Good use for good trains?!

It may be a cast-off from down south but this “319” was given a quality refurbishment and and glossy branding by the previous Northern franchise. 86 of these 4-car trains used to work the Bedford-London-Brighton “Thameslink” route that now has a completely new fleet. 32 are now Northern’s, plus eight more that will have diesels added so they can work on both electric and non-electric routes. Good idea? Maybe. But an electro-diesel “bimode” train working, say, the Windermere branch will also have to run to Manchester Airport using power from the 25kV overhead supply, carrying its diesel engines there and back as energy-wasting dead weight.

Sister company Arriva Trains Wales is also, we hear, to acquire bimodes converted from the same fleet. That still leaves about half of the 319 fleet, looking for good work to do. More electro-diesel conversions in prospect?

Is that what we want in a world where we should be saving energy and combatting climate change?

Meanwhile, TransPennine Express has ordered brand new electric trains to use on Liverpool/Manchester-Scotland services, making redundant a small fleet of modern “Class 350” units, pure electrics built just four years ago. The 350s were going to go to the Midlands, but the new operator of the West Midland train operation has ordered new trains instead. So that’s another 10 good, modern pure electric trains that could be put to good use in the North of England, if only more routes were electrified.

Header Image: “Liverpool & Manchester (101)” flickr photo by Rept0n1x https://flickr.com/photos/121958154@N04/16766158856 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

 

Advertisements

Happy Commuting

“Today,” writes one of our commuters, “The 0807 was late, and therefore extra full. By Bradford it was heaving.” The 0749 Halifax-York should be 3-car but sometimes we get: “Only two carriages. Only just got on at Halifax. Several gave up trying. Delayed as last few tried to squeeze on. Will be standing all way to Leeds…” And more: “Only a handful could get on at New Pudsey – must have left more than 50 on the platform. A bit of swearing too.” No wonder people get angry. A phone picture conveys something of the nightmare. Arriva (Northern) promise 37% more peak capacity with new trains by 2020. But why is a train planned for three carriages at present so often only two? We fear worse before it gets better. Halifax-Leeds passengers at present have the 5-car 0728 using an intercity train hired from Grand Central. This highly successful service was not shown in the draft timetable circulated earlier this year for May 2018, leaving a peak-hour 23 minute gap in Halifax-Leeds departures from 0718 to 0741. In other words a reduction in service.

We made our views known in HADRAG’s response to the draft timetable and specifically asked for the GC train to be kept until all the new stock arrives.

Let’s hope.

Station parking debate

Brighouse station “park & ride”. Most of the cars are there all day — no chance if you set off late. Does every car belong to a rail user?

Hebden Bridge station will soon get 50 per cent more car parking, going up to 127 standard + 4 blue badge bays. Mytholmroyd, currently with no official park & ride, shouldn’t be far behind with an ambitious build, still subject to Network Rail approval, to create 195 + 8 spaces. Mytholmroyd will take £3M from £32.5M of WY+ Transport Fund money allocated to West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s initial programme of a dozen stations across the county due to be complete by 2019.

Sowerby Bridge had its car park doubled in size about five years ago, but now on weekdays its 105 or so spaces are nearly all taken by 07.30. Brighouse has a bigger problem with just 64 spaces. Calderdale Council’s transport working group (on which HADRAG’s Chair is a coopted member) discusses station parking and there’s local pressure on West Yorkshire Combined Authority to include more of our stations in future plans. Land could be available at Sowerby Bridge. Brighouse is more difficult. The former dairy site next to the station was sold off commercially by its private owners and is now an office development: in effect WYCA (Metro) was outbid. Future station car parks could be two or more storeys. That would reduce land-take but could be disruptive to build over the existing facility. At Brighouse another issue has been non-passengers parking in the station car park to walk into town, not noticing “rail users only” signs. Station car parks are run by the train companies or their contractors. We have heard of genuine rail users being fined for parking outside the marked bays (perhaps in frustration), but it would seem non-passengers abusing the facility are a more difficult nut to crack.

So what do you do if you want to park at the station and use the train, say mid-morning, but find the car-park full? Many would-be rail users will simply not bother and complete the journey by car. A lot of us have done just that. And it does seem unfair that station parking is effectively unavailable for work, business and leisure travellers setting off later in the day. Most Northern Rail car parks in West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester are free, whilst in other parts of the country – though not all! – charging is the norm. Should West Yorkshire drop its policy of having free train station parking? That would surely cause resentment. Would it not lead some commuters, already jaded by overcrowded trains, to drive to work?

HADRAG’s friend Steven Leigh of Mid-Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce is also a coopted member of Calderdale’s transport working group. Steven has suggested stations might have more than one category of parking, maybe with some restricted-time (but free) spaces and maybe some at premium rate for people who want to travel later in the day. Steven emphasises it’s just an idea. But what if a train ticket plus premium parking ticket is more than you are prepared to spend? And if travelling on business you might be just as prepared to pay for a taxi to the station. It’s a real conundrum and no doubt the debate will continue. What do our readers think?

At Halifax, 30-odd spaces, regularly filled before 07.00, are to be moved off the station bridge to ground level as part of town centre Eastern Gateway plans. The plans also include a public car park on two levels. So whilst there may not, at least initially, be a lot more free parking for rail users, there will at least be pay-to-park spaces, well connected to a transformed station and providing those “premium” spaces for train users setting off later.

Final point. Taking Sowerby Bridge as an example, the station has an annual footfall (passenger entries & exits) of 392000 (ORR, 2015-16). So that’s roundly 1100 per day or the equivalent of 550 return trips, more than five times the station car park capacity. Applying a similar calculation elsewhere you see that most local station users don’t actually park at the station. They may walk, take the bus, cycle or be dropped off by friends/relatives/partners. Shouldn’t we encourage more of this? How many who park at the station before 0700 live walkably close? Maybe a few — and maybe they have good reasons, like getting up at 0530 to get the train when every minute seems to count in busy lives. Park & ride is a significant part of the mix and we need to keep pressing for more.

First round the chord!

First public train over the Ordsall Chord is scheduled for Sunday 10 December, 0840 from Manchester Victoria to Oxford Road where it will then form the 0857 via the Calder Valley to Leeds. First train westward to Oxford Rd from Halifax will be the 0945. Check timings online at www.nationalrail.co.uk. We hope to meet a few HADRAG members and friends on these first trains!

Weekday service round the Chord starting December 11th will just be the CVL trains, daytime off-peak generally at 18 minutes past from Leeds to Man Vic, Deansgate and Oxford Road stations, returning from Oxford Rd mainly at xx38 (until 1638). It’s a stepping stone to something a lot better. In May 2018 TransPennine Express should start using the new line and Northern Calder Valley trains should run hourly until late night to Piccadilly and the Airport. We don’t know if the Deansgate stop — useful for workplaces, cultural attractions and the tram to Salford Quays — will be made permanent. We hope so, though it wasn’t shown in the May’18 consultation draft timetable.

No digital miracle: more tracks and platforms needed

The Northern Hub project was supposed to include two extra through platforms and tracks at Manchester Piccadilly station. However, ministerial comments in July reinforced fears this may not happen. Apparently the DfT has asked Network Rail to look at using digital signalling to increase capacity instead. It’s true modern train control with signals in the driver’s cab can increase capacity by allowing trains to safely follow at closer headways, but it clearly does not allow a faster train to pass a slower one, or two trains to run in parallel into a station—unless the physical track capacity is provided. Nor can it make commuters get on and off crush-loaded trains any faster. “Going digital” will take years and is no miracle cure. New platforms and tracks at Piccadilly could prove essential for reliable operation of more trains, including Calder Valley trains from Blackburn as well as Bradford going round to the Airport. Not to mention the need for more tracks around Huddersfield and Mirfield to allow more trains via Brighouse and Elland.

Electrification: Don’t take our word for it!

Look at the recent panorama of one of our big northern stations, complete with overhead electric wires. Of six trains in shot, five are diesels. If only more lines in the North were electrified all could be electrics, quieter, more efficient, better for air quality, for the climate and for passengers. Don’t take our word for it; here’s what Network Rail said on its website:

Electrification of the railway allows for faster, greener, more reliable train journeys, improves passenger services and supports economic growth in Britain.

Benefits of electric trains:

  • More capacity for passengers; more seats than diesel trains of the same length
  • Faster than diesel trains: superior braking and acceleration make journey times shorter.
  • Quieter than diesel trains: good news for our lineside neighbours.
  • Better for the environment:… carbon emissions 20 to 35% lower than from diesel trains, and there are no emissions at point of use improving air quality in pollution hotspots such as city centres
  • Lighter. Less maintenance is needed because electric trains cause less wear on the track so the railway is more reliable for passengers.
  • Good for the economy. Faster trains with more seats and better connections with previously hard-to-reach areas improve access to jobs and services, and open up new business opportunities.

Electric trains are better business than diesels because they use simpler technology—cheaper to buy, operate and maintain, offering a self-evidently better passenger experience.

 

Calderdale Council Resolution

“Improvements to Rail Services across the North” -Calderdale Council’s resolution, 21 September 2017

“Council welcomes and endorses the joint statement agreed by Council and business leaders who attended the Transport Summit held in Leeds on 23rd August and in particular supports the calls on Government to:

  • honour in full commitments already given to deliver improvements to rail services across the North, including full electrification, track and signalling improvements on key commuter routes and the upgrade of hub stations, and to remove uncertainty about this at the earliest opportunity;
  • prioritise its manifesto commitment to deliver new west-east rail infrastructure reaching across the North, work with Transport for the North to set out a clear timetable for its delivery in the Autumn Budget, develop an appraisal process to support it, and provide evidence that this timetable will not be adversely affected by decisions to fund other large infrastructure projects elsewhere in the country; and
  • set out a fairer distribution of transport funding -road and rail, revenue and capital – across all regions of the country.
  • More specifically, this Council urges Government to recommit to the full electrification of the Transpennine route and the subsequent electrification of the Calder Valley Line.

Council asks the Chief Executive to write to Chris Grayling MP informing him of our concerns and also to ask our local Members of Parliament to support these representations.”

Header Image: “Halifax Town Hall” flickr photo by david_pics https://flickr.com/photos/dsykes34/5935193450 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Calder Valley sparks!

HADRAG intends to co-opt other groups on either side of the Pennines and lead a “Charter” campaign for a rolling programme of rail electrification across the North of England, starting with our own Calder Valley Line. It’s two and a half years now since the Northern Electrification Task Force (NETF) unveiled its Northern Sparks report. A cross-party group of MPs and local authorities supported by professional expertise, the taskforce ranked full Calder Valley line electrification as top scorer on economic, operational and business criteria.

By “full” Calder Valley line the taskforce meant the route from Leeds/Mirfield to both Manchester and Preston, via both Bradford and Brighouse. The assumption was that the Huddersfield Line from Manchester to Leeds and York would already be done by the end of the decade, a hope dashed in summer 2015, as Network Rail struggled with ongoing work, when that scheme, along with Midland Main Line was paused, and then “unpaused” for two years of replanning.

Then earlier this summer the Government (in the person of Chris Grayling MP, Secretary of State for Transport) announced to Parliament that Midland Main Line electrification from Kettering to Sheffield (once paused, then unpaused) was now cancelled, along with the Windermere Branch. There was nothing definite about the Huddersfield Line or any of the NETF schemes, but subsequent quoted comments cast doubt not only on what is now being called “Trans-Pennine Route Upgrade” (TRU) but on rail electrification generally.

The Department for Transport (DfT) seems to be sold on the idea that the North does not need electrification, or perhaps that it can make do with “discontinuous electrification”. Gaps will be left where electrification is too difficult or disruptive—such as through long stretches of tunnel, or where the overhead wiring is judged unsightly. (Is not the latter laughable given the DfT’s enduring love affair with building multi-lane highways through our green and pleasant landscape?) The gaps can be filled by running “state of the art” bi-mode trains. So the new Midland Main Line will have to invest in electro-diesel trains, electrics with underfloor diesel engines to be inefficiently carted about whilst the train is running “under the wires” as well as electric pick-up gear and transformers that will be equally dead weight whilst the train is running on diesel. Surely that must be bad not just for the environment, but also for business too, as energy, running and maintenance costs increase. The idea of electro diesels is not new, but what is now being built, and more proposed, is a complex train with dual traction systems. For “state of the art” should we read “yet to be fully tested in service”?

We’re not sold on electro-diesel bimodes!

The Windermere branch may get “alternative fuel” trains by early next decade — which sounds like a glimmer of hope for more enlightened thinking.  Because diesels, as we all now know, can never be anything but dirty, century-old technology that manufacturers are struggling to clean up whilst maintaining performance. If we care about air quality in our towns and cities we should care about air quality in our train stations. We hear that diesel buses that comply with the latest environmental standards have difficulty climbing Calderdale hills. Of course there are some significant rail gradients on our cross-Pennine tracks. The TransPennine express franchise is getting some new diesel-hauled coaches for its    Liverpool/Manchester-Middlesbrough/Scarborough routes and electro-diesel bimodes for services going to Newcastle and Edinburgh. Even without full Huddersfield line electrification the diesel power will be doing significant mileage under the wires. It seems such a waste. Looking with an engineering eye at the specifications it is not clear whether these trains will perform as well on diesel power as existing trains    between Manchester,

Huddersfield and Leeds. Power to mass ratio and other factors come in. In short, we’re not sold on electro-diesel bimodes even if the DfT is.  For the record we’ll add without comment here that within days of announcing cancellations of electrification schemes and casting doubt on other infrastructure improvements the government not only announced substantial investment in planning London’s Crossrail 2, but also in its air quality plan reminded us of an existing policy to ban the sale of “conventional” petrol and diesel road vehicles by 2040. (The same policy, dating back at least to 2011, aspires to near-total zero-emission road transport by 2050.) Meanwhile planning of HS2, the ultra-high-speed railway between the North and London divides opinion among transport campaigners, and could end up costing the best part of £100 billion, forges ahead.

We should know the scope of the replanned TransPennine Route Upgrade by early next year. How much electrification it includes we shall see. Perhaps not through Standedge Tunnel, perhaps not anywhere between Stalybridge and Huddersfield. But the TRU (Huddersfield Line) is not just electrification. Track enhancements should increase capacity (as well as speed). HADRAG wants to see tracks restored in the Huddersfield/ Mirfield area to allow a better timetable on our Elland/Brighouse line. Mr Grayling has recently announced £5 million for Network Rail to develop plans for “digital signalling” on the Huddersfield Line. This may not be a miracle cure! (See our Back Page.)

Returning to electrification as such, HADRAG and other groups believe the case remains sound, as sound as it was when NETF drew up its list of 32 schemes, ranging in size from the Calder Valley Line downwards, with 12 recommended for Network Rail’s 2019-24 Control Period — including the top scoring Calder Valley itself. What better place to start a rolling programme of electrification across the North? Our line should be next after the Huddersfield Line. We want to orchestrate a cacophony of calls for that.

A start was made in Halifax Town Hall at September’s full council meeting when Calderdale councillors passed a resolution calling on government to recommit to rail development in the north, to a fair balance of investment across the country and more particularly to Calder Valley electrification. From the public gallery it was pleasing to hear arguments that chime with HADRAG’s view. Issues about the cost and disruption of electrification work were rightly raised, but in the end the resolution had all-party support and no member of the council voted against.

For HADRAG’s part, we understand the argument about the need for smarter electrification. Network Rail is learning the lessons of projects in the West of England and Scotland that have proved far more difficult than anticipated. Those lessons are wasted if we do not persevere with a rolling programme.

If clean technology can be used to allow some sections involving tunnels or other obstacles to be left unwired then, maybe, so be it. Electric trains with energy storage have been tested and will surely be part of the solution. Battery technology is moving ahead driven by renewables and (with in-your-face irony) road transport. But dirty diesels, no. -JSW

See HADRAG’s draft Argument’s for Electrification paper via our website:

www.HADRAG.com

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