Northern Trains are to cut the hourly (Monday-Saturday) Halifax-Hull to two-hourly from May. This segment of the Calder Valley line timetable has been 3 trains every 4 hours since January. It could be argued that straight 2-hourly is less confusing for would-be passengers, but it is still the second stage of a two-stage cut. We hope and trust these and other cuts are temporary.
The timetable has been visible on the “RTT” (Real Time Trains) website and on www.nationalrail.co.uk for a couple of months but Northern (prudently) declined to respond to our questions until trains shown on the latter as subject to possible change were confirmed.
Confirmation came in mid-March, along with a note in Northern’s list of services explaining that halving Hull-Halifax trains allows reinstatement of hourly stopping Hull-Bridlington trains. So the Calder Valley’s loss is the Wolds Coast’s gain. Which is understandable but, we would argue, not exactly fair. And, Northern managers told a Railfuture Yorkshire webinar in March, the full pattern would come back. What is not clear is when it will come back.
Meantime, a mess is made of our local timetable, because 3 trains/hour does not mean every 20 minutes. Oh no. In a “full” hour trains from Halifax to Leeds go typically at 05, 17 (Hull train), 38, and 53 (precise times vary). In some hours the 38 is actually about 42 . That means that when the Hull train is missing there is a gap of typically 33 min, sometimes 37 min before the next train to Leeds. So if you turn up at the wrong hour miss the five-past you will likely have more than half an hour to wait. The Halifax-Hull cut also reduces the local service at east Leeds stations to 3 trains every 4 hours.
Bradford-Huddersfield was cut to 2-hourly in January, making it truly a back-and-forth shuttle. If one service misses, there is a minimum 4-hour gap. We have seen that happen. And what use is a 2-hourly service for a town that has potential to serve a population equal to Hebden Bridge and Todmorden combined? Thankfully the hourly Wigan-Brighouse-Leeds service is unaffected, as are Chester/Manchester-Halifax-Leeds and Blackpool-Halifax-York trains.
But the “Tod Curve” service Blackburn-Rochdale-Manchester-Wigan retains annoying gaps about every five hours. In other words three segments of our service remain reduced for the summer – or at least part of it.
Training Backlog Blamed
In the end-of-March update from Northern’s Pete Myers, regional stakeholder manager, wrote:
“One look at the cancellation figures [Northern’s east region 5.44% cancelled for present period (punctuality was nearly 86% within 3 minutes)] will [show] that these are too high. The reason for this is the lack of consistent and available resources (in the most part traincrew). We are not short of drivers or conductors, but in the case of train drivers we do have a gap in training and qualification, which comes from the first months of the pandemic when no training took place. [Training] is a serious issue, and while we have moved mountains in this regard, it is the backlog that drives most of the changes planned. What is not pushing these changes is the number of people using the trains, nor is it an attempt to save money, what it is, is a need to be able to deliver our timetable reliably this summer and to do this we must better use our available resources. There are other reasons for this resource gap, which I won’t go into here, but these are short-term changes that we will reverse as soon as we are able to do so.” The other reasons include an ASLEF ban on drivers’ rest day working which “sadly continues and when coupled to the above training backlog and absence rates it simply further exacerbates the situation ”. Mention of absence rates reminds us that the pandemic is not over. Looking more widely at this May, some other routes are as badly affected as ours. Bradford to Airedale and Wharfedale is cut from half-hourly to hourly. Huddersfield-Wakefield has no trains at all (just a few buses). And there are cuts to the hourly pattern on the two Leeds-Knottingley routes. Sheffield-Gainsborough, a franchise-promised all-day hourly service is just a few morning and teatime trains. Harrogate loses two early morning services and “gains” a 2-hour gap in the evening. Hourly fast extras are very much on the back burner, as are York-Scarborough locals that may in the end be supplied in some form by TransPennine Express.
Still Campaigning for Brighouse, Sowerby Bridge Elland!
RTT goes further ahead than National Rail’s journey planner. Hull-Halifax, Bradford-Huddersfield and Tod Curve cuts now look to continue all summer. We must heed Northern’s warning against using RTT as a reliable predictor. Some future trains may, we suspect, be shown to safeguard paths for future use.
HADRAG campaigned to get the Brighouse line opened, and saw success in May 2000. We are still waiting for the second station – Elland. Each of Brighouse, future Elland, and present-day Sowerby Bridge serves catchment population as great as Todmorden and Hebden Bridge combined. But the two upper valley towns have a lot more trains. It feels like stations such as Brighouse and services like the “Tod curve” are treated as soft options for temporary cuts whenever there are problems. ORR footfall figures showed Brighouse as fastest growing local CV line stations over a decade 2008-18, +343%, with Sowerby Bridge second on 94%. We say all trains that serve Hebden Bridge should serve Sowerby Bridge. Bradford-Brighouse-Huddersfield should be doubled, as should the east-west “valley bottom” service. The Calder Valley line is really a network, and we see a taktfahrplan approach employing connecting services on the different arms (our ‘Taktfahrplan‘ for example). How about a service from Bradford to Manchester Piccadilly linking our line with Huddersfield-Manchester Piccadilly? That would be while we are waiting – how long?! – for that other yet-to-be delivered promise, a Calder Valley-Manchester Airport hourly service. – JSW
Could Hull-Halifax and Bradford-Huddersfield be combined?
Why do we have separate Hull-Halifax and Bradford-Brighouse-Huddersfield services? Hourly service as specified needs (in terms of train provision):
4 (Hull-Hfx) + 2 (Bradfd-Hud) = 6 units.
This summer will be 2-hourly on both routes so that will need 3. Combining the 2 services so that Hull-Hfx trains continue to Hud and back would require 5 units, saving one.
How about Selby-Bradfd-Hud hourly? That would need 4 units, maintaining frequency Selby-Leeds-Bradford-Hudfd. Selby-Hull would be maintained by TransPennine and Northern’s York-Hull trains. Complications include pathing at Huddersfield and current use of Hull-based train crews. Nothing is ever simple. Could it be worth a try?
 In Bradford, Calderdale and Rochdale