Electrification: Harrogate leads the way…with buses!

The Electric Railway Charter calls for smart electrification to save time, costs and disruption. Rail needs to catch up as cars and buses go green. Could pioneering bus development set the example? Andrew Whitworth reports from Harrogate.

It’s exasperating that railway electrification in England is going backwards.

Latest news on the delayed Manchester-Leeds-York plans came as an apparent (deliberate?) leak in September. The emphasis was on how difficult it would all be, despite actual proposed electrification seeming to be limited to Leeds-Huddersfield. It’s a different story in Scotland, where the fourth electrified route linking Edinburgh and Glasgow went live in July – and work progresses on the fifth route. The enterprising Scots are also wiring the Stirling to Alloa branch line. Meanwhile,

Wales has approved some innovative electric plans for the Cardiff Valleys lines using battery power to reduce the costs, timescales and disruption of electrification.

In contrast to their lamentable rail electrification policy for England, on the roads our government have set ambitious targets to switch everyone to electric cars (or at least hybrids) by 2040.

The government is also spending money now to promote low emission buses in towns and cities.

Of 13 such schemes approved in 2016, most are hybrid or electric, including a unique plan for Harrogate due to go live imminently.

Harrogate has had two battery buses since 2014, but they can only run for about 7 hours, then need an 8 hour slow charge at the depot.

Now, The Harrogate Bus Company owner Transdev is buying 8 new-generation electric single-deckers. The new battery buses are able to run for a full day, by using fast ‘opportunity charging’ whenever they’re at the bus station, which takes only 6 minutes. This is topped up by an overnight slow charge. Compared to conventional battery buses this system requires fewer vehicles, with smaller batteries -which also saves a lot of weight.

It’s an innovative idea which – together with the flexible approach in Wales, and the stability of the rolling programme that has succeeded in Scotland – must have potential to help get northern railway electrification plans back on track.

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Community Opportunity

Station adoption and partnership groups showcase award-winning heritage, cultural and horticultural activity and wider community involvement. In HADRAG’s core area alone we have BrighouseSowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd — three in a row! A “community rail partnership” for the whole line would support and complement their work, writes Richard Lysons, chair of the Friends of Littleborough Stations (FOLS) and HADRAG committee member.

Community rail lines fit local circumstances and increase involvement, helping to support growth. A Community Rail Partnership (CRP) supports a community rail line. The Penistone Line, Bentham Line and Mid Cheshire Line partnerships are notable examples.

Mid Cheshire CRP (Chester-Northwich-Manchester) joined forces Calder Valley Line volunteers in the highly successful Discover Amazing Women by Rail project. As a result our line now has a quality publication that focusses on people like the Bronte sisters, Anne Lister and Gracie Fields whilst promoting our local destinations, and encouraging rail tourism. A map shows the 29 stations along the line and its branches. Finance for the project came mostly from the Department for Transport’s Designated Community Rail Development Fund.

The Mid Cheshire CRP has been running for over 10 years and benefits from the work of energetic full time officer Sally Buttifant.

The Calder Valley Line is a long and varied route linking Yorkshire, Manchester and East Lancashire. It passes through beautiful scenery and towns of all sizes. Whilst the line is very successful and overcrowded at times, smaller unstaffed stations can be bleak, and at certain times trains are relatively empty. Fares can be a problem: cheap off-peak rover tickets are available in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, but fares soon become unappealing if one dares cross the border by train! Too many of the visitors to Eureka and the Piece Hall, right next to Halifax station, arrive by car, as do visitors to Hebden Bridge.

Along the line several highly successful station friends groups and station partnerships mobilise scores of volunteers who already work hard to improve their station environment and facilities. Some work with schools and youth groups and many are involved such activities as gardening, litter picking and Christmas activities. Some have effective sponsorship schemes with local businesses.

A typical community rail partnership covers a whole line and brings together local authorities, train operators, community groups and businesses, with common aims of promoting and enhancing stations and services, complementing and supporting the voluntary efforts of station groups. CRPs are as varied as the lines they serve. In recent months the Calder Valley Line’s rail services have come in for a lot of criticism. A community rail partnership would not solve problems that the railway itself must address, but research has shown that where such line CRPs exist revenue has risen and so has passenger satisfaction — helping to fill those emptier off-peak trains.

The Calder Valley’s “line identity” has already gained a huge boost from Amazing Women, a project initiated by the Friends of Littleborough Stations. Success was due to the creative partnership of this small friends’ group with the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACORP), Community Rail Lancashire, Women in Community Rail and Mid Cheshire CRP. Without professionals experienced in community rail and rail tourism, the women’s history project would not have happened.

The Calder Valley Line lends itself to green, niche and alternative tourism, following the Rochdale Canal and other waterways along its routes with rich opportunities for station-to-station walks, cycle trips — urban and rural exploration and potential access for all. There are historic cinemas in Elland, Hebden Bridge and Leeds; unusual music venues; even more links with amazing people (women and men!) and a large number of art galleries, museums and historic houses. [Some of us think every station should be an art gallery— Ed.] There are all sorts of possibilities for trails and days out exploring these themes.

Officers at Calderdale and Rochdale councils are discussing a possible CRP for the Calder Valley Line. Watch this space!

More Information

Rail Partnerships

Local Station Groups

 

Timetable must work for all

On 20th May the railway introduced major timetable changes that simply did not work. By the end of 2017 it had dawned on the railway that Bolton line electrification was not going to be ready in time. So diesels would have to be kept on the route leaving a shortage elsewhere. We gather Northern wanted the whole timetable change postponed but was refused because other operators wanted to go ahead. Which still meant major replanning at impossibly short notice. Not only were upgrades such as Calder Valley trains to Manchester Airport deferred (again), but also existing services were damaged (see Back Page). An interim report by official regulator ORR (Office of Road and Rail) blames all — train companies, Network Rail, Government and ORR — for failures to anticipate, plan, or question assurances based on optimistic assumptions. HADRAG sent submissions to the ORR consultation, and to the House of Commons Transport Committee. We gave examples of how our services were hit. And we make the point that instead of Northern, TransPennine Express, and Network Rail having their own train planners (timetablers) it might be better to have one joint office planning a timetable across the North that actually works. Works, that is, not just for the minority of passengers heading for the Airport, but for all who depend on lines like ours everyday for work, business and civilised leisure.

Amid the timetable chaos Adam Timewell, commercial franchise manager at Rail North Partnership (Transport for the North + Department for Transport) who was to have spoken at HADRAG’s June AGM, had to send apologies. We were massively grateful to Calderdale member of WYCA’s Transport Committee Cllr Dan Sutherland, and to Richard Crabtree from the WYCA rail office for joining our discussion at short notice. We’ve been engaging with WYCA on the recent Elland station consultation. We have met officers on our priorities and aspirations for service improvement and development.

And we shall continue to take up the issues with Rail North Partnership.