Track and signalling works target journey time and capacity

Network Rail managers joined members and friends of Halifax & District Rail Action Group at our December open committee meeting at Halifax Town Hall. Vanessa Conway (project sponsor) and Salim Patel (project manager) presented on the Calder Valley Route upgrade, the project that will enable higher line speeds and increased capacity between Bradford and Manchester. Completion is due by Autumn 2018.

Funded by farepayers, taxpayers and property income, and with 35,000 of its own staff, Network Rail is the effectively nationalised agency that owns and operates Britain’s rail infrastructure — maintaining, renewing, replacing and enhancing. Regulated by ORR, the Office of Rail & Road, it also coordinates and manages the railway timetable between different passenger and freight operators.

Britain’s rail infrastructure comprises 20,000miles of track, 32,000 bridges and tunnels and 8200 commercial properties, along with 2500 stations the operation of which is largely devolved to train operators. Passenger demand nationally grew by 100% over the last 20 years and is expected to double again by 2041 alongside freight growth of 90%. In the North, rail investment is seen as part wider transformation under the Transport for the North banner. Long term, this means “Northern Powerhouse Rail” and a new line across the pennines, but in the meantime smaller schemes like the Calder Valley Line enhancements, radiating from the Manchester-centred  “Northern Hub” are essential to get more trains carrying more passengers at higher speed.

West Complete, East Ongoing

The Calder Valley upgrade falls into several parts. Journey time interventions (JTI) involve upgrading track for higher speed at various points between Manchester and Bradford. The boundary between Network Rail “LNE” and “LNW” so-called “routes” – the old regional boundary west of Hebden Bridge is an administrative dividing line. The “West” project ending at Todmorden has been completed over the last year and includes a new west-facing bay platform, now operational, at Rochdale station as well as higher speed limits which are now in place. The Rochdale “turnback” platform will allow trains from the west terminating at Rochdale to layover in the station clear of the main lines increasing capacity and reducing delays for through CVL services. North-west trains that currently terminate at Manchester Victoria station will increasingly come through to Rochdale and to Stalybridge in turn releasing platform capacity at “Vic”. And of course by the end of 2019 most Calder Valley Manchester trains will be running through to/from Chester, Liverpool, Southport or Manchester Airport.

Work has also now started on the “East” interventions from Hebden Bridge to Bradford. HADRAG is seeking further clarification on certain details for example precise linespeed improvements. We understand however that the aim is, by the end of 2018, to increase general line maxima from 60mph (Hebden-Halifax) and 55mph (Halifax-Bradford) to at least the “70” that already rules on the West section. Intermediate speed restrictions, for example at Milner Royd Junction seem likely to remain for the time being though there seems to be a possibility Milner Royd could be remodelled in a future project. It does seem, however that the 30mph restricted approach to Halifax from Shaw Lodge will be improved as part of the current scheme. Works to be carried out include, at various points, track lowering or slewing to improve alignment, work in tunnels, new track and re-railing. “Route hardening” will improve the quality and resilience of track and signals.

Network Rail’s presentation also included the new station at Low Moor (by May’17), and access-for-all works at Hebden Bridge with new lifts and platform level access (by end of 2018).

Signalling and Capacity

Huddersfield to Bradford resignalling is a slight misnomer because in order to deliver Manchester-Bradford capacity improvements the work must extend to Hebden Bridge. Traditional signalboxes at Hebden Bridge, Milner Royd, Halifax and Bradford Mill Lane will become redundant with control transferred to the rail operating centre (ROC) at York. Work starts this March and is in two stages, both to be completed by October 2018. Stage 1 is to bring existing signals around Huddersfield and as far west as Greetland Junction under York ROC. Stage 2 is enhanced signalling of the CVL section from Hebden Bridge through Halifax to Bradford. When this is complete trains will be able to operate at 4 minute headways all the way from Manchester to Bradford. This does not, of course, mean 15 trains an hour! What it does mean is more signals between Hebden Bridge and Sowerby Bridge, and between Halifax and Bradford, reducing delays caused by existing long sections and allowing a significant increase in frequency without compromising punctuality. Currently, for example, a train can not proceed from Halifax to Bradford until the one in front has passed a signal nearly 4 miles ahead at Wyke; the enhancements deal with this.

Linked with the resignalling are two additional crossover tracks to be installed at Bradford to allow up to three simultaneous parallel movements in/out of the Interchange station where, famously, all trains reverse in order to continue their journey.

“East” linespeeds will be raised when the new signalling is ready. All should be done by 20 October 2018. Journey time “fast” Bradford-Manchaester with four intermediate stops should come down from current 58-61 minutes to 53-54 minutes, probably at the end of 2018. This may not seem spectacular and is a bit less ambitious than everyone originally hoped but it is a marketable improvement. The journey time estimate is based on current (Class 158) trains; there’s hope the new CAF trains (Class 195) ordered by Arriva may perform better. More important perhaps are the capacity improvements that will lead to more frequent services, starting with Northern’s commitment under the Arriva franchise to an extra Bradford-Manchester train every daytime hour through to the Airport 7 days a week by the end of 2019. We hope more will follow.

The HADRAG meeting with Network Rail, a public body sometimes criticised for being less than public-facing, was at their initiative.

We are grateful to Network Rail for that, and look forward to developing the relationship in the future.

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