Crossing the City

Calder Valley Line (CVL) trains are expected to be running across Manchester via the new Ordsall curve at the end of this year. Northern has consulted on the December 2017 timetable change. Daytime off-peak, the hourly semi-fast Leeds (xx18), Halifax (xx54) trains to Manchester Vic will continue to Oxford Road station, serving the south side of the city directly from our area for the first time. The intention is for these trains to be extended to Manchester Airport in May 2018. Though only off-peak for now this is good news because the franchise “train service requirement” (TSR) does not specify through CVL trains to Manchester Airport until the additional hourly Bradford-Manchester service is introduced at the December 2019 change (known as TSR3).

Also in the December 2017 timetable, there will be some extra Rochdale-Manchester stoppers at peak hours. This will allow a small number of Leeds-Brighouse-Todmorden-Manchester trains to run non-stop Rochdale-Victoria. Hopefully this will improve both journey time and reliability. We have not yet been told whether the intention is for all of these trains to do this, which would improve the Brighouse-Manchester journey. HADRAG has of course repeatedly said we would like the Brighouse trains to become semi-fast west of Todmorden.

Major recasting of the timetable is delayed until (hopefully no later than) May 2018 in a “phased introduction” of the original December 2017 plans—”TSR2″. The cascade of second-hand trains from other franchises is behind schedule because of projects elsewhere running late. The Great Western Railway franchise can not release diesels to Northern until Network Rail electrification work is complete and GWR can run electric trains.

The latest we know however is that May 2018 should implement “full TSR2”, which should mean extension of the other hourly Calder Valley Manchester train to Chester. It should also mean Brighouse Sunday services modestly improved (hourly instead of 2-hourly Leeds-Bradford-Huddersfield), and half-hourly on Sundays Bradford-Manchester, including an hourly Sunday service to the Airport.

HADRAG insisted on making detailed comments on the December 2017 timetable consultation. The May’18 consultation is due anytime now and we expect to be included in that too!

We continue to argue the case for more trains stopping at Sowerby Bridge, both the York-Blackpools and the extras to be introduced in 2019. We believe the linespeed improvements and new rolling stock should enable this without unduly compromising the journey time commitment. Looking at catchment areas and population HADRAG believes Sowerby Bridge station potentially serves as many local people as Hebden Bridge and Todmorden put together, despite having little more than half the service level. We have also supported the submission by our colleagues in the Rochdale/Oldham group STORM for a better service at Littleborough.

We think Halifax-Leeds will be five trains per hour by the end of 2019, though again that seems to be implied rather than confirmed. It was promised back in December 2015 when the Arriva franchise was announced and is consistent with a map of “Northern Connect” routes published with the Dec’17 consultation. All CVL Manchester trains via Halifax (but not the ones via Brighouse) will be of “regional express” quality by the end of 2019. All of these Halifax trains (3/hour by 2019) look to be going through to Leeds, plus the Blackpool-York trains (also NC) plus the local Huddersfield-Brighouse-Bradford-Leeds. So that looks like 5-an-hour. By the way, we hear the Huddersfield-Bradford-Leeds service will linked with a new Leeds-Hull-Bridlington service (by Dec’19) giving an hourly Brighouse-Brid through train!

Obviously Brighouse needs a lot more than that. We keep mentioning the need to speed up Brighouse-Todmorden-Manchester trains. “Turbostar” trains cascaded from Scotland could help. Improvements Brighouse into Leeds will depend on outputs of the TransPennine Route Upgrade—that’s the project that includes Huddersfield Line electrification— sometime in the 2020s. Semi-fast Leeds-Manchester via Brighouse and Rochdale would surely make sense.

But with all this talk of service development the elephant in the room is the sardine-can conditions in which many of our peak-time commuters endure their daily journeys to and from work in Leeds and Manchester. We were angry last year when the “market” grabbed good trains from the North for the Chilterns, indirectly cutting seats for Calderdale commuters. We were thankful when Northern arranged with sister Arriva company Grand Central to put on a comfortable extra train Halifax-Leeds. More of these initiatives are needed.

Brand-new trains come to our line from December 2018 plus refurbished “cascades” from other companies. A 37% increase in morning capacity is promised across the franchise by 2020. Will that be enough? Will it be soon enough? What (if anything) more can be done while we are waiting?

And what, indeed, is the economic value to society of city workers arriving in a relaxed state and getting home rested, not frazzled by the return journey? Has anyone quantified this? Or is it simply unmeasurable, meaning it does not count?

HADRAG will continue to put the case for more. —JSW


Featured Image: “castlefield chord illustration4” flickr photo by mwmbwls shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

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