May timetable: Could be worse. Needs to get better

Service extensions to Manchester Airport and Chester are deferred, but the May 2018 timetable is better than we feared. Northern should still bring in all promised enhancements by the end-of-2019 deadline. We want them to introduce committed new services whilst improving — not damaging — service patterns for local passengers between Manchester, Calderdale and Leeds.

Back in February we had serious concerns about what we’d seen online about the May timetable. We were promised trains to Manchester Airport and Chester, but it looked like Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd could be missing Sunday trains to Manchester, some important peak services seemed to be missing and there was a serious issue about “clockface” patterns. The good news is that the above concerns have been at least partly addressed. Chester and Airport trains are deferred, awaiting a next cascade of diesel rolling stock when the late-running Bolton line electrification is finally done. And the trains shortage affects existing services on the Calder Valley Line. Big disappointment is truncation of Blackpool-York services to Preston-Leeds—however temporary. It is hoped some repairs to the damage will be made by the end of this year. Here are some of the May 2018 changes.

Peak Commuter Services

With a major recast a lot of times are changing. Not everyone will be happy! A relief for Calderdale-Leeds users is that the extra Halifax-Leeds train operated by a 5-car Grand Central unit will not only continue to run but will start back from Hebden Bridge at 0702. And it will have a return working at teatime. The latter in particular means additional capacity. But it is difficult to be optimistic about further early relief for overcrowding at least until the new trains are in full service by the end of next year.

Blackpool – York

Blackpool-York trains are temporarily cut back to Preston-Leeds, with connections at Preston, but will run through on Sundays. You can see the logic given a shortage of diesel trains and the Blackpool line now electrified; but this is still very unwelcome. Some other CVL trains will be linked through to/from York or Selby

in compensation for existing Calderdale cross-Leeds users. With the Airport and Chester services deferred, it’s odd that extension of Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester trains to Southport is going ahead, increasing frequency on the Manchester-Atherton-Wigan line. Sounds like Calderdale’s loss is Atherton’s gain! Southport is surely the least useful of our new destinations. Southport and Wigan people would really rather have trains to Manchester Airport. Wouldn’t we all?! Northern have said they will restore Blackpool-York as soon as trains become available. It is expected that the service will then become fast Leeds-York, which sounds like good news.

Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd

Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd do, thankfully, keep their hourly Sunday service to Manchester, and in addition have all Blackpool/Preston-Leeds/York stopping — news we’ve been waiting for! But Mytholmroyd is not shown in Northern’s online pdf York-Blackpool timetable. We shall see if it’s in the eventual printed version. At time of writing online timetables were still showing a 2-hour late evening gap in trains back from Manchester to these stations. We raised this with Northern and it sounds like a genuine error which the train planners are now working to fix. Fingers crossed.

‘Clockface’ Timetables

Clockface patterns are far from ideal. Just as an example, Halifax towards Leeds is now roughly 00, 12, 34, 43, deviating significantly from even-interval (but better than feared). Annoying variations between hours could make people miss trains. Some journey times increase. Eastbound Preston-Leeds trains call at Bramley, whilst Huddersfield-Hfx-Leeds trains are non-stop from New Pudsey. Overall verdict: rather messy.

Last December. Signs at stations bore good news: Calder Valley trains going hourly via the brand new Ordsall Chord beyond Manchester Victoria to Oxford Road station on the south side of the city. Actually, apart from Sundays, it was never quite hourly. But never mind. This was a stepping stone to regular CVL trains through to Manchester’s Piccadilly and Airport stations. And the trains served very useful Deansgate station (though maybe temporarily).

But in the new timetable all CVL trains once again end at Man Vic, and won’t be going round the chord again until the Airport service starts, maybe later this year, maybe next.

Brighouse Line

More clockface and journey time issues. Leeds-Brighouse-Manchesters are fast Rochdale-Manchester, a gain partly lost by extra time westbound Brighouse-Sowerby Bridge. Would it not be better to hold them in Brighouse station, rather than have the trains waiting for signals at Milner Royd? Issues like this should be helped when new signalling is commissioned. The Leeds-Brighouse direct trains overtake the ones via Bradford in both directions. This makes a mockery of the franchise Train Service Requirement of 2 trains/hour Brighouse-Leeds. If you just miss the direct train (or it’s cancelled) you might as well wait for the next one a full hour later rather than get on one that is overtaken. With “pathing” time approaching Huddersfield—which actually means waiting at the signals at Bradley Junction— Brighouse-Huddersfield is now typically takes 14 minutes. Surely some better solution to both of these problems can be devised? Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester will be running later in the evening, but not yet on Sundays: we shall keep pressing for that. Sundays Leeds-Halifax-Brighouse is more or less hourly, a promise delivered, though with irritating variations (dodgy clockface again).

Timetable Booklets

Three Northern booklets (8, 36 and 45) are still required to show the whole CVL service—somewhat unsatisfactorily. And they won’t be available in print until June. We understand there is a plan to improve the booklets. Dare we hope for a clear, well presented Calder Valley line booklet showing all services when Northern Connect branded services are introduced in December 2019? This is clearly something that Northern find difficult, but remember West Yorkshire “Metro” produced complete line timetables right through from the 1970s to a year or so ago. Why can’t Northern under Arriva replicate what the county body used to do?

Looking Ahead

December 2019 will be another major change with an extra service each hour Bradford-Manchester and through trains to Liverpool as well as Man Airport and Chester. We say this should be an opportunity to deliver a better clockface pattern, and serve more local stations with the Airport trains. Enhancements must surely be brought in without damaging the service at local stations. Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse and the future Elland station deserve a much better train service. —JSW


Header image: “DSC_0270-1” flickr photo by Lawrence Holmes. shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

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