Still Hoping for Good News, Meanwhile…

With COP26 underway, the integrated rail plan (IRP) is now expected in mid November, after a Downing Street rewrite. So are we still being softened up for cancellation of big projects like the eastern arm of HS2 from Birmingham to Leeds? How will Northern Powerhouse Rail end up? What about the TransPennine Route upgrade, which should be fully electric and with extra tracks Huddersfield to Dewsbury? (Is HM Treasury really going to agree to both full-scale TRU and high-speed NPR via Bradford?) And what about Northern Sparks electrification, recommended by a task force six years ago? Top ranking was given to the Calder Valley. And a year ago Network Rail’s TDNS (decarbonisation network strategy) effectively called for a rolling programme. We hope for good news from IRP.

And rail decarbonisation would be a great thing to announce in the run-up to COP26 summit in Glasgow. So let’s hope we have something positive to report in our Winter issue.

Manchester plans: report hardly mentions our line

Meanwhile this seems to have been a year, mid-pandemic, of consultations on timetable changes. The government has recently published the response to the Manchester Rail Task Force (MRTF) consultation. HADRAG responded earlier this year as did the three North of England branches of Railfuture. Among other demands we pointed out that Bradford and the Calder Valley line really need the promised service round the Castlefield curve to the south side of central Manchester, serving work, education and leisure attractions, as well as onward connections and trains to the airport. We understand that MRTF’s purpose was to simplify the timetable and make it more reliable. So we are not surprised that proposals for a new service would be difficult to swallow – even though the service was a commitment under the now defunct Northern franchise.
So whilst Southport will get an hourly service to Manchester Oxford Rd (alternating with an hourly service to Victoria and Stalybridge), the derived “Option B+” service pattern cuts the service round the Castlefield chord to 1 train/hr. The Colder Valley line and Bradford are barely mentioned. Good news is that the Option B+ service diagram does show the useful CV-Chester continuing hourly as now, improving on original Option B. Worryingly, however, it is not mentioned in the text of the document. There is a promise to look at options to restore a South Yorkshire-Manchester Airport service, but nothing about bringing in a CV-Airport service.

The Option B+ timetable is expected to be introduced in December 2022. Actual times of trains are yet to be revealed. Transport for the North were not happy about the option selected but the only alternative they were given was continuation of the Covid timetable.

ECML recast and Calder Valley needs

Readers will know that the proposed recast of the East Coast Main Line timetable, proposed for May 2022 has been postponed by at least a year. There will be a further consultation in Spring 2022. HADRAG has supported a submission by Yorkshire campaigners calling for a single exercise based on a timetable showing all operators’ trains on the route. The exercise held earlier this summer required consultees to respond separately on draft timetables produced separately by train operating companies LNER, TransPennine Express, Cross Country and Northern – each table showing only the trains proposed by each operator. This made the overall picture less visible, and seemed to be in defiance of the recently announced move towards a more unified national Great British Railways.

HADRAG will respond to the new consultation. This year we commented only on Northern’s proposals for Calder Valley services and took the opportunity to restate concerns about the present service and our aspirations, starting with issues from the present (effectively Dec’2019) timetable that remained in the May’22 draft:

Sowerby Bridge (SOW) and Mytholmroyd (MYT) stopping pattern. Note particularly that SOW serves a population comparable with Hebden Bg and Todmorden combined but has little more than half the service frequency of these stations.

  • 2-hour gap in eastbound evening services calling at SOW and MYT. Manchester Vic dep 2121 then 2319, with 2 trains from Manchester and one from Blackpool running non-stop Hebden Bridge to Halifax in between. This evening gap can surely be fixed.
  • Poor peak-hour service particularly at Mytholmroyd to/from Leeds.
  • Sundays no trains Mytholmroyd to/from Manchester – no obvious reason for this.
  • Blackpool trains call at SOW and MYT on Sundays only. No Blackpool service Mon-Sat (apart from three evening-peak calls at SOW). Every Blackpool service should call, at least at SOW, as they did from May’18 to Dec’19. Present timings appear to make that possible.
  • We believe every CV Manchester (and every Blackpool) service should also call at Sowerby Bridge.
  • Pathing of nominally fast services westbound towards Manchester behind freights. Several “fast” services’ which do not call at SOW and MYT, have significantly extended timings between Bradford and Manchester: see for example deps from Leeds at 0712,1712, 2112 and 2212. There are also irregularities in the timing of westbound services from Man Vic.

HADRAG says that our Chester trains, connecting at Warrington with the West Coast Main Line, should now be seen as an established link. Issues in the present timetable need to be dealt with as soon as possible – by Dec’22 if not May’22, i.e. the above issues including illogical and inconvenient stopping patterns. Sowerby Bridge – a potential interchange – should have full service frequency on both Manchester and Blackpool routes. Mytholmroyd, with its enlarged car park, also needs more trains. And the timetable should be arranged to accommodate freight trains without making a nonsense of “fast” passenger services. (Provision of passing loops could help this.)

Header Image: “195104 at Mytholmroyd 28/07/20” flickr photo by Aaron 56125 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

HADRAG online meeting Sat 6 November @ 10.30 till 12.15

This will start with AGM business. We then have speakers (at 11.00) and Q&A session focussing on the Calder Valley line timetable, electrification and community rail. Speakers expected are:

Councillor Daniel Sutherland (Calderdale + WYCA transport committee)

Pete Myers (Northern Rail)

Mick Sasse (West Yorks Combined Authority)

John Lewer (Calderdale Council, transportation)

If you’d like to be at the meeting please use contact form to message us and we’ll send you a Zoom link. Have your say!

More in our latest newsletter

For electrification and modal transfer – developing rail as other modes catch up: Railfuture and HADRAG respond to TfN’s decarbonisation report

HADRAG responded to Transport for the North’s decarbonisation strategy at the end of August. We supported the submission made by Railfuture’s four north of England branches, adding weight to proposals benefiting the Calder Valley line:

  • Electrification as proposed by the 2015 task force report, which gave the full Calder Valley line top ranking
  • Development of poorly served routes centred on the Elland/Brighouse corridor, Bradford/Calderdale-Huddersfield, upper Calderdale-Leeds, Wakefield and York. Rail can succeed as low-carbon mode of transport whilst other modes are still planning their catch-up.

Here is HADRAG’s submission, with links to the longer Railfuture document:

HADRAG supports the ambitions of Transport for the North to decarbonise transport across the North.

We agree with the submission made by the northern branches of Railfuture which can also be found on the Railfuture website at (freeform response – also appended to this report) and (questionnaire response).

HADRAG is a founding group of the Electric Railway Charter ( We support a rolling programme of electrification across the North of England as envisaged by the Northern Sparks task force (NETF) report (spring 2015). Northern Sparks gave top ranking on the basis of business, economic and environmental criteria to electrification of the full Calder Valley line from Leeds via both Bradford and Brighouse to Manchester, East Lancashire and Preston. Thus described, the CV Line was placed first in list of a dozen schemes for an initial 5-year programme (the five years being 2019-2024). We still await a government go-ahead for any kind of rolling programme. Indeed we still await a definite go ahead for electrification of the Huddersfield line under the TransPennine Route Upgrade, and for the Midland main line from Market Harborough to Sheffield. These two schemes were baseline assumptions of NETF.

The recent Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy (TDNS – summer/autumn 2020) by Network Rail generally reinforces the Northern Sparks recommendations. TDNS recommends that about 85% of unelectrified railways across Great Britain should be overhead electrified. Overhead electrification offers at least about 80% energy efficiency (source to wheel) compared with about 70% for battery-electric trains and 34% or less for hydrogen. 34% efficiency means 66% of original energy wasted. All energy transfers involve wastage. Overhead line electrification wastes least because fewer intermediate transfers or conversions are involved. Given the low energy storage density of batteries and hydrogen it is no surprise that TDNS recommends batteries for only 5% and batteries only 9% of unelectrified routes. (For references see Railfuture submission below.)

Northern Sparks and TDNS surely provide the basis of a rolling programme in the North.

Modal shift and the Calder Valley Line

Rail is already low-carbon compared with other modes, and overhead electrification will increase this advantage. Whilst the road, air and marine transport are still working on solutions to decarbonisation at least a modest start can be made by encouraging modal transfer to rail. Whilst our Calder Valley Line is waiting for electrification there are opportunities for decarbonisation by services particularly by increasing frequency over at present underused route through Brighouse (with a new station expected at Elland in the next two years).

The Railfuture submission (appended) lists some possibilities for the CV Line focussed on the Brighouse and Elland route. Calderdale, Kirklees, Wakefield network:

From Preston/East Lancs/Calderdale via Brighouse, and from Manchester via Stalybridge to Huddersfield, Wakefield, Castleford and York; including links via routes crossing at Elland/Brighouse between Bradford, Calderdale, Huddersfield and Leeds, where greater frequency is required;

  • New/increased services could include some of the following –
  • New service Preston-Wakefield-Castleford-York (additional to existing Blackpool-Bradford-York)
  • Huddersfield-Castleford service extended to Pontefract/Knottingley
  • Manchester-Stalybridge-Hud service extended to Wakefield and York
  • Increased frequency upper Calderdale-Brighouse-Leeds/Wakefield connecting into increased frequency Bradford-Huddersfield at Elland/Brighouse
  • New service upper Calderdale-Huddersfield.

The sub-paragraph in bold suggests a “taktfahrplan” approach with half-hourly west-east services connecting into half-hourly north-south services at Elland/Brighouse. Other solutions are possible. We would also like to see services developed along the Preston-Wakefield-York corridor opening new opportunities for rail for to offer low-carbon alternatives, for example for a direct from Calderdale to Wakefield, Castleford and York avoiding Leeds. We refer to the Railfuture submission attached for further points. 

Let’s prioritise Calder Valley enhancement and electrification!

THE Manchester Rail Recovery Task Force (MRRTF) has consulted on tactical options to simplify the timetable through Manchester. The plan is for fewer trains on the Castlefield corridor operating more reliably as passenger levels once again increase – no return to the May 2018 chaos. It’s a plan for the next few years until long-awaited capacity upgrades happen.

Meanwhile West Yorkshire combined authority published its long-term connectivity strategy including radical mass transit proposals and a long-term rail vision.

To all these consultations we say: after the pandemic, railways must repurpose to flourish. People want to travel. City life and city travel will revive. But less commuting and business travel should be an opportunity for public transport to meet an ever-widening range of needs supporting the diversity of human development. Modal transfer to zero-carbon rail, bus and mass-transit will reduce congestion, improve health, [next pageà   à and combat climate crisis. This is what we mean by transport for wellbeing, more relevant to an ever-growing community of passengers making healthy, stress-reducing and green choices for work and leisure.

Our response to the West Yorkshire plan is copied to the new mayor, Tracy Brabin. HADRAG’s priority is improvement to the service on the Calder Valley Line, including decarbonisation through electrification and capacity improvements, delivering benefits in the next 5-10 years. We welcome WYCA’s continuing commitment to “Northern Sparks” – Calder Valley first! – and say:

  • There is an urgent need for structural improvement of the Calder Valley line timetable, and for the new station at Elland. We call for development of new train services over existing routes – for example direct from East Lancs/Calderdale/Kirklees to York via Wakefield and Castleford. Beyond existing lines a reopened Horbury-Crigglestone curve could provide a new semifast service north-south Bradford/Calderdale/north Kirklees-Barnsley-Sheffield.
  • We strongly welcome the mass-transit proposals as a key aspect of a transport-for-wellbeing package extending to Halifax, Elland and Brighouse.
  • If Northern Powerhouse Rail proceeds it must directly benefit communities through which it passes. So we want not only a genuinely central Bradford station, but also NPR stations in Calderdale and Rochdale districts linking with the Calder Valley Line, local buses and active travel routes. But long-term high speed rail projects must not divert resources from improvements to our present rail network that are achievable much sooner. Surely a high-speed line based primarily on city-travel is very pre-Covid thinking.

We welcome proposals in the “by 2025” programme for a passing loop near Hebden Bridge. Track capacity enhancements at Halifax are in longer term options. We ask for these to be brought forward.

Explainer: Mass Transit

So what is mass transit? West Yorkshire’s “Mass Transit Vision 2040”offers four candidate technologies:

Advance bus rapid transit – on street or segregated, rubber tyres on road, 30-50 seats/vehicle, potentially battery or hydrogen powered (remember Harrogate already has battery-electric buses)

Light rail/tram – on streets or segregated, steel wheel on steel rail, 50-80 seats/vehicle, can be discontinuous electrification with batteries. Try it in Manchester or Blackpool.

Tram-train – tram that also shares tracks with big trains. Working in Karlsruhe since 1992, Sheffield-Rotherham since 2018.

Ultra-light rail – mini-tram, 20-30 seats, Coventry system under development.

Solutions selected may vary across the county according to local geography, traffic density, and cost. On present thinking, all vehicles at full capacity could take at least as many people standing as seated – what price social distancing?

Header Image: Florian Fèvre, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

“GBR” Questions

Here it is, “The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail”, and a new brand, Great British Railways. His name hyphenated pointedly onto independent chair Keith Williams’s (ghost-written) magnum opus, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is surely committed to making it work. Since the May 2018 timetable omnishambles, many of us have said a disintegrated railway needs putting back together. GBR will be a guiding, unifying mind, controlling what goes into the timetable. Private train operators (TOCs) will be on contracts, concessions, not franchises. But a managerial frontier will remain between track and train operation, even if the terms of engagement are new.

What about devolution? Who should be in control? Initially GBR is to be based on Network Rail “regions”, large north-south oriented structures like Eastern (spanning Southend and Berwick-upon-Tweed) and North West & Central (London to Carlisle). Each region encompasses several locally managed “routes” (really areas). A couple of years ago we heard talk of the Northern TOC being split into east and west halves lined up Network Rail north-east and north-west “routes”. The rumour was denied. The white paper promises engagement with regional bodies. So Transport for the North (TfN), planning strategic transport and engaging with a rail network that spans the Pennines, will have to work, at least at first, with two separate GBR regions/routes and possibly still separate TOCs. The white paper does say that, come Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) – however that turns out – there might be a cross-North organisational unit. We say such integration should happen from the start. Why have another reorganisation later?

There is a 2-hour gap late at night in services back from Manchester calling at Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge. Two trains fly through non-stop. We asked for stops to be added, surely a minor operational inconvenience with the benefit of getting people home. The gap remains.

Will Great British Railways help bridge these gaps? Tell us what you think! – JSW

May 2022 and beyond: HADRAG responds to Northern plan… and calls for Taktfahrplan Calder Valley!

Is it stopping? Most of the day only half of trains through Sowerby Bridge stop. We think they all should. And we want a better deal for the Brighouse line. (So what’s new?)

Northern, along with other train companies across the region has published draft timetables for May next year. But their draft for next year shows limited changes for Calder Valley line – where the present timetable is set to carry on, pretty much, warts and all. But big changes are expected in December 2022 resulting from the task force consultation earlier this. It seems “Option B+” is to be adopted. We expect to keep our hourly service to Chester, are still going to be kept waiting for trains to south the of Manchester and the airport.

We have taken the opportunity to a call for a Swiss-style “taktfahrplan” or fixed, even-interval with connections between different routes giving predictable regular connections between. For example a half-hourly upper Calder Valley-Brighouse-Leeds/York service could connect at Brighouse (or Elland) Bradford-Huddersfield trains, something that’s never quite worked in the past. Let’s make it work in the future!

Our submission is here. – JSW

Bradford NPR Station Worry

NORTHERN Powerhouse Rail envisions a high- speed rail line through “central” Bradford. Calder Valley line trains would also use the station, no longer having to reverse and do the final leg Bradford-Leeds in ten minutes or less. In March Bradford council revealed a proposal to build the station on the site of council-owned St James’s market. This would be in the middle of a new southern gateway development – but outside the present inner ring road probably a 10 minute walk from today’s city-centre “gateway” at Hall Ings, another five minutes or so from the media museum, Alhambra theatre and markets area.

You could stay on the train and be in Leeds quicker!

In our response to the WY strategy HADRAG, and other groups including Yorkshire Railfuture, have marked this as a serious concern.

Bradford’s NPR ‘Plan on a Page’

Queensbury Lines for Mass Transit?

West Yorkshire’s ambitious 2040 mass-transit vision shows a potential route from Bradford through Queensbury, Illingworth, Ovenden to Halifax, Calderdale Hospital, Elland, Brighouse and back to Bradford via Chain Bar. Interchanges with rail are suggested at Halifax, Elland, Brighouse and Low Moor. An obvious question is could we see trams running through a reopened Queensbury Tunnel and down through Holmfield along the former Great Northern Railway track bed? The initial proposal for reopening the tunnel is a greenway for cycling and walking, linking with the Great Northern Trail. We must surely support such active travel alternatives encouraging healthy as well as zero- carbon commuting and leisure. At the same time there’s an intriguing possibility of using the GNR line whether for some form of tram or advanced, bus down to Dean Clough and on to Halifax train station. Mass transit could be 20 years away so much could change.

Header Image: “Holmfield Station” flickr photo by Alan Burnett shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Hull Cuts Hit Halifax

The May timetable change restored most Calder Valley line services that had been cut during lockdown. But not quite all. The hourly Halifax-Hull services  introduced in December 2019 is for now just one train every two hours. In hours when the Hull train is missing  there is a gap of more than 30 min. in the Halifax pattern towards Leeds. The local service east of Leeds is also affected. We suggested to Northern that it would be better to stop the Hull service until it can be fully restored and instead run hourly Halifax-Selby. Apparently one complication is to do with operation by Hull-based crews and trains. HADRAG is chewing over some other suggestions we might put forward. Long term, wouldn’t it make sense to extend the hourly Hull-Halifax’s through Brighouse to Huddersfield, supplementing the Bradford-Huddersfield shuttle? Any other ideas?

Header Image: “Paragon Duo” flickr photo by JohnGreyTurner shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

White paper step forward on electrification?

Strongest hint yet of a rolling programme. But must we really wait for “feet under table” at Great British Railways?

The government’s Great British Railways white paper says “Transport generates over a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, … the largest emitting sector of the economy. But rail produces around 1% of Great Britain’s transport emissions, despite carrying almost 10% of all passenger miles and nearly 9% of freight moved before the pandemic.” (p88 of the Report)

We say absolutely right. Rail already has the capability to move passenger and goods with net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. “ There are huge opportunities for rail to contribute … through further electrification.” That, at last, is getting close to what we should be hearing. The document continues:

Electrification is likely to be the main way of decarbonising the majority of the network. Electrification does not merely decarbonise existing rail journeys: it has a clear record of attracting new passengers and freight customers to rail, the so called ‘sparks effect’, thereby decarbonising journeys that would otherwise have been by road. The government has announced almost £600 million to start work on electrifying the Trans-Pennine route between Leeds and Manchester, design work to extend electrification to Market Harborough is underway, and the government will announce further electrification projects in England … shortly.

Great British Railways, the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail

That may not be quite a commitment to a rolling programme, but is the nearest we’ve had yet. It’s not absolutely clear if this is a commitment to full electrification of the route through Huddersfield and Stalybridge but it feels like a strong hint. Market Harborough is on the Midland Main Line where, the next step must surely be through to Nottingham Sheffield and on to Leeds. We want to see these commitments firmed up, beyond vague ministerial (indeed prime ministerial) promises to a national programme that includes the March 2015 Northern Sparks task force recommendations headed by our full Calder Valley Line.

Note: “the main way” of decarbonising the majority of the network. We make no apology here for repeating figures showing what the split between electrification, battery power and hydrogen should be – based on Network Rail’s traction decarbonisation network strategy published last autumn. We think the DfT and ministers get this.

The worry is the word “shortly”. Here’s the next bit. You can spot our slight concern here:

Great British Railways will bring forward costed options to decarbonise the whole network to meet the government’s commitment to a net-zero society as part of the 30-year strategy. These plans will help to kickstart innovation and change across the sector, support long-term funding commitments and build on the forthcoming Transport Decarbonisation Plan and Great British Railways will bring forward costed options to decarbonise the whole network to meet the government’s commitment to a net-zero society as part of the 30-year strategy. These plans will help to kickstart innovation and change across the sector, support long-term funding commitments and build on the forthcoming Transport Decarbonisation Plan and Network Rail’s recent Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy.

Great British Railways, the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail

So the new “guiding mind” of our national rail network will offer options with price tags to the government. Meanwhile the DfT’s transport decarbonisation plan is coming soon. And at least the ground-breaking TDNS is acknowledged. But does this mean we have to wait until the still-to-be-appointed chief executive of GBR has established their feet under the table? Surely, Network Rail has schemes that it can be getting on with, and needs to be drawing up a rolling programme now? Yes, we have said it before, but let’s start getting electrification done.

Over and over again rail industry bodies call for ongoing electrification where teams stay together, developing and improving techniques as they move from scheme to scheme. This is network electrification, it reduces the overall costs, and multiplies the benefits as it cuts the number of non-electric trains operating “under the wires”. In Scotland all four routes between Edinburgh and Glasgow are electrified and there’s a plan to electrify all but the most remote outposts of the rail network. That’s a local example of good practice for the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year. Even better would be a plan for the rest of the UK to catch up with Scotland.

Neighbouring schemes have mutual benefits – like the Calder Valley line naturally following on or even getting started in tandem with TransPennine Route Upgrade.

We do not disagree that some routes will have battery or hydrogen powered trains. Batteries and hydrogen are important ways of storing energy – but not the only ones. Storage is essential because the wind does not blow all the time even out at sea where the turbines spin. But hydrogen and battery powered trains may – in terms of track miles needing to be decarbonised – be no more than 15% of the total. The white paper says:

Battery and hydrogen-powered trains will be trialled for passenger routes where conventional electrification is an uneconomic solution, in order to support the government’s ambition to remove diesel-only trains from the network by 2040. Advances in technology, deployment and more appropriate regulation will be instrumental to achieving this in an affordable way, while also minimising disruption to passengers and freight customers.

“Trialled” – is someone admitting here that battery and hydrogen trains have still to be proven? And “diesel-only trains” removed from the network by 2040 – does that mean there will still be diesel bi-modes running, still wasting energy carrying around dead weight, still increasing maintenance costs, still burning carbon? Of course there are schemes under development to take the diesel engines out of electro-diesel bimodes and replace them with batteries – a form of electrification “without wires”, albeit limited. 

And “where conventional electrification is an uneconomic solution” – who decides on the economics? We know that a rolling programme will cut costs of wiring, maybe by a third, maybe even by half.

We also know that electric trains:

  • use less energy to run because overhead wires are the most efficient way of delivering traction energy. So they are cheaper to buy and cheaper to run.
  • are much less complicated than diesels, bi-modes or hydrogen-power meaning they are more reliable and cheaper to maintain.

And electrics deliver business benefits:

  • Lower mass, carrying  more passengers for the same amount of power;
  • Better acceleration reducing journey times even with more stops serving more stations on lines such as the Calder Valley;
  • Attractive to would-be passengers as clean, quiet, more spacious and more modern – and green. That’s the sparks effect mentioned in the white paper.

Now add in the economic benefit of having clean air, safety, roads freed of congestion by having more people using public transport, and saving future generations from climate catastrophe. Surely, then you have the economic case. With a stake in both tracks and trains Great British Railways should put the case effectively.  Grant Shapps must get the message to the Treasury. And readers, please tell your MPs!

Header Image: “Electrification work at Cardiff Central” flickr photo by Dai Lygad shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license