Making the Case for Better Train Services and More Stations

In May this year in Brighouse HADRAG held possibly its best-ever Annual General Meeting, with speaker David Hoggarth, Director of Rail North and over 30 people in attendance, part of our campaign to get a better train service deal for stations like Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge.

Over summer we updated our paper on development aspirations for the Calder Valley Line, and in October we held an “open committee meeting” in Halifax where the train operator Northern’s regional stakeholder manager John O’Grady gave a presentation to HADRAG members and friends about the company’s franchise promises. John has a background  in journalism having worked as a young reporter on the Brighouse Echo. He still lives in Brighouse so if any Northern employee understands the needs of our line and its users John should! He spoke entertainingly and answered questions with honesty and good humour.

Peak-hour overcrowding on Calderdale-Leeds commuter trains was hottest topic at the Halifax meeting. People who pay the top-rate peak fare are understandably angry when not only can they not get a seat but the train is so crowded that passengers stand nose-to nose, with passengers sometimes left behind at places like New Pudsey. It is equally irksome when a high quality modern train that is about to form an extra service from Bradford to Leeds passes empty through Halifax as you wait for your 25 to 30-year old two-car unit that you know is going to be crammed (see our front page story). Northern  promise to look again at these issues. The situation is not of their making and using the Grand Central train is a good tactic to provide relief. If only it could help Calderdale commuters! The new franchisee knows that we are looking forward to the benefits of brand new rolling stock, more services and new destinations by 2019. But they also know there is anger now about a railway that is victim of its own success.

HADRAG is also continuing to press on what might be termed medium term strategic issues, firstly in the hope that Northern under franchisee Arriva will deliver a better train timetable for more Calder Valley Line stations—not just the so-called principal stops—and secondly for a vision for the second half of the franchise when we hope more services could be developed via the Elland/Brighouse rail corridor.

To recap, we say a long-standing half-promise that all York-Blackpool trains should call at Sowerby Bridge should be redeemed at the next key timetable change which is December 2017.  At the same time we hope the Leeds-Brighouse-Todmorden-Manchester service can be speeded up by making it semi-fast at least west of Todmorden. The aim, with improved rolling stock, should be 50 minutes Brighouse-Manchester Vic. Yes, we hear the argument that you can go from Brighouse to Manchester Piccadilly via Huddersfield in not much more than that time but it means changing trains (and platforms) at Huddersfield and not everybody wants to go to Piccadilly! We also think the “valley bottom service” should run on Sundays—and West Yorkshire Combined Authority agrees with us.

It would also be good if Northern could design its timetable to get a second train each hour stopping at the new Low Moor station (see panel, previous page). Next opportunity after 2017 could be the 2019 timetable with an enhanced “TSR” or minimum Train Service Requirement which means Northern has to run 3 trains/hour between Bradford and Manchester, one of which has to go to Manchester Airport, one to Chester and one to Liverpool. All of these three trains will be Northern Connect services, which means regional express, but existing stops in upper Calderdale and Rochdale district will still have to be covered by the three trains combined.

So when is an express not an express? When it has to meet the TSR for intermediate stations! What HADRAG is saying is we are going to have this new service that is going to use a brand new line round Manchester (the Ordsall Chord) to get to Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport. Why not maximise the benefits of this investment by spreading the new connectivity to as many CVL stations as possible? It does not have to be the Airport train that achieves the headline timing (say 52 minutes) Bradford-Victoria; in fact it makes most sense if the fastest Calder Valley service is the one that goes to Chester, the longest distance. So we say the Airport-Bradford train should serve Sowerby Bridge. And perhaps it should  also serve the new station at Low Moor where there is park & ride and business as well as commuting potential. This means the Airport train must go to Leeds, not just to Bradford, related to another yet-to-be-answered question: how many trains per hour, Halifax-Leeds? The TSR says four (minimum), but the promise at the franchise announcement last December seemed to be five.

And our “Cinderella station”, Mytholmroyd, is about to get a new car park. The village has 2 trains/hr to Leeds and Manchester but misses the 2/hr it had for a time to Halifax and Bradford. Could Northern’s 2019 timetable come to the rescue?

There is an expectation of further service development beyond 2019. With housing and business growth in the lower valley,  Elland station a near certainty, and potential of a fast route to Leeds as well as Huddersfield, Wakefield and beyond, the Brighouse rail corridor is ripe to develop. Don’t forget Brighouse station usage grew by 342% between 2007 and 2015. Along with Sowerby Bridge, the town of Brighouse can justify demanding a lot more from its railway. –JSW


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