Signs of progress? HADRAG adds comments on December timetable

UPDATING the following piece from our Autumn newsletter we’ll be doing a full report on the December timetable changes shortly. From 10 December Preston-Leeds trains go through to York hourly with fast running east of Leeds. HADRAG supports that. What we can not support is splitting York/Selby-Leeds stopping services from Calder Valley services  at Leeds meaning passengers from stations around Garforth (east Leeds) now have to change at Leeds station to get to work or leisure destinations in Bradford and Calderdale. Northern say they are doing it to reduce delays propagate east and west across Leeds but we think it’s going to annoy a lot of regular passengers (and will require more trains to operate).

There is good news for Halifax-Leeds passengers with a much less uneven “clockface” pattern from Halifax station following retiming of the Huddersfield-Bradford-Leeds train to 23 minutes past the hour (instead of 33) Huddersfield. This deaks with one specific issue mentioned in the piece below. The trains from Huddersfield towards Bradford are now quicker with a better slot in the timetable. Unfortunately this change fouls up the “path” of the Leeds-Bradford-Huddersfield in the other direction, where a total 9 minutes of standing time in Brighouse station and at the signals, results in inflated journey times Bradford/Halifax/Brighouse into Huddersfield. We have told Northern a better solution is needed. And we have once again submitted detailed comments to their managing director David Brown on our concerns, aspirations and priorities covering the December changes, planned enhancements, a better deal for Sowerby Bridge, a decent timetable for the Brighouse line (including Elland station), and potential new services.

But top priority must be a timetable that works for existing passengers, operates reliably and repairs the damage done last May. Northern have acknowledged our submission and promised to respond. Look out for upcoming more detailed blog on this, but meanwhile the following comments from earlier this autumn are still relevant:

“Platform extension works at Calder Valley stations are signs of progress, we hope, towards longer trains, and indeed brand new ones on what we expect to become “Northern Connect” CV services to Manchester Airport, Chester and Liverpool, as well as the existing York-Blackpool route. Long campaigned for by HADRAG, the York-Blackpools now call regularly at Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd. Except that most of them since May have only run between Preston and Leeds. This, let’s be clear, is not a delay to an enhancement but a — temporary — cut to a preexistent service. Whilst we wait an answer as to when the full service will be restored, good news is through running to York now looks to be in the Dec’18 timetable. But with Preston-Blackpool now electrified and a continuing shortage of diesel trains, we worry this really useful service could be turning back at Preston for some time. Serving Blackpool is important — and not just for the revelling hens and stags!

Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd have annoying service gaps. Last train back from Bradford is half an hour earlier than before May and there is a 2-hour gap in evening trains back from Manchester. This hits people who work evenings in the cities as well as those on nights out. It looks like a problem that could be easily solved — by making a few trains stop at “SOW” and “MYT” that currently run non-stop between Halifax and Hebden Bridge. We’ve had our say but again with no clear answer from Northern.

Further ahead, Sowerby Bridge is to be a Northern Connect station. So Northern Connect trains will stop there. Here the unanswered question is “some?” or “all?” Looking at local populations it’s clear Sowerby Bridge serves a potential catchment as big as Hebden

Catching Up and Overtaking

Significant issues with the May 2018 timetable also include some increased journey times and poor clockface patterns. So trains leave Halifax for Leeds at roughly 01, 11, 33 and 43 minutes past the hour. This is far from even-interval (note 22 minute gap) and varies confusingly from hour to hour. Sowerby Bridge has 2 trains/hour to Manchester but the “fast” at “22” catches up with “06” stopper making a mockery of “half-hourly”. The real travesty is the Brighouse-Leeds corridor where the direct service via Dewsbury overtakes the one via Bradford in both directions, effectively cutting the 2 trains/hr on the franchise specification to just one. We are sure Northern do not want to operate a service this bad. We have made our views known and hope they will work with Network Rail to devise a more sensible pattern.

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