased frequency on the core Leeds-Bradford-Manchester route. Most CVL services will continue beyond Manchester Victoria to other North West destinations:

  • As required by the ITT, Leeds-CVL-Chester fast/semi-fast trains should – will – start by December 2017;
  • Also in the ITT, Calder Valley-Manchester Airport trains (fast/semi-fast) are due by Dec’2019 when an additional Bradford-Manchester train will increase from will run each hour;
  • Extras planned by Arriva include through services between our line and Liverpool (probably fast/semi-fast) and also Southport via Wigan (probably a stopper).

Stopping patterns are not yet completely clear, but all of the above except for the Southport will become Northern Connect routes, operated by the new trains, by 2019. The aim is a best time of 50 minutes Bradford-Manchester. It can’t all happen overnight on 1 April 2016!

Our popular York-Blackpool service will also become Northern Connect, with new trains.

Adding in the Brighouse Line gives, by 2019, 5 trains/hour between upper Calderdale and Leeds, and also 5 trains/hour between Halifax and Leeds. There will be earlier trains on the Halifax-Huddersfield Line through Brighouse. More evening services are promised: let’s hope they run late enough for people to enjoy a reasonably civilised night out in either Leeds or Manchester. There are questions still to be answered here. Could there for example be night time trains to/from Manchester Airport as there are already on the TPE Huddersfield Line? It looks like the answer to that, for now, is no.

The Chester service will run on Sundays and Bradford-Manchester Sunday frequency will increase from hourly at present to half-hourly.

Sowerby Bridge Also Needs More Trains

We also think Sowerby Bridge needs an increase in its present service. This is a well-used station where passengers are frustrated by trains that go through fast. The recently enlarged car-park is often full by 07.30 (just like at Brighouse). The station serves not just Sowerby Bridge town but the large urban area of south-west Halifax plus the leafy Ryburn Valley. Copley Valley housing and business development will generate new demand. We are asking Arriva for more trains to stop, including:

  • all York-Blackpool trains;
  • the additional Bradford-Manchester trains each hour that are to be introduced in 2019.

The above would almost double the number of trains. We hope we are pushing at an open door because it Sowerby Bridge to be one of four Calderdale stations to be designated “Northern Connect” – see our Down at the Station feature.

Elland Station

EllandStationSiteSJW
Site of Elland Station (SJW)

We have reminded Arriva not to forget about Elland. Their timetable must include allowance for trains to stop. Also somebody needs to find the £10M or so needed for construction. At least from this view of the Lowfields site it looks like the station may already have a café!

Fares and Subsides — Should We Worry?

The Government boasts that the new franchise does more for less. They think the present level of subsidy to Northern Rail is excessive – something we could argue with given the amount of DfT support given, for example, to Transport for London. So Arriva are expected to reduce the amount of subsidy required to top up fares income, cover costs (and, since they are a private company, make a profit). That may be a good deal for “the taxpayer” and the Government’s fiscal plans but what about passengers who pay fares (as well as taxes)? It is clear that with new trains, longer trains, more frequent services and lots more staff on stations Arriva Trains North is going to have bigger outgoings than Northern Rail did.

So won’t fares have to go up? Apparently not, says the government. The additional costs are expected to be covered by growth in traffic. It sounds like something rail campaigners were saying years ago. Provide a decent service, encourage more passengers, and the improvements will pay for themselves.

But there are lots of questions still to be answered.

Header image attribution:  flickr photo by tj.blackwell https://flickr.com/photos/tjblackwell/830433088 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

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