Upgrades across Pennines needed now (no use waiting decades for high speed)

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Brighouse station saw massive growth in passenger numbers over ten years but is now constrained by a poor service, just hourly to each destination. We need the TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU) to deliver extra tracks around Mirfield so more trains from Halifax and upper Calderdale can come through Brighouse to Huddersfield and Leeds. Transport campaigners are protesting because Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of Network Rail has been quoted casting doubt in the TRU scheme. HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail are decades away and will not help local stations.

CAMPAIGNERS in West Yorkshire are extremely concerned about lack of progress by the Government and Network Rail on infrastructure proposals that should deliver improvements for travellers in the next few years, including the TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU) and enhancements in Manchester if the railway is to honour promises made to the Calder Valley line and other routes across the North.  Three rail user groups and the Yorkshire Branch of Railfuture have written to Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of Network Rail, who was recently been quoted as casting doubt on TRU. In a magazine interview (RAIL 897, 29 Jan’2020) Haines had said the scope of TRU could depend on the high-speed rail proposal “Northern Powerhouse Rail” (NPR). The campaigners, in Stalybridge Huddersfield Rail Users Group and Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Sustainable Transport Group, say NPR is decades away and will not benefit stations on regional routes that desperately need investment now.

The groups have also written to Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps MP, and to the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, calling for urgent, overdue projects to go ahead without further delay.

Last August Network Rail opened consultation on proposals to upgrade the railway between Huddersfield and Dewsbury to four tracks (https://www.networkrail.co.uk/running-the-railway/railway-upgrade-plan/key-projects/transpennine-route-upgrade/huddersfield-to-westtown-dewsbury/) with separate lines for fast expresses and local services and grade separated junctions (flyovers) to reduce conflicts in the timetable. These proposals would not only allow for faster journeys along the TransPennine route via Huddersfield, but also enable:

  • A 30-minute (2 trains per hour) service throughout the day at the four busy stations between Huddersfield and Stalybridge which currently only have an hourly service, and better services at local stations between Huddersfield and Leeds/Wakefield.
  • Improved services along the linked Calder Valley Line through Brighouse using the extra tracks TRU should provide towards Huddersfield and Leeds. In effect Brighouse at present only has an hourly service (though on two routes). But the station saw high growth in footfall over ten years, and serves a population of significantly more than 20,000, comparable with many stations with a minimum of two trains per hour. A new station planned at Elland (next to Brighouse) will serve a similar population.

Despite last week’s prime-ministerial announcement on high speed rail, it is still unclear when NPR will be complete. It seems very unlikely to be before 2035 and probably considerably later. In the meantime the need for more capacity on classic rail routes is urgent but progress on planned schemes seems to be at a halt.

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New trains now work on Blackpool-York and Chester-Manchester-Leeds services  through Halifax. But the Northern trains franchise also promised services across Manchester to Oxford Road station (near the university) and the Airport, as well as increased frequency Bradford-Manchester. But now that can’t happen because extra platforms through Manchester Piccadilly station, planned five years ago to complement the new Ordsall Chord (which was built), have still to be approved by Government. We have written (again!) to transport secretary Grant Shapps, and to the new Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak asking for this work to go ahead. 

The campaigners’ letters to Haines, Shapps and Sunak ask for TRU and other schemes to go ahead, without being scaled back, leading to much earlier benefits for communities that will not directly benefit from NPR when it comes, and in any case cannot wait that long to have their service improved.

The call is for significantly improving regional connectivity in the next five years, making train travel more attractive for more people as an alternative to congested roads, and part of the transition towards low-pollution, zero-carbon transport.

Along with TRU, the groups are calling for:

  • enhancements around Manchester Piccadilly and Oxford Road stations (Castlefield corridor) that were planned more than five years ago, essential to provide additional capacity reducing delays to existing services, and allowing additional services. A new hourly service from Bradford and the Calder Valley Line to Manchester Airport should have started last December but has yet to be delivered. The January 2020 Transport for the North board meeting again called on the government to give this work the go ahead (https://transportforthenorth.com/wp-content/uploads/Item-5-Central-Manchester-Report.pdf ).
  • a rolling programme of electrification across the North, based on the recommendations of the still-current 2015 Northern Electrification Task Force report (https://transportforthenorth.com/wp-content/uploads/EFT_Report_FINAL_web.pdf ), which gave the Calder Valley Line top ranking.

Nina Smith, Chair of Railfuture Yorkshire Branch and UCVRSTG said: “The Trans Pennine upgrade and work to improve capacity across central Manchester – including the Castlefield corridor – must be started as a matter of urgency now. They are complementary to the longer-term Northern Powerhouse Rail, which is years away and will not directly benefit local commuters. It is not an ‘either-or’. Until these essential works are completed, passengers using local stations on the Leeds to Manchester via Huddersfield route will continue to have a poor service, as will Brighouse passengers. The poor connectivity from the upper Calder Valley to Huddersfield will continue, and the Calder Valley line will not see the promised services to Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport.

Stephen Waring, Chair of HADRAG and joint coordinator of the Electric Railway Charter (www.electriccharter.wordpress.com ) said “We need the TransPennine Route Upgrade to restore a four track railway into Huddersfield so we can have a better service through Brighouse and the planned new station at Elland. Twenty years ago Brighouse succeeded in getting its station reopened, but the town is still waiting for a decent service, prevented by track capacity through Huddersfield and Mirfield. The TransPennine Route Upgrade opens up massive possibilities but now we are worried the Chief Executive of Network Rail is questioning the amount of 4-tracking. We need that full scheme.

“And we need full electrification. It’s just about 5 years since the Northern Electrification Task Force effectively proposed a rolling programme of electrification across the North. Strategic routes across the Pennines including our Calder Valley Line need to be wired if we are to create a modern, reliable, zero-carbon transport system. The Electric Railway Charter will keep up the campaign.”

Mark Ashmore, Chair of SHRUG said “With the banning of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2035/40, and the government’s commitment to the UK becoming carbon neutral by 2050 the need for full electrification of the trans-Pennine route from Manchester to Huddersfield, Leeds and York, along with more four-tracking, has never been more necessary.”