Signs of progress? HADRAG adds comments on December timetable

UPDATING the following piece from our Autumn newsletter we’ll be doing a full report on the December timetable changes shortly. From 10 December Preston-Leeds trains go through to York hourly with fast running east of Leeds. HADRAG supports that. What we can not support is splitting York/Selby-Leeds stopping services from Calder Valley services  at Leeds meaning passengers from stations around Garforth (east Leeds) now have to change at Leeds station to get to work or leisure destinations in Bradford and Calderdale. Northern say they are doing it to reduce delays propagate east and west across Leeds but we think it’s going to annoy a lot of regular passengers (and will require more trains to operate).

There is good news for Halifax-Leeds passengers with a much less uneven “clockface” pattern from Halifax station following retiming of the Huddersfield-Bradford-Leeds train to 23 minutes past the hour (instead of 33) Huddersfield. This deaks with one specific issue mentioned in the piece below. The trains from Huddersfield towards Bradford are now quicker with a better slot in the timetable. Unfortunately this change fouls up the “path” of the Leeds-Bradford-Huddersfield in the other direction, where a total 9 minutes of standing time in Brighouse station and at the signals, results in inflated journey times Bradford/Halifax/Brighouse into Huddersfield. We have told Northern a better solution is needed. And we have once again submitted detailed comments to their managing director David Brown on our concerns, aspirations and priorities covering the December changes, planned enhancements, a better deal for Sowerby Bridge, a decent timetable for the Brighouse line (including Elland station), and potential new services.

But top priority must be a timetable that works for existing passengers, operates reliably and repairs the damage done last May. Northern have acknowledged our submission and promised to respond. Look out for upcoming more detailed blog on this, but meanwhile the following comments from earlier this autumn are still relevant:

“Platform extension works at Calder Valley stations are signs of progress, we hope, towards longer trains, and indeed brand new ones on what we expect to become “Northern Connect” CV services to Manchester Airport, Chester and Liverpool, as well as the existing York-Blackpool route. Long campaigned for by HADRAG, the York-Blackpools now call regularly at Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd. Except that most of them since May have only run between Preston and Leeds. This, let’s be clear, is not a delay to an enhancement but a — temporary — cut to a preexistent service. Whilst we wait an answer as to when the full service will be restored, good news is through running to York now looks to be in the Dec’18 timetable. But with Preston-Blackpool now electrified and a continuing shortage of diesel trains, we worry this really useful service could be turning back at Preston for some time. Serving Blackpool is important — and not just for the revelling hens and stags!

Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd have annoying service gaps. Last train back from Bradford is half an hour earlier than before May and there is a 2-hour gap in evening trains back from Manchester. This hits people who work evenings in the cities as well as those on nights out. It looks like a problem that could be easily solved — by making a few trains stop at “SOW” and “MYT” that currently run non-stop between Halifax and Hebden Bridge. We’ve had our say but again with no clear answer from Northern.

Further ahead, Sowerby Bridge is to be a Northern Connect station. So Northern Connect trains will stop there. Here the unanswered question is “some?” or “all?” Looking at local populations it’s clear Sowerby Bridge serves a potential catchment as big as Hebden

Catching Up and Overtaking

Significant issues with the May 2018 timetable also include some increased journey times and poor clockface patterns. So trains leave Halifax for Leeds at roughly 01, 11, 33 and 43 minutes past the hour. This is far from even-interval (note 22 minute gap) and varies confusingly from hour to hour. Sowerby Bridge has 2 trains/hour to Manchester but the “fast” at “22” catches up with “06” stopper making a mockery of “half-hourly”. The real travesty is the Brighouse-Leeds corridor where the direct service via Dewsbury overtakes the one via Bradford in both directions, effectively cutting the 2 trains/hr on the franchise specification to just one. We are sure Northern do not want to operate a service this bad. We have made our views known and hope they will work with Network Rail to devise a more sensible pattern.

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.

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.