TRU benefits for Calder Valley – but we need the wires to build back better for zero-carbon

class-195-sowerby-bridge-jsw
The Calder Valley line continues to have a much reduced service as the Covid lockdown is cautiously eased. (And we must, indeed, be cautious.) The Blackpool-York service is at present Preston-Leeds, 2-hourly. Halifax-Manchester trains are also at reduced frequency. Bradford-Huddersfield and Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester are running hourly, near normal. Halifax-Leeds is mainly just two trains per hour, with the Halifax-Hull service not running but some Hebden Bridge-Leeds shuttles starting.  There are more trains at peak times but the service starts later. As campaigners we look forward to the rebuilding of public, sociable transport and passengers regaining confidence to travel. There is some way to go.

FUNDING for the TransPennine route upgrade, £598M announced by transport secretary Grant Shapps this week (23 July 2020), should be good news for the Calder Valley as well as the Huddersfield line. New tracks through Huddersfield-Mirfield should mean capacity for more trains via Brighouse and Elland where plans for the new station are approaching the next gateway. But also relevant to our line, uncertainty remains (despite a recent £10M batch of development funding) about a solution the Manchester “Castlefield” problem where promised services will never be delivered without congestion-busting capacity. We welcome the government’s commitment to these schemes but ask now for a truly modern, zero-carbon railway. That means electrification across our region including the full Calder Valley line as recommended in the 2015 Northern Sparks report. West Yorkshire Combined Authority calls for Calder Valley electrification in its recent submission to the National Infrastructure Commission. In the much longer term a new station in Bradford serving both the proposed Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) high speed route and the Calder Valley Line is advocated. That’s a long way ahead. The good news is there is now a realisation that the North of England cannot be kept waiting decades for a high speed route which even when it comes will serve the big cities, not local communities. We have to get on now with upgrading the “classic” routes. More on all this below:

As public transport – let’s call it “sociable transport” – rebuilds after Covid we want to see a railway that serves more and more of the community. City working may be permanently reduced in the future. The old rush-hour with commuters paying peak-rate fares crammed in the worst conditions could be history. So we need to look at a service for the whole community that gets people on trains for a wider range of purposes.

Latest news is that the long-awaited TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU) seems to have the go-ahead. Critical not just for the Manchester-Huddersfield-Leeds route but also the linked Calder Valley line, the plan includes an increase from 2-track to 4-track between Huddersfield and Dewsbury. We expect this to allow more trains off the Elland-Brighouse Calder Valley corridor both into Huddersfield (where there will be more platforms) and through Mirfield towards Leeds/Wakefield.  There will be a conflict reducing grade-separated junction (flyover/diveunder) at Ravensthorpe. These extra tracks will probably be vital if the Brighouse/Elland line is ever to get a proper half-hourly service on both Bradford-Huddersfield and upper Calderdale-Leeds services.

As HADRAG has pointed out many times, a fast journey from Brighouse to Leeds via Dewsbury could take about 20 minutes or less compared with today’s almost 35 minutes. This time saving would also benefit trips from upper Calderdale to Leeds via the Brighouse route.

Elland station

The Elland station project is now on its way towards full business case under WYCA and Calderdale supervision. The required phase 2 public consultation is in progress. As far as we know the planned completion date remains 2022, but there is some concern about how this will marry up with TRU. Fear is that uncertainty about TRU and the phasing of works requiring diversion of TransPennine Express trains via the Calder Valley could delay the new station. Also the major works at Huddersfield station and through Mirfield are likely to affect trains via Brighouse. But if Elland has to wait for all the TRU work to be completed that could be another five, or even ten years, surely not acceptable given that the station originally should have opened alongside Brighouse in May 2000.

HADRAG says if anything Elland station should be opened sooner rather than later, and could be an alternative railhead for Huddersfield station users when diversions are in operation during the TRU works.

The consultation on Elland Rail Station and Access Package Phase 2 is open until 16th August 2020, details at this link: https://www.yourvoice.westyorks-ca.gov.uk/elland2020 . This is an ambitious scheme, not just a train station but a package of transformative local improvements. Make your views known!

Electrification – and NPR

As reported in our previous post, HADRAG responded to the National Infrastructure Commission call for evidence on rail needs in the North (here).

We also strongly welcome the submission made by West Yorkshire Combined Authority (jointly with W&N Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce) – at this link. They call for “a single strategic programme of investment in rail covering the next 30 years”, and say this must include improvements at Leeds City station, completion of TRU by 2026, links to HS2, and

  • “Delivery of the NPR network including a new station in the centre of Bradford incorporating both NPR and Calder Valley services and early delivery of a new line between Leeds and Bradford”
  • “A rolling programme of electrification to create an electrified city region metro rail network the supports the government’s wider plans to decarbonise the economy, starting with the Calder Valley line(we’ve added the italics).

Whilst CV electrification is the last item in a 6-point list, HADRAG would expect this to be the next scheme after TransPennine route upgrade, as recommended by the March 2015 task force report Northern Sparks.  We need a zero-carbon transport system if we are to build better, post-Covid. More on electrification, and Grant Shapps’s TRU announcement on our Electric Railway Charter site.

Remove Bradford turnback?

HADRAG has expressed concern that a high-speed line between Leeds, Bradford and Manchester would do little for Calderdale.  The Bradford “NPR plus Calder Valley” station proposal is perhaps rather long term, though we note the request for “early delivery” of a high-speed Leeds-Bradford route. The WYCA submission says the possibility of integrating the Bradford station with the Calder Valley line could remove the turnback at Bradford Interchange and create “a new through station which would also improve services [from Leeds] to Calderdale and east Lancashire”. So that is potentially good news for our line.

HADRAG has previously said that if Calder Valley trains could run on the NPR high speed line from Bradford to Leeds that would cut Halifax-Leeds journey time from the present 35 minutes plus, to about 20 minutes. Maybe we’ve been heard! We have also said in our own submission to NIC that NPR should have more intermediate stations including one in Calderdale itself.

Classic routes and Manchester capacity

Meanwhile the classic routes need improving. The government seems to realise we need upgrades way ahead of NPR. Alongside the TRU they promise the capacity issues in Manchester and Leeds will be addressed. £10M has been allocated for more design/development work on the Castlefield corridor where lack of through platforms is preventing improvements, including Calder Valley-Manchester Airport services, that were promised by the Northern franchise. There was of course a plan about 5 years ago for remodelling Oxford Road and providing two extra platforms at Piccadilly. We can only assume this is still one of the options. Another possibility is a tunnel from Ordsall Junction (west of the city) to Piccadilly station. This, on the face of it, could be decades away. Perhaps the Northern Transport Acceleration Council announced by Mr Shapps really will bring this forward.

We carry on campaigning   – JSW