WYCA Also Wants More!

The new Northern franchise is indeed transformational. But we aren’t the only ones saying even more is needed to meet potential travel needs. West Yorkshire Combined Authority oversees the Metro brand in the county. At a recent  transport committee meeting, a report from officials highlighted gaps and areas for improvement, some of them close to HADRAG’s heart. “Adjustments” and smaller changes for discussion with Northern include:

  • Moving to 2 trains/hr at Low Moor
  • Sunday trains Leeds-Dewsbury-Brighouse-Manchester (one of two routes in the city region without a Sunday service);
  • Earlier Sunday trains Hebden Bridge/Brighouse to Leeds.
  • Possibility of starting the Bradford-Manchester Airport service before 2019 (it is actually to start 2017 on Sundays)…

And classed as “enhancements”:

  • WYCA goal of 4 trains/hour between Bradford and Manchester…
  • …with restoration of link between local stations like Walsden and Bradford. We could support that!

A separate report sets out a rail narrative for West Yorkshire. Elland tops the list of new stations listing benefits of connectivity, modal shift, network access and park & ride.


One System Public Transport could yield benefits for Brighouse-Elland corridor

We’re hoping that the city region’s transport strategy could encourage development of the rail corridor through Brighouse and Elland.

The following from HADRAG’s newsletter Halifax & District RAIL VIEWS, Autumn issue (October 2016):

<< Public consultation on West Yorkshire’s 20-year Transport Strategy closed earlier this Autumn. Coordinated by West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) and involving district authorities and the wider Leeds City Region local enterprise partnership, the strategy is written at a “high level” which means there is little detail of specific schemes, but that did not stop HADRAG calling for development of the Elland-Brighouse rail corridor, not just for a proposed city-region metro system but also for faster journeys between Calderdale, Huddersfield, Leeds and beyond.

With a cross-cutting theme of environmental health, wellbeing and inclusion, the five core themes of the Strategy are:

  • Road network — for efficient movement balancing needs of different users.
  • Places to live and work — making cities, towns and neighbourhoods more attractive.
  • One System Public Transport — transformational, connecting different modes.
  • Smart futures — using technology to better plan, manage and improve user experience of transport.
  • Asset management and resilience — involving best use of existing/future transport assets, fitness for future, sustainable, environmentally friendly and cost effective.

Centrepiece of the One System theme is a multimodal mass-transit network encompassing Halifax, Huddersfield, Barnsley, Wakefield, Selby, York, Harrogate, Ilkley and Skipton. “Heavy rail” is the core solution here and specifically emphasised for the Leeds-Bradford-Halifax-Huddersfield/Dewsbury-Leeds corridors. Use could also be made of “tram-train”, light rail or bus rapid-transit. Transfer of some rail routes to tram-train, using both existing train lines and new town and city alignments is seen as a possible means of providing the capacity for rail growth around Leeds station. Part of the idea maybe that if certain services (say from the Harrogate Line) could run tram-style into the city this would release heavy-rail capacity for more services going into or through the main station. Some campaigners may have mixed feelings here.

The first broad policy under the One System theme is to enhance the rail network as the core of an integrated ‘metro-style’ public transport system. Chiming with Rail North objectives, the aim is “to replicate across the city region the quality of rail travel (capacity, frequency, journey times, quality) currently enjoyed by customers using services between Leeds, Bradford Forster Square, Skipton and Ilkley”. These are of course the electrified Airedale and Wharfedale Lines.

And, talking of electrification, West Yorkshire will also press the case with the rail industry for a rolling programme of electrification building on the Trans-Pennine (Huddersfield Line) scheme and prioritising the Calder Valley and Harrogate lines. Still under the general heading of rail network enhancement, the policy promises “solutions to improve connectivity for strategic growth areas”, including Leeds-Bradford airport. New stations mentioned include Elland (as well as Thorpe Park in eastern Leeds).

The hope is that more local trains will be cross-city, continuing through rather than terminating at Leeds. This is seen as more efficient, enabling longer-term growth. Leeds train station will become the Yorkshire Hub (as in a sense it is already) linked to high-speed (HS2) platforms expected in the mid-2030s. The aim, indeed, is to be “high speed ready”, which we take to mean connecting regional links in place before HS2 arrives. (HS2 does seem likely to go ahead!)

On “HS3”, or Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), the Strategy calls for a Leeds-Manchester route with an intermediate hub in West Yorkshire. This is now thought likely to be in Bradford, causing us to speculate about routes and links with existing railways including most obviously the Calder Valley Line. Expect more on this from Transport for the North soon.

Remember, the NPR aim, in about 20 years time, is a 30 minute journey Leeds-Manchester. So let’s hope it’s not still 35 minutes Halifax-Leeds! >>


Adoption Group Wanted for Halifax Station

Northern’s franchise agreement requires them to develop community links. Former individual station adopters have been “let go” in favour of encouraging group adoption. This has caused some unhappiness with the former adopters who used to play a regular voluntary role reporting faults and issues. Moving on, however, Northern is understood to have a budget to work with local groups who would take initiatives to make their stations more attractive. Brighouse, Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd undoubtedly show the way for others, involving local businesses in providing sponsorship for small projects, drawing in schools and community groups. It all helps to make our stations places where people want to go. And it should not be about volunteers taking on jobs (such as cleaning) that are properly done by rail staff or contractors. So what about Halifax? There may be less scope for gardening at our big-town station but more opportunity for other community-led improvements.

If you think you could help run such a group for Halifax station, we’d like to hear from you!


More Awards for Station Groups

In the Bronte Garden, one of numerous excellent information boards celebrates “Gardening at Sowerby Bridge Station”. Another board commemorates Branwell Bronte who worked at the first Sowerby Bridge station, and in front of it an traditional wooden seat has been sponsored by ACORP, the Association of Community Rail Partnerships.

Floral displays, local history displays, artwork from schools, edible plants free to harvest at Todmorden… all products of community involvement make railway stations on our line more welcoming and hence train travel more attractive.

Seven years in a row have FoSBRS, the Friends of Sowerby Bridge Railway Station, scooped awards from Yorkshire in Bloom under the Britain in Bloom banner supported by the Royal Horticultural Society. This year the achievements of friends or partnership groups at no less than three stations in our immediate area have been recognised with awards, with accolades also from ACORP.

This year ACORP’s Community Rail Awards were presented in Southport on 29 September. Sowerby Bridge’s “Station 175” event, held over a weekend in October last year,  received an acclaimed joint third place in the competition for best community engagement event. Station 175 set out to draw in local people, to inform and educate about the impact of the railway on the town. It spotlighted  developments at the station since 1840 including recent projects of FOSBRS. The “175” weekend brought together all age-groups, involved local businesses, received a grant from Calderdale Council and was supported by Northern Rail and Trans Pennine Express. A year on, FoSBRS look to be going from strength to strength.

The Community Rail Awards presentation was the Sowerby Bridge Friends’ second award-collecting outing in a month. FOSBRS had already been decorated by Yorkshire in Bloom with not only a Gold (2 marks short of Platinum) in the Yorkshire Rose Open Spaces 2016 category but also a discretionary tourism award. Plaques in the station subway bear witness to success in this competition every year since 2010.

The Friends of Brighouse Station — dare we call them FOBS? — haven’t been going quite as long as their colleagues at Sowerby Bridge, but scored fantastic early success last year with rewards for spectacular floral colour. This year they are among the winners again, and expressed delight at receiving no less than three awards. Building on success as a new group in 2015, FOBS entered the In Your Neighbourhood section at Yorkshire in Bloom this year, and received not only the highest award Outstanding, but also — and this was a delightful surprise at the awards ceremony in York — a judges’ discretionary award for a small community.

Not to be outdone by Sowerby Bridge, the Brighouse group also went in for the Community Rail (ACORP) awards, and at the Southport event were assessed at the highest level — Gold — for the It’s Your Station competition. Regeneration of  an overgrown “eyesore” patch to what will become an attractive part of the station garden was recognised with third place in the  Small Projects competition.

For indeed why should stations not be gardens?

The Brighouse station friends are chaired by David Bedding, who reminded us that the group only started less than two years ago and said the awards “reflect the tremendous work put in by the whole group,” turning “drab and unloved” Brighouse station into “the clean, vibrant and colourful place it is now.”

Mytholmroyd Station Partnership also saw success again this year with a Yorkshire in Bloom Level 5 Outstanding in the It’s Your Neighbourhood category. At the heart of a community still rebuilding after the Boxing Day flood, the group also received a discretionary community award for dealing with adversity. The Mytholmroyd group recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, and in what sounds to us like a first held, a “twinning” ceremony with the Friends of Bentham Station on the line between Skipton and Lancaster. The hope is that others will be encouraged to form adoption groups for local stations.

Mytholmroyd station is shortly to get a new car park, major investment funded through West Yorkshire Combined Authority from the West Yorkshire Plus Transport Fund. The adoption groups can never replace this kind of investment by the rail businesses and transport agencies, but what the “Friends” and “Partnerships” can do is provide little extras — artwork, culture, horticulture or whatever — that make a big difference.


43 Years of West Yorkshire Station Openings

Kirkstall Forge station opened in June to serve a major business and residential development in the Aire Valley and has an hourly service mainly of  Ilkley trains. It surely goes without saying that this frequency must be increased. The screens  were not working when we called but the ticket machine gave train running information.

Up the valley Apperley Bridge opened last December with half-hourly Bradford Forster Square and Leeds trains, very much a park & ride with a new access road off the A658. It felt like a trek from the village on foot but a full 100-space car park was evidence of success. Apperley Bg has ramped access to the platforms (KLF has lifts).

West Yorkshire new and reopened stations go back 43 years to the opening of Baildon station way back in January 1973, actually a year before WY “Metro” came into being. Two members of the crowd for the first train later became early HADRAG members! Baildon is between Guiseley and Shipley served by half-hourly Ilkley-Bradford electric trains on the Wharfedale Line

Elland next!

Brighouse opened in May 2000 of course. And with Low Moor now under construction we are increasingly optimistic the county’s next new station could be at Elland. 


Making the Case for Better Train Services and More Stations

In May this year in Brighouse HADRAG held possibly its best-ever Annual General Meeting, with speaker David Hoggarth, Director of Rail North and over 30 people in attendance, part of our campaign to get a better train service deal for stations like Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge.

Over summer we updated our paper on development aspirations for the Calder Valley Line, and in October we held an “open committee meeting” in Halifax where the train operator Northern’s regional stakeholder manager John O’Grady gave a presentation to HADRAG members and friends about the company’s franchise promises. John has a background  in journalism having worked as a young reporter on the Brighouse Echo. He still lives in Brighouse so if any Northern employee understands the needs of our line and its users John should! He spoke entertainingly and answered questions with honesty and good humour.

Peak-hour overcrowding on Calderdale-Leeds commuter trains was hottest topic at the Halifax meeting. People who pay the top-rate peak fare are understandably angry when not only can they not get a seat but the train is so crowded that passengers stand nose-to nose, with passengers sometimes left behind at places like New Pudsey. It is equally irksome when a high quality modern train that is about to form an extra service from Bradford to Leeds passes empty through Halifax as you wait for your 25 to 30-year old two-car unit that you know is going to be crammed (see our front page story). Northern  promise to look again at these issues. The situation is not of their making and using the Grand Central train is a good tactic to provide relief. If only it could help Calderdale commuters! The new franchisee knows that we are looking forward to the benefits of brand new rolling stock, more services and new destinations by 2019. But they also know there is anger now about a railway that is victim of its own success.

HADRAG is also continuing to press on what might be termed medium term strategic issues, firstly in the hope that Northern under franchisee Arriva will deliver a better train timetable for more Calder Valley Line stations—not just the so-called principal stops—and secondly for a vision for the second half of the franchise when we hope more services could be developed via the Elland/Brighouse rail corridor.

To recap, we say a long-standing half-promise that all York-Blackpool trains should call at Sowerby Bridge should be redeemed at the next key timetable change which is December 2017.  At the same time we hope the Leeds-Brighouse-Todmorden-Manchester service can be speeded up by making it semi-fast at least west of Todmorden. The aim, with improved rolling stock, should be 50 minutes Brighouse-Manchester Vic. Yes, we hear the argument that you can go from Brighouse to Manchester Piccadilly via Huddersfield in not much more than that time but it means changing trains (and platforms) at Huddersfield and not everybody wants to go to Piccadilly! We also think the “valley bottom service” should run on Sundays—and West Yorkshire Combined Authority agrees with us.

It would also be good if Northern could design its timetable to get a second train each hour stopping at the new Low Moor station (see panel, previous page). Next opportunity after 2017 could be the 2019 timetable with an enhanced “TSR” or minimum Train Service Requirement which means Northern has to run 3 trains/hour between Bradford and Manchester, one of which has to go to Manchester Airport, one to Chester and one to Liverpool. All of these three trains will be Northern Connect services, which means regional express, but existing stops in upper Calderdale and Rochdale district will still have to be covered by the three trains combined.

So when is an express not an express? When it has to meet the TSR for intermediate stations! What HADRAG is saying is we are going to have this new service that is going to use a brand new line round Manchester (the Ordsall Chord) to get to Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport. Why not maximise the benefits of this investment by spreading the new connectivity to as many CVL stations as possible? It does not have to be the Airport train that achieves the headline timing (say 52 minutes) Bradford-Victoria; in fact it makes most sense if the fastest Calder Valley service is the one that goes to Chester, the longest distance. So we say the Airport-Bradford train should serve Sowerby Bridge. And perhaps it should  also serve the new station at Low Moor where there is park & ride and business as well as commuting potential. This means the Airport train must go to Leeds, not just to Bradford, related to another yet-to-be-answered question: how many trains per hour, Halifax-Leeds? The TSR says four (minimum), but the promise at the franchise announcement last December seemed to be five.

And our “Cinderella station”, Mytholmroyd, is about to get a new car park. The village has 2 trains/hr to Leeds and Manchester but misses the 2/hr it had for a time to Halifax and Bradford. Could Northern’s 2019 timetable come to the rescue?

There is an expectation of further service development beyond 2019. With housing and business growth in the lower valley,  Elland station a near certainty, and potential of a fast route to Leeds as well as Huddersfield, Wakefield and beyond, the Brighouse rail corridor is ripe to develop. Don’t forget Brighouse station usage grew by 342% between 2007 and 2015. Along with Sowerby Bridge, the town of Brighouse can justify demanding a lot more from its railway. –JSW


Good news update! Quality commuter train to start from Halifax in bid to relieve overcrowding


UPDATE DECEMBER 2016: Good news of relief for at least some Calderdale-Leeds commuters, thanks to efforts by train operator Northern working with sister company Grand Central.  Halifax is to get an extra weekday morning train to Bradford and Leeds when new timetables start on Monday December 12th. The new Northern service will be formed of a 5-carriage Grand Central train that already comes empty through Halifax to form the 0744 Bradford-Leeds service that has run since July (see our original newsletter story below).

The extra train will start from Halifax at 0728 arriving in Leeds soon after 0805. It should give people a welcome and attractive alternative to the overcrowded 0720 and 0734.These two services (respectively the 0659 from Huddersfield via Brighouse and the 0636 from Manchester via upper Calderdale) were both cut from four carriages to two last summer when Northern had to replan its rolling stock deployment in the wake of a rolling stock “grab” involving three train operating companies. As we understand it decent trains that had been operated by TransPennine Express were reallocated southwards so Chiltern Railway could expand services. This meant some equally decent trains on loan from TPE to Northern in the north-west had to go back to TPE. Which left Northern short. As soon as we heard they were going to run the Grand Central train on a Bradford-Leeds service, HADRAG started pressing Northern to start the service further back along Calder Valley Line. So it’s good news that the proposal, after a period of industry consultation (it seems these things are never a formality), looks to have borne fruit.

Given that Northern’s loss seems to be Chiltern’s gain, we are not sure what the fall-out would be if people on the latter operator’s new service from Oxford to Marylebone had to endure the conditions of our lines Leeds and Manchester commuters.

The new Halifax-Leeds train which will have free wifi, extra legroom and – top-tip! – a first class coach at no extra cost! Although the train starts at Halifax, passengers from Brighouse and upper Calderdale will also benefit indirectly with less crammed conditions on their trains. Hopefully a few people may also transfer from the 0749 from Halifax, a Blackpool-York service that has seen some sardine-can conditions that are surely unacceptable.

We’re under no illusion that this is a complete solution, and nor, we trust, are train operators Northern who are in a seemingly impossible position for peak capacity until new rolling stock arrives. Running as it already does from Bradford, the GC train has built up quite a following is and is fairly full by Bramley; but getting on at Halifax at 0728 you’ll have first choice for a seat. Advertised arrival time in Leeds is 0807 (Tuesday-Friday) but 5 minutes later on Mondays when our train has to cede a path to a freight train going through Leeds. The service is expected to run at least until December 2017.

We could really do with some even more imaginative thinking to help commuters on other crammed services including the aforementioned 0749 from Halifax. Local train operating franchisee Northern (Arriva Rail North Ltd) and the open-access operator Grand Central, who are operate the new train on Northern’s behalf, are of course sister companies under the German-owned (but North East England based) Arriva group. The GC “Class 180” unit that works the extra service to Leeds then operates the mid-morning Grand Central service from Bradford, Halifax and Brighouse to London.

Original story from Autumn 2016 Halifax & District RAIL VIEWS (October): 

Bradford Interchange, weekday morning, about 0740. At platform 1 (left), the 0752 Grand Central (GC) train to London (calling Halifax and Brighouse on the way). Meanwhile on P2 lucky commuters board another GC “Class 180” with its intercity seats, plenteous toilets, free wi-fi, and “operated by Northern” window stickers. This is the 0744 extra train to Leeds, and Northern hires the roomy 5-car “180” (which goes to London later in the morning) from its “sister” Arriva company. It’s a tactic that responds to a rolling stock shortage and peak-hour overcrowding that’s marred the first six months of the new Northern (Arriva Rail North) train operating franchise.

In July the TransPennine Express franchise lost some good modern trains down south to Chiltern under the Department for Transport’s “let the market decide” rolling stock policy. Northern had to return some other nice carriages that it was using on  services in the North West back to TPE, requiring to major train replanning to cope.

On our line the two Leeds commuter trains at 0720 and 0734 from Halifax have been cut from four carriages to two. The 0734 now sees intolerable crush-loading between Bradford and Leeds, as does the following 0749 from Halifax, a Blackpool-York train which should be 3-car (but sometimes is only two). Here’s one of many comments from a HADRAG regular on the 0749:

“Three carriages but horrendous today. Stood up all way to Leeds… 22 standing in my carriage from Halifax… everybody managed to get on at Bradford but we were then full… counted 80 on platform at New Pudsey and very few managed to squeeze on… one bloke running along [platform] desperate. Late at Leeds due to time it takes to get people on and persuade others to give up trying and stand clear of the doors.”

The 0744 Bradford-Leeds “GC train” has developed a following. We’ve seen it quite full by Bramley, but with some seats free and a few “optional standees”. It is limited help for Calderdale passengers. Yet GC’s “empty stock” from depot comes non-stop through Brighouse and Halifax. So, HADRAG suggested, why couldn’t the GC train could pick up on its way or even start further up the Calder Valley? These things are never easy with “pathing” issues and the need to taxi a GC conductor to the right place. But if this nice train could be judiciously timed to start at Brighouse, or maybe even Hebden Bridge, it could spread demand between Halifax and Leeds and ease intolerable crowding on the 0734 and 0749. However they do it,  Northern need more carriages for Calderdale commuters now. We can’t wait till 2019! – JSW

Low Moor, opening soon, also needs more trains

A Manchester-bound Calder Valley Line train makes haste past the building site that will be Low Moor station. Work on the right-hand (Bradford-bound) platform has advanced significantly since this July scene and the station should now open by May next year. Construction was delayed by the discovery of underground features that old plans failed to show — a former mineshaft requiring piling and a concrete cap. After that set-back it was considered prudent to carry out additional surveys in case of any more nasty surprises.

In terms of design quality, the latest new halts are a significant advance on earlier examples (of which Bramley and Walsden come to mind). Note lift shaft awaiting its partner and footbridge over the lines. Yes, the latest lifts are considered reliable enough for an unstaffed station! Recently opened Kirkstall Forge (see panel on next page) in the Aire Valley gives some idea of current style, though the roofed footbridge may be a luxury beyond what is to be lavished on Low Moor.

Still-to-be-finished Low Moor already has a keen “Friends” group (FOLMS) that meets regularly.

Like Kirkstall Forge, Low Moor will open with a basic service of just one local train an hour. It will be the Leeds-Bradford-Halifax-Huddersfield trains that stop, plus Grand Central’s London expresses four times a day each way. Situated in a well-populated part of south Bradford with major employers including the BASF chemical works, the station surely deserves better, with obvious park & ride potential. West Yorkshire Combined Authority wants ways explored of providing the half-hourly service that should be the norm. Along with our colleagues in FOLMS, we wait to see whether Northern will stop more trains at Low Moor at the key December 2017 timetable change. Failing that, as HADRAG argues for Sowerby Bridge, the 2019 timetable could be a good time to get more trains stopping, when an extra train every hour from Bradford to Manchester will link through to the Manchester International Airport.

Farewell, faithful timetable!

Under the new Northern franchise responsibility for producing timetable booklets “passes to the franchisee”. So, from this December timetable, the familiar West Yorkshire Metro A6-size booklets for “Calder Valley Line” and other routes will be replaced by Northern booklets. The all-county combined volume will, we understand, be no more. Avoiding duplication is one thing. But we say Northern needs to improve significantly on its current booklets. At present the company shows York-Blackpool and Leeds-Manchester trains in separate tables, and some local Northern trains on our line are not shown in any Northern booklet at all—that includes  more than half the trains serving Brighouse! Metro officers at West Yorkshire Combined Authority have been working with Northern “to ensure local rail passenger needs are maintained”. The booklet for any route must surely include all operators’ services, meaning Grand Central and the rest as well as Northern itself. We have expressed our concerns with both Northern and WYCA, and await the new booklets with nervous interest. The all-county timetable will be greatly missed by those who travel widely about West Yorkshire. We might even be prepared to pay a cover price for a wider regional volume. How about it?


Support Your Local Booking Office

Paper MetroCards in West Yorkshire are now fully replaced by the smartcards. You can top up your MCard with weekly or monthly travel, based on the MetroCard zonal system, at rail station ticket vending machines (TVMs) across the county. But you have to get your original MCard from a Metro travel centre or Payzone outlet (Payzone charges a fee for the card). It’s a shame the full range of Metro tickets is not available at train stations. We’ve asked why—maybe we just have to wait for a technology update?  Surely Northern should expand rather than cut the range of retail services. On Merseyside there are station ticket offices that are also shops selling food and travel goods. We welcome news that our train company is to increase station staffing, but await details of how this will work — probably “roaming” staff rather than behind a glass screen. All well and good but surely traditional office or modern “shop-style” retailing of tickets and other travel products remains vital at key stations. Counter staff can serve in a way not easily delivered either by TVMs or by roaming colleagues with hand-held devices.

And, we might ask, is it always easy enough to get the correct fare from the machine? We found Manchester fares on the TVM at Bradford Interchange defaulted to the “any permitted route” prices, valid via Leeds, asking a startling £22.70 for an off-peak day return instead of the £12.10 for the direct route via Hebden Bridge. Finding the cheaper fare involved delving further into options on the machine. Booking office staff can also have the resources to help with complex journeys that can be difficult with on-line booking if you don’t know with the system.

Good new on fares is that quite a lot of off-peak prices went down in September. For example Halifax-Manchester off-peak day return via Hebden Bridge is now £9.90 (previously £11.70).

But off-peak day returns within Greater Manchester all went up!


Header Image: flickr photo by Tim Green aka atoach https://flickr.com/photos/atoach/3994240224 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license