December timetable: changes needed to avoid kick in teeth for Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd

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Brand new Northern train speeds through Sowerby Bridge in July this year. This was just a test run, but we’ve been led to expect to be able to ride these trains, already in service in the North West, on our Calder Valley Line before the end of this year. Sounds good, but there could be bad news for Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd if the first public version of the December 2019 timetable is not improved. It looks like the two valley stations will no longer be served by the York-Blackpool service on weekdays, whilst on Sundays Manchester trains will not stop. HADRAG is on the case.

HADRAG members will be hearing from Northern Rail at their September Committee meeting (Contact us for details.) . Theme is how to improve the Calder Valley Line timetable.

A preview of the December timetable is now available on-line via the Real Time Trains website (see for example https://www.realtimetrains.co.uk/search/advanced/HFX/2019/12/17/0200-0159?stp=WVS&show=all&order=wtt), and HADRAG’s review of what we’ve seen is here. There is good news for Halifax in December with an even-interval service of 4 trains an hour from Leeds, improvements to the (still uneven) westbound pattern and a new hourly service to Hull, restoring the useful commuting link between Calderdale, Bradford and local stations east of Leeds.

But Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd look to be taking delivery of a kick in the teeth.

The provisional timetable shows all York-Blackpool trains (Mondays-Saturdays) running non-stop Halifax-Hebden Bridge, reversing an useful improvement brought in last year, and cutting basic service frequency at “SOW” and “MYT” by a third.

On Sundays passengers from the two valley stations look like they will lose trains to Manchester; the Sunday York-Blackpools will still call. Manchester passengers will have to change at Hebden Bridge, but the wait could be something like half an hour. We can not believe that this is really what Northern intend so we believe there is some hope these proposed cuts may be reversed.

For the Brighouse Line the December timetable makes concrete what has always been effectively true, that Brighouse really only has one train an hour to Leeds. In recent years the two trains have been timed such that the direct one via Dewsbury either overtakes or effectively catches up with the one via Bradford. So from December, weekdays Brighouse will have one train an hour on the Leeds-Dewsbury-Manchester-Wigan route, and an hourly Bradford-Huddersfield shuttle. The shuttle looks to give sensible journey times Bradford/Halifax to Huddersfield (unlike the present timetable): so that’s an improvement. But connections for Huddersfield from upper Calderdale are unsatisfactory – particularly for Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge. On Sundays Brighouse now has a more or less hourly service on the Huddersfield-Bradford-Leeds route. We say the Brighouse trains via Dewsbury should also run on Sundays.

It’s the policy of West Yorkshire Combined Authority to have a useful 2 trains per hour on local routes. So HADRAG’s call is for Brighouse to have 2/hr on the upper Calderdale-Dewsbury-Leeds route, and the same on the Bradford-Huddersfield shuttle. This, surely is a reasonable demand for when Elland station opens in less than three years time (we hope). A fast service Brighouse-Leeds via Dewsbury would bring the journey down to about 20 minutes, with benefits for stations further up the valley.

In the meantime Northern’s franchise commitment was to run 3 trains/hr Bradford-Manchester from December this year including an hourly service round the Ordsall Chord to Manchester Oxford Rd, Piccadilly and Airport stations. That is not going to happen this year because there is insufficient track and platform capacity Piccadilly. Plans to deal with this should have been implemented along as part of the original Northern Hub project in Network Rail’s 2014-19 control period to enable all the service possibilities of the new Ordsall line. Sadly that plan is now very much kicked into an unmown region of the Department for Transport garden. But TransPennine Express is still allowed to run 2 trains/hr from North East England whilst Northern’s promised are on hold. Not fair, is it?

HADRAG’s committee meeting with a speaker from Northern Rail is Monday evening 16 September. You are not a member and would like to attend as an interested rail user (actual/would-be) please contact us for details.