Update sounds like better news on Northern’s metal fatigue problem

Update 10 June – Northern and CAF engineers have now carried out temporary modifications to yaw dampers on their new trains, and a permanent solution will follow. Immediate good news is that most of the trains are now quickly and safely coming back into service. Northern’s recent (10 June) press statement is here, but if you want to know what the heck is a yaw damper, read on below!

Metal fatigue hits new trains (from our recent newsletter). At the end of May we understand about 30 of Northern’s CAF-built new trains were out of service including some of the “195s” used on our line. The problem is cracks on the brackets attaching a gadget called a yaw damper to the train body. A yaw damper is designed to stop the bogie wobbling from side to side as it rolls along. This transmits an oscillating force to the mounting and body, leading to metal fatigue, and ultimately cracking Lightweight aluminium used in construction is more prone to metal fatigue than steel. Yaw damper problems have also hit Hitachi high speed trains run by LNER, GWR and TransPennine Express, though it was cracks in jacking points that took those trains out of service recently. The issue is not new. British Rail had to redesign damper mountings on our familiar Class 158 units 30 years ago. It’s about designing components to reduce concentration of stress – avoiding sharp corners etc. Have modern train designers not learnt lessons?

Repairs will take time. It’s fortunate that with fewer passengers, for now, Northern can manage with shorter trains. As we write this most Calder Valley trains seem to be correct.

UPDATE: More at Train operator Northern issues update on Class 195 and 331 fault (railadvent.co.uk)

HADRAG update June 2021 Zoom AGM coming up

Thanks to everyone who attended our on-line meeting back in January. We agreed to continue to for press for action on electrification and improving the Calder Valley line and its links, making that a priority ahead of long-term ambitions such as high-speed rail.

And we have been busy since then responding to consultations on Halifax stations plans, Manchester timetable options, and West Yorkshire’s connectivity plans and rail vision – see our post HADRAG responds on Halifax station, Manchester timetables, and West Yorkshire connectivity strategy – Halifax and District Rail Action Group below where you will find links to the consultations and our comments.

We are holding an on-line annual general meeting on Saturday 26th June at 10.30am. Members will have received full details including Zoom link by emailed newsletter. Like everyone else we hope to get back to normal later this year, but for now it’s clear caution is still required. If you are not a HADRAG member but would like to attend then please get in touch!

HADRAG responds on Halifax station, Manchester timetables, and West Yorkshire connectivity strategy

HADRAG has responded to three consultations so far this year.

Halifax station gateway is moving toward the final stage of plans (see Halifax Railway Station | Calderdale Next Chapter) We have welcomed the latest iteration of this transformational scheme for a new concourse building, parking and drop-off area, and pedestrian bridge linking to town. And we are pleased to note that the scheme is now designed to allow from possible reinstatement of a third operational platform in the future. Platform 3 is not going to be used in the present scheme but it will be left undamaged for a possible use as the train service is increased. Our response the consultation held in February this year is here .

A DfT and rail industry task force on Manchester Rail Recovery (MRRTF) reported early this year (see Manchester Recovery Task Force: Public Consultation (publishing.service.gov.uk)). Whilst the wait continues for major infrastructure enhancement, the idea was to come up with a timetacle that could work reliably over the complex routes in Manchester, notably the Castlefield corridor shown on HADRAG’s map below:

Three options were put out to consultation. We were disappointed, but not surprised, that there was no proposal to provide the service from Bradford, Calderdale and Rochdale via the “Ordsall chord” to stations on the south side of Manchester city and the airport. Connectivity to Deansgate, Oxford Road and Piccadilly stations would open up a wide range of travel opportunities for work, education, heritage and the arts as well as onward connections. And it would better connect our area for visitors coming in. We ask for the link promised by the now defunct Northern franchise, and for other improvements to the service on the Calder Valley line. Our response is here.

Finally, we have responded to the West Yorkshire connectivity strategy and Rail Vision . Alongside a bold vision for a network of mass transit routes across the county there are plans to continue upgrading a rail lines. We are pleased that WYCA continues to support electrification as recommended by the Northern Sparks task force six years ago, putting the Calder Valley Line as number one scheme. Our response supports the mass transit proposals, where we comment on suggestions for Bradford-Halifax routes serving Queensbury, Ovenden and Calderdale hospital, with rail, interchanges and Halifax, Elland and Low Moor. On the rail vision we welcome plans for capacity upgrades and possibe new services over existing lines. We want a better timetable for the Calder Valley line, a fair deal for Sowerby Bridge, Elland and Brighouse, and new services, for example to York via Brighouse, Wakefield and Castleford.

Comments on the governments “Great British Railways” white paper to follow.

No regrets and a quick win for TRU and Calder Valley?

Network Rail is about to submit a list of “no regret” schemes to accelerate electrification to the government, ahead of the DfT’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan (expected in March 2021).

Quoted in New Civil Engineer (17 Dec 2020) Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, said the no regret list aimed “to present a series of quick wins that can be worked on as soon as government gives the go ahead.” Haines said many schemes had good business cases “even after Covid”, and that “we have to bust a gut” to prove that to the Treasury. Haines adds that he will “fight anyone to the death” over a suggestion of doing nothing for the next two or three years. He described the Huddersfield line Transpennine Route Upgrade (TRU) as “waiting to go”.

What about the Calder Valley then? We wrote to Mr Haines and two of his regional managing directors just before Christmas. (An immediate acknowledgement promised a detailed reply early in January.) Picking items firstly for which planning might be somewhat advanced, we said:

May we therefore express the wish that your list of schemes about to go to the DfT will include:

– Completion of Midland Main Line electrification at least to Sheffield, plus full electrification in the TransPennine Route Upgrade (Manchester-Huddersfield-York). Within the latter, Church Fenton to Leeds (Neville Hill) would be a quick-win extension of already planned Colton Jn-Church Fenton.

– Top priorities of the March 2015 Northern Electrification Task Force report (Northern Sparks). The top-ranked (as we understand it on business, economic and environmental criteria) Northern Sparks recommendation was of course the Calder Valley line – Leeds via Brighouse and via Bradford to Rochdale and Manchester and to East Lancs and Preston. A start on this linked to TRU electrification would surely be logical.

This is a call, therefore, for you to press the government to make a start on schemes – such as the Calder Valley and Huddersfield lines -that seemed to be promised several years ago. We note that the recent National Infrastructure Commission report, though mainly about priorities for new high-speed lines and regional enhancements, also recommends a rolling programme of electrification.

We are not suggesting that Calder Valley electrification is ready to go in the same sense as the Transpennine upgrade (first announced as a full electrification scheme nearly a decade ago) or Midland Main Line (cancelled north of Bedford in 2017). But we would argue that planning needs to start for our line, almost six years since it was prioritised by the Northern Sparks report. Could early stages start alongside TRU, extending up the valley from Mirfield towards Hebden Bridge and beyond? And could North West wiring at Manchester Victoria be quickly extended not only to Stalybridge – where work actually started several years ago – but to Rochdale or Littleborough? Interim train operation might require bimodes – maybe batteries rather than diesels? Leeds-Bradford-Halifax will be challenging, but achievable with the latest engineering and the skills retention of a rolling programme. It is surely time we had a plan for full wiring.

TDNS, Calder Valley, and across North

The TDNS business plan sets out recommendations for just about all unelectrified lines. Some routes have “multiple options”. All of the Northern Sparks “full” Calder Valley route is recommended for electrification, via both Bradford and Brighouse through Rochdale to Manchester, and through East Lancs to Preston. There is a multiple option in East Lancs, but electrification is recommended: “Regional passenger service between Colne and Blackburn could operate as battery…” but “electrification would provide completed eastwest link towards Halifax and Leeds”. (We’d add: a reopened Colne-Skipton line would link with the electric Airedale route.) Electrification is recommended for Bolton-Hellifield and Skipton-Lancaster/Carlisle.

Freight is a strong factor favouring electric trains.

Harrogate-York could be battery, with electrification Leeds-Harrogate. Where’s the hydrogen then? Maybe on the Yorkshire coast through Bridlington (but could be battery with full wiring Hull-Beverley). Maybe Middlesbrough-Saltburn. But even in the Tees “hydrogen hub”, first choice long-term seems to be electric. Battery trains to Bishop Auckland and Whitby could charge under the wires Darlington-Middlesbrough. Technology should double battery storage capacity by 2035. Hydrogen could be just an interim solution on some lines.

Electrification pays for itself

So the argument for electrification is won. We think maybe the DfT gets it. But we have to convince the Treasury. A rolling programme potentially halves wiring costs. Long term, electric trains are cheaper to buy, less complex and cheaper to run. Electricity in overhead wires will be cheaper than any kind of hydrogen. A holistic economic view would show electrification paying for itself. Northern Sparks must be brought to life! – JSW

Sources include: Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy – Interim Programme Business Case (networkrail.co.uk) and Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy – Executive Summary (networkrail.co.uk) http://www.railengineer.co.uk

Network Rail draws up list of ‘no regret’ electrification schemes – New Civil Engineer

More at electriccharter.wordress.com


Featured Image: “Northern Electrics branding” flickr photo by hugh llewelyn https://flickr.com/photos/camperdown/20658157925 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Infrastructure Questions

Imagine your Calder Valley train pauses briefly in a new Bradford station, no longer reverses there as they do now, but runs high-speed Bradford-Leeds. Halifax-Leeds could be under 20 minutes.

In its submission last summer to the National Infrastructure Commission, West Yorkshire Combined Authority called for the Leeds-Bradford section of Northern Powerhouse Rail to be brought forward, with a new central Bradford station serving both NPR and Calder Valley. WYCA also prioritised Calder Valley electrification.

NIC’s final report seems to offer Government (who will decide) the choice of either the eastern (Leeds) arm of HS2 or a focus on regional enhancements. NPR Leeds-Bradford-Manchester is shown in a regional package with a “+50%” budget. At “+25%” NPR high speed is lost but Leeds-Bradford is upgraded and the Huddersfield route gets “some new line”. Packages delivering HS2 east kill regional new lines. All packages propose HS2 west through to Manchester (continuing to Leeds if NPR is built).

NIC wants the plan to contribute to net-zero: “The Integrated Rail Plan should include a rolling programme of electrification to help decarbonise the railways…” and “help deliver industry efficiencies… ”(p66). As we keep saying.

HADRAG has also said if a new Leeds-Bradford-Manchester line comes through Calderdale, then Calderdale should have a station on it. A straight, mainly tunnelled route Bradford-Manchester could go underneath Halifax! Where would it cross the Calder Valley? Tunnel or viaduct? Without their own station, would local people be happy? – JSW

See also: Rail Needs Assessment for the Midlands and the North: Final report – NIC

And:

https://westyorkshire.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s16325/Item%2 07%20-%20Appendix%201%20-%20NIC%20-%20final%20response.pdf


Featured Image: “Azuma Offord Cluny” flickr photo by kitmasterbloke https://flickr.com/photos/kitmasterbloke/49259604572 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Don’t Predict – Provide

How do you specify future transport provision when it is not clear what the future will be? A recent blogpost by Transport for the North got us thinking (Benefits of a ‘decide and provide’ approach to transport planning | Insight -Transport for the North). Can uncertainty be turned into an opprtunity to shape what happens instead of trying to predict? Traditionally predictions based on trends drove provision – predict and provide. Put crudely, that could mean “more people are using cars, let’s build more roads”. An alternative says decide and provide. What sort of future do we want in a better world after Covid? Needs will be different and unpredictable. But everyone will still want to travel. So how about setting out a zero-carbon, low congestion, healthy, sociable transport system, based on active travel and good public transport? You’d still have to win people over to the idea – including car users who are understandably hesitant.

Community rail partnership for Calder Valley Line – moving ahead

Much progress has been made on setting up a Calder Valley Community Rail Partnership. A draft prospectus was discussed with stakeholders at an online meeting in January, attended by representatives of Rochdale and Calderdale councils, Network Rail, user groups and station friends groups. The meeting was positive, with support for the idea almost unanimous. Work continues led by officers at Rochdale and Calderdale councils.


Highly acclaimed Amazing Women by Rail is a project supported by Community Rail Lancashire and the MidCheshire Line CRP

After over five years of patient campaigning, HADRAG committee member Richard Lysons (who is also chair of Friends of Littleborough Stations) said, “I am delighted to hear of the genuine keenness and positive moves by Rochdale and Calderdale Councils. The time is absolutely right for such a partnership to be set up. Great strides in line identity were made by the highly acclaimed Discover Amazing Women by Rail, a project that highlighted the tourism potential for our Line. One only has to look at railway lines that have developed community and tourism projects – the Penistone line, Bentham line and Settle-Carlisle – to see the value of community rail.

“With backing from our local councils and elected councillors, the future is bright for a Calder Valley CRP. A draft prospectus will be launched in the New Year and interested parties encouraged to give feedback. A CRP aims to connect the railway closer to local communities and stakeholders. The current pandemic has caused a drop in passenger numbers can hopefully. Rebuilding, we hope to reverse that drop an emphasis on serving the community, encouraging sociable and sustainable travel.”

The council officers have been working closely with the Community Rail Network (formerly ACoRP) who are linked with nearly 70 community rail partnerships and an even greater number of station adoption groups around the country. HADRAG looks forward to continuing to support and develop a Calder Valley CRP.

This is about complementing and supporting, not competing with, active and successful station groups such as those at Brighouse, Low Moor, Sowerby Bridge, Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge. – RL

Spots on our route map show a possible area that could be covered by a community rail partnership. A CRP could work with local businesses and leisure groups, as well as town councils and boards, train companies, and local/regional authorities. Travel on the line, and attractions around it, would both be promoted.

Station adoption groups are already doing magnificent work. Supported by a CRP, they should go from strength to strength.

Elland On Track – We Hope

As the pandemic goes from wave to wave, we can be certain of nothing. But we understand Elland station is still planned to open “on time” (debatable concept) before 2023. There is an obvious interface with “TRU”, that long-awaited (not as long as Elland) Trans-Pennine (Huddersfield) route upgrade. So when the Huddersfield line is “under possession” for track remodelling or electrification TP Expresses will be diverted, and at times this will mean using the Brighouse and Elland route. The worry was that with TRU works due to start, who knows quite when, this could mean Elland being delayed. So we added this to a list of concerns in a HADRAG letter to Grant Shapps in September. The reply from a Department for Transport official (two months later) said West Yorkshire Combined Authority intends to seek an approval in principle for production of an outline design (outline?) early in 2021, and that WYCA would be expected to work closely with Network Rail, DfT and train operators on coordination with other schemes including TRU, and develop a timescale. Opening “by December 2022” was still the expectation. “Elland first” is surely sensible. We pointed out that when Huddersfield station is out of use during works on the big project, Elland – right next to the A629 – could be an ideal alternative railhead for Huddersfield passengers. The DfT did not respond to that, but more local contacts suggest the idea is under consideration.

Elland station will not only serve commuters (however many of them there are in the post-Covid future), but with a package of active travel links will be ideal for the local community and visitors seeking leisure on foot or cycle in our beautiful valley. This, surely, is just what we need to rebuild and repurpose our railway.

Wheel and Rail as One Machine

Earlier in the Autumn Northern Trains did an online stakeholder survey. One question asked for our longer-term vision for the company. Here, edited for this newsletter, is what we put.

Working together and integration

Northern needs to work with local authorities (e.g. Calderdale), the combined authorities (e.g. WYCA) and Transport for the North. And all train operating companies need to work together cooperatively to rebuild a better railway, integrated with Network Rail. One railway, wheel and rail as one machine.

We hope this will be brought about by the long-awaited outcome of the Williams Rail Review. For the passenger, examples of useful integration would include:

  • combined timetable displays and booklets on lines where more than one TOC operates, so that the would-be passenger can see the whole service at a glance.
  • simple fares, integrated with other modes, aimed at encouraging “walk-up” travel and an end the confusion caused by different operators having different fares.
  • strong regional/local branding encouraging the idea that this is “our railway”, not a system dictated either by the London-centric DfT or by an organisation with profit as priority.

Sociable transport – and no more sardine cans!

As we emerge from Covid 19, “sardine-can commuting” should become history. Crowded commuter trains were always unhealthy.

  • It seems likely that city-working will be decreased permanently, as working at home reduces the need to go into the office every day. This should be an opportunity rather than a threat. Rail must be repurposed to build a much wider market serving the whole community. The whole community supports rail and other forms of transport through taxation. Our trains should provide for as wide a range of journeys as possible, providing an attractive alternative. Human beings will always wish to travel, for work, leisure and human interaction, for sport, the arts and culture, for personal business as well as for work and commerce.
  • When we are over Covid19, the climate emergency will still be there, and we shall need a zero-carbon transport system – including electrified railways – that also improves the local environment and cuts road congestion promoting physical and mental health. Let us promote and rebrand public transport as “sociable transport” building on the benefits of travelling together (rather than in the isolation of a private vehicle). In a sense all railways should be community railways.
  • Local transport links to rail stations need to be improved – buses and active transport options with direct traffic-free access
  • In the more usual and specific sense of community rail we look forward to the formation of a Calder Valley community rail partnership.

A timetable that works must be top priority for the train operator.

Punctual, reliable, frequent, and repeating each hour so people can turn up and go.

  • An end to irritating variations and unpredictability. (An example of this is that in the present timetable four of the supposedly “fast” Calder Valley services Leeds 0712, 1112, 2112 and 2212 to Manchester have significant apparently additional time because of they follow freight services. Aspects of the timetabling process that lead to this need to be reconsidered.)
  • The pandemic has shown on the Calder Valley line that a reliable service can be operated in a situation where passengers are fewer. The challenge now is to regain passenger numbers: hopefully with a spreading of demand to avoid a return to overcrowding, whilst maintaining excellent performance.
  • The earliest opportunity possible must be taken to improve the service at stations such as Sowerby Bridge (see 4.2 below).

Service enhancements.

Beyond the basic reliable timetable we expect progress with the key promises made by the now-superseded Northern franchise, and further new services widening the usefulness of rail:

Cross-city services. 

For the Calder Valley Line we want to see a regular service to the south side of Manchester serving the stations at Deansgate, Oxford Road, Piccadilly and (possibly) the Airport. This would recreate and build upon the limited and short-lived Calder Valley to Man Oxford Rd service that operated Dec’2017-May-2018 (billed as a stepping-stone). That would open up connectivity for people in Bradford, Calderdale and Rochdale districts to work, education and leisure, as well as longer-distance connections. Northern and the Calder Valley line need to get a fair deal alongside other operators and other Northern routes. Whilst waiting for major capacity enhancements we need the best use to be made of the existing network including the new and underused Ordsall chord in Manchester. This must be done in a fair way that does not prioritise long-distance services to Manchester Airport over those for example from the Calder Valley where there is demand for travel to the south side of Manchester.

Better deal for more of our Calder Valley line stations. 

With a philosophy of spreading the benefits of rail travel to the whole community, the service needs to be improved at stations including Sowerby Bridge, which potentially serves a population equal to that of Hebden Bridge and Todmorden combined but has much less frequent trains. All Calder Valley trains need to stop at Sowerby Bridge including the faster Manchester services and the York-Blackpools (which did for a time up to Dec’2019). Mytholmroyd, with a big new car park, also needs more trains.

Elland-Brighouse corridor. 

Brighouse serves a similar catchment to Sowerby Bridge but has what amounts to no more than an hourly service to each main destination. On the same section of line, a new station at Elland is being developed and is expected to open by the end of 2022. The Elland-Brighouse line is served by two routes Bradford-Huddersfield and Manchester-Todmorden-Dewsbury-Leeds; opening Elland will strengthen the case for both of these hourly services to be increased to half-hourly, including good connections between upper Calderdale and Huddersfield.

Wider aspirations around our area include the following which might be linked:

  • Increased frequency on the popular the Blackpool/Preston-Calderdale-York route (and restoration of stops at Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd). If a second service is introduced each hour it could be routed via Elland and Brighouse.
  • Regional hourly service over the direct route to York via Brighouse, Wakefield Kirkgate and Castleford, providing a long-desired alternative to travel via Leeds. As mentioned, it is not all about the big cities!

Decarbonisation means electrification of the Calder Valley line!

We hope Northern will press the Government to go ahead with a rolling programme of rail electrification, including the full Calder Valley Line as recommended by the Northern Electrification Task Force report of March 2015 (“Northern Sparks”) and now by Network Rail’s Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy.

Our long-term vision is a modern, zero-carbon railway serving the whole community, first choice travel mode for an increased range of purposes.

What if they have to cut services?

Controversy alert. How much will commuting be permanently cut after Covid? Conversations and back-of-envelope estimates suggest… what?… 30%?… 50%? Is that a threat to our railways or is it an opportunity?

Should we welcome working and conferencing from home as reducing the need for planet-damaging travel and improving work-life balance? Maybe up to a point. All who meet on “Zoom”, plus teachers and students struggling to engage in distance learning, vital NHS and other key workers including rail staff, know you just need to meet physically. And in the arts and music human interaction sparks creativity – surely a growing part of a future green economy.

As we decarbonise, travel becomes less damaging. More walking and cycling, plus electric trains, trams, cars and buses. Railways will be vital in a green economy supporting human creativity and wider wellbeing, through “sociable” transport serving the whole community. Here are seven suggested principles for discussion:

  • Crowded trains were never healthy. So no going back to sardine-can commuting. Let’s spread demand across the day making load factors more even. Social distancing is with us for some time.
  • If frequencies have to be cut, let it be just that. No line closures.
  • And no cuts in track capacity. Might some big projects be delayed

favouring regional enhancements? “Northern Sparks” electrification is essential. But what about HS2 and NPR?

  • No cuts on minimal service lines like Leeds-Lancaster/Carlisle, the Whitby line – or our Brighouse line. The principle of half-hourly minimum service on urban routes remains sound. The Calder Valley has more than that and needs it.
  • If some peak services are reduced, released rolling stock must improve reliability, open up off-peak travel for more people and maybe avoid some capacity investment.
  • London may be most affected by more working from home. So no making so-called “loss-making” lines up North suffer most. Remember levelling up! Let it be fair, North with South, and Calder Valley with Trans-Pennine.
  • To get traffic off roads onto rail, let’s have deep integration with reregulated buses, trams and active travel routes. Make sociable transport competitive against cars for more complex journeys that are not focussed on city centres. Many people never use the train, so there’s a huge potential market to be tapped.

It stretches credibility to demand trains run nearly empty in a nominally rich nation where we seem to struggle to feed all of our children or look after older people.

Let us have trains that carry comfortable loads of people with services designed to be useful to more and more. It’s not all about the big cities.

Discuss! 

Header Image: “195125 at Sowerby Bridge” flickr photo by Aaron 56125 https://flickr.com/photos/aaronsrailwayphots/50164627971 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license