Down At The Station

The new franchise under Arriva promises a quiet revolution on stations across the North with a return of human railway resources to halts that have been unstaffed for years. Many stations will be branded “Northern Connect” after the new network of express trains serving them. Northern Connect stations should have staff presence from 06.00 till 22.00 every day, plus catering facilities and that 21st Century necessity free wi-fi. It has been pointed out by at least one HADRAG member that “catering facilities” could in some cases just mean a vending machine – cynical or what?

Four Calderdale stations will be Northern Connect. Three of them already have catering. Halifax already has its “Cafexpress” café-shop, Hebden Bridge its “Coffee Station” and Sowerby Bridge of course the justly famous Jubilee Refreshment Rooms. Todmorden did have a vending machine for a time.

Staffing until 2200 will mean extended hours for all of these stations compared with what they have now. Of the four designated stations only Sowerby Bridge does not already have a booking office but its platforms are usually staffed at peak times by the now familiar revenue protection staff in their hi-viz jackets. Indeed we wonder whether the new staffing will be not so much people sitting in offices as roaming the platforms giving help and advice as well as selling tickets. We are also likely to see a lot more ticket vending machines (TVMs) and maybe “virtual ticket offices” a bit like the “smart wall” recently installed on the concourse at Harrogate.

Brighouse and Mytholmroyd will not be Northern Connect Stations, even though it seems from what we can deduce about service patterns that Mytholmroyd at least will have some Northern Connect services. Both will, however, have rail staff around for part of the day. We shall see whether they also get TVMs. The question arises what form of accommodation will be provided for staff. A traditional booking office may be inappropriate where stations have several entrances and platforms are connected by indirect pedestrian routes using nearby roads. Again there seems to be a logic favouring roaming staff – but they still need a base, shelter and restroom. One “size” is unlikely to fit all. At Sowerby Bridge, could railway staff make use of the Jubilee’s excellent refreshment and restroom facilities?

Sowerby Bridge is complicated by having two entrances, though in a different way to Mytholmroyd. Neither station has a single convenient place for a ticket office. Brighouse has four entrances. But it does have the wonderful Station Café, not quite on the station but just a minute round the corner in Gooder Lane, and already in a positive relationship with that other Arriva brand, Grand Central.

The lack of direct pedestrian links across the line also arises with the new car park at Mytholmroyd, which is planned and hopefully should be ready in 2017. Returning commuters from Leeds who have parked next to the eastbound platform will have a long walk round in the evening back to their cars – they already do but it will be even further! Locations like Hebden Bridge, Sowerby Bridge and even Halifax will always be more physically convenient for park and ride – but their car parks are often full!

The big new car park at Mytholmroyd may make more people ask whether their station should actually be served by more trains. That will not be easy to achieve given the need to strike a balance between serving the village community and providing a attractively frequent and fast inter-urban service.

Back in the physical here and now (rather than the speculative future) a recent innovation at Halifax aims to improve safety for ever-increasing crowds. Signs have gone up exhorting people to keep left on the stairway between footbridge and platforms which should mean less bumping into each other. It’s still easy to not notice and go the wrong way if you are running for a train of course. A central handrail might be a further help.

We continue to ask for progress on HADRAG’s oft-repeated suggestion to reduce crowding on the narrowest part of the platform near the automatic sliding doors. Polite signs and yellow hatching on the floor would encourage passengers to move along, improving safety, aiding door operation and promoting faster boarding and alighting when the train comes in.

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Performance and Infrastructure Worries

The next November 2015 downpour is about to start as the Manchester-Leeds train heads towards Mytholmroyd. Recent weather, rail conditions, floods and landslips played havoc with our service recently, not helped by a timetable that is barely fit for purpose. Our trains have miniscule turn-round times at Manchester and Leeds so if a train is delayed going one way it has little chance of setting off back on time. Arriva say they have tough targets and will design a robust timetable. But not even German efficiency can instantly improve the British weather in a grimly changing climate.

Our line needs infrastructure upgrades to cope with more trains including freight. The scene in the picture was once four-track, a place where fast trains could pass slower ones. Before restoration of loops is even considered Network Rail has to complete linespeed and capacity improvements all the way from Manchester to Bradford. These improvements are needed to support the faster and more frequent service planned by 2019. The DfT has promised us that work will start on the ground in January 2016. But this is the “west” work around Rochdale. The Hendy Review of Network Rail projects is now out, but it is still unclear whether Hebden Bridge-Bradford capacity and linespeed, and capacity improvements at Bradford will be sorted by the end of “CP5”, the 2014-19 control period. It is also rumoured that construction of extra through platforms at Manchester Piccadilly – on the route to be used by our Manchester Airport services – will be delayed into CP6 (2019-24).

The works at our end of the CVL are vital if the franchise is to deliver what is promised. We hope to have a further update in our next newsletter.

Unsere Deutsche Bahn!

Our German railway! Because whatever a Northern train looks like in April 2016 or December 2019, it will likely say something like “Part of Arriva – a DB company”. You might possibly have seen that on our nice Grand Central trains that take us to London in such a (usually) trouble-free way. GC is another Arriva operation. And Arriva is a commercial subsidiary of (DB), the German state-owned railway. So pretty well all trains through Halifax and Brighouse will soon be part of “Our German railway”.

DB, through Arriva, is well established in UK passenger transport, mainly as a result of a series of takeovers. Rail franchises include Arriva Trains Wales and the less overtly branded Cross Country. Then there’s Chiltern Railways, who operate quality services out of London Marylebone to Oxford, Warwickshire and Worcestershire, and run what are surely the best-refurbished Mk 3 coaches. The London Overground concession is an equal partnership of Arriva and MTR Corporation (the latter 76% owned by the Hong Kong Government). Let’s not forget either the Tyne & Wear Metro, or Alliance Rail, younger open-access sibling of Grand Central. Arriva also operate numerous services in 13 other countries across mainland Europe (though interestingly not in Germany itself), so none can say that our new train operator is without experience. Arriva’s UK company HQ is in Sunderland. By the way if you see “DB Schenker” on the side of a red locomotive pulling a freight or engineering train, that’s another offshoot of the very same Deutsche Bahn!

Before the German takeover Arriva Trains North (ATN) ran our trains until the birth of Northern Rail in 2004. ATN had taken over the original north-east franchisee MTL; they refreshed image and marketing but ran into problems with staff and train shortages, and industrial disputes. DB didn’t buy Arriva until 2010; so the new company could be very different. Swerving political comment about foreign state ownership of privatised UK rail operations, we must wait and see whether there will be closer cooperation between corporate cousins Arriva Rail North and Grand Central. Currently Halifax and Brighouse enjoy cheap advance-purchase tickets on GC. Through Advance fares from other Northern stations via Grand Central to London could encourage more people from up the valley to connect with GC for London. Station facilities are already pretty well shared, it would appear.

Header image attribution: flickr photo by 47843 Vulcan https://flickr.com/photos/47843_vulcan/15941574467 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Great news for most – better needed for Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge!

Under two new franchises across the North of England £1.2 billion will be invested in trains, stations and smart ticketing. In total there will be 500 brand new carriages designed for 100mph running on Northern and 125 mph on TransPennine Express (TPE). 40,000 extra seats at peak times are planned to tackle overcrowding.

TPE operates services via Huddersfield, Sheffield, long distance trains linking North East, Yorkshire & Humber, Manchester Airport, Liverpool and Scotland.  Under the new franchise TPE will also cover local stops on the Leeds-Huddersfield-Manchester Line. TPE has been operated by First Group in partnership with French company Keolis for a decade. The new franchise will be First in its own right. Regular travellers on the Huddersfield line know about overcrowding and problems with First TPE’s 3-car trains which although modern and pleasant when there is space, have needed more coaches for years. TPE’s new trains will be longer and go faster and they plan to run to Edinburgh via the East Coast Main Line. First group beat off bids from its former partner Keolis with the Go-Ahead group, and from Stagecoach.

The Northern franchise has been won by German-owned Arriva Rail North (see also our back page piece), seeing off rivals Abellio (Dutch railways – who own 50% of the outgoing Northern Rail) and Govia (another partnership of Go-Ahead + Keolis).

Halifax and Calder Valley Benefits

Arriva is to invest £400 million in more than 280 brand-new carriages formed as 98 trains, a mix of 2, 3 and 4-car units. About 43 trains will be electrics for Airedale, Wharefdale, Leeds-Doncaster and Manchester-Glossop and so on. And 55 will be diesels. In total this is significantly more than the 120 new carriages (maybe about 50 trains in total) demanded by the Invitation to Tender (ITT). Remember the ITT was the Department for Transport (DfT)’s franchise specification. The diesels will be modern 100 mph intercity-style units for use on a new network of express services – Northern Connect – that will include the majority of trains on the Calder Valley Line. Clearly Arriva has agreed with HADRAG that our line is well overdue an injection of new rolling stock.

Northern Connect is perhaps best defined as a network of regular, inter-city standard fast or at least semi-fast services. New service patterns to be introduced over the next four years will give increased frequency on the core Leeds-Bradford-Manchester route. Most CVL services will continue beyond Manchester Victoria to other North West destinations:

  • As required by the ITT, Leeds-CVL-Chester fast/semi-fast trains should – will – start by December 2017;
  • Also in the ITT, Calder Valley-Manchester Airport trains (fast/semi-fast) are due by Dec’2019 when an additional Bradford-Manchester train will increase from will run each hour;
  • Extras planned by Arriva include through services between our line and Liverpool (probably fast/semi-fast) and also Southport via Wigan (probably a stopper).

Stopping patterns are not yet completely clear, but all of the above except for the Southport will become Northern Connect routes, operated by the new trains, by 2019. The aim is a best time of 50 minutes Bradford-Manchester. It can’t all happen overnight on 1 April 2016!

Our popular York-Blackpool service will also become Northern Connect, with new trains.

Adding in the Brighouse Line gives, by 2019, 5 trains/hour between upper Calderdale and Leeds, and also 5 trains/hour between Halifax and Leeds. There will be earlier trains on the Halifax-Huddersfield Line through Brighouse. More evening services are promised: let’s hope they run late enough for people to enjoy a reasonably civilised night out in either Leeds or Manchester. There are questions still to be answered here. Could there for example be night time trains to/from Manchester Airport as there are already on the TPE Huddersfield Line? It looks like the answer to that, for now, is no.

The Chester service will run on Sundays and Bradford-Manchester Sunday frequency will increase from hourly at present to half-hourly.

Sowerby Bridge Also Needs More Trains

We also think Sowerby Bridge needs an increase in its present service. This is a well-used station where passengers are frustrated by trains that go through fast. The recently enlarged car-park is often full by 07.30 (just like at Brighouse). The station serves not just Sowerby Bridge town but the large urban area of south-west Halifax plus the leafy Ryburn Valley. Copley Valley housing and business development will generate new demand. We are asking Arriva for more trains to stop, including:

  • all York-Blackpool trains;
  • the additional Bradford-Manchester trains each hour that are to be introduced in 2019.

The above would almost double the number of trains. We hope we are pushing at an open door because it Sowerby Bridge to be one of four Calderdale stations to be designated “Northern Connect” – see our Down at the Station feature.

Elland Station

EllandStationSiteSJW
Site of Elland Station (SJW)

We have reminded Arriva not to forget about Elland. Their timetable must include allowance for trains to stop. Also somebody needs to find the £10M or so needed for construction. At least from this view of the Lowfields site it looks like the station may already have a café!

Fares and Subsides — Should We Worry?

The Government boasts that the new franchise does more for less. They think the present level of subsidy to Northern Rail is excessive – something we could argue with given the amount of DfT support given, for example, to Transport for London. So Arriva are expected to reduce the amount of subsidy required to top up fares income, cover costs (and, since they are a private company, make a profit). That may be a good deal for “the taxpayer” and the Government’s fiscal plans but what about passengers who pay fares (as well as taxes)? It is clear that with new trains, longer trains, more frequent services and lots more staff on stations Arriva Trains North is going to have bigger outgoings than Northern Rail did.

So won’t fares have to go up? Apparently not, says the government. The additional costs are expected to be covered by growth in traffic. It sounds like something rail campaigners were saying years ago. Provide a decent service, encourage more passengers, and the improvements will pay for themselves.

But there are lots of questions still to be answered.

Header image attribution:  flickr photo by tj.blackwell https://flickr.com/photos/tjblackwell/830433088 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Arriva for Northern and First hold on to TransPennine Express

Just when we thought it was safe to have a lie-in, a glance at the phone gave the alert. White smoke from the Department for Transport (DfT) revealed Arriva Rail North Ltd in line for the Northern train operating franchise. TransPennine Express will stay with First group.

It’s a year since we put our views to the Arriva team, who impressed us as good listeners. Campaigners had already demanded (against an originally disappointing DfT prospectus) train services comparable with what London and the home countries enjoy. The result was a reasonably expansionist specification (the “ITT”) that it’s clear Arriva now intend to deliver well beyond.

With the worrying proviso that Network Rail has to complete infrastructure enhancements on time, four years from now, our line will be part of the Northern Connect express network, with regular trains to Liverpool, Chester and Manchester Airport as well as Blackpool, Preston and York. Halifax should have 5 trains/hour to Leeds, plus an extra train each daytime hour Bradford-Manchester with journey times reduced by at least 10 per cent. Stations will have a new staff presence. Sunday services will be increased. And there will be significant additional rolling stock both new and refurbished to reduce commuter overcrowding.

Will it be enough? We are disappointed at how little is proposed for the Brighouse Line. We don’t blame Arriva for this but we want more to be done. And we say Sowerby Bridge should be served by all Blackpool-York trains and by the extra Manchesters to be introduced in 2019.

HADRAG’s work continues

Header image attribution: By Geof Sheppard (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Northern Fares: Still Fairly Unfair?

Not so long ago a HADRAG member starting in Halifax needed to spend the morning in Selby before travelling to Todmorden for an evening of singing. The off-peak day return from Halifax to Selby is £17.20, but for travel before 0930 the price goes up to £19.90. By coincidence if you were in London the same £17.20 would buy an Anytime Day Travelcard Zones 1-6; that is a ticket valid throughout Greater London, all day on train and Tube not to mention bus and tram. For off-peak travel the day Travelcard costs just £12.10. On an Oyster smartcard the effective price comes down to £11.80 – that’s Anytime not Off-peak. (Fares quoted are 2016 rates from National Rail/TfL online 15/12/15.)

Our Halifax rail user had to go to Todmorden after his morning in Selby. So to save money he bought a single from Halifax to Micklefield (the WY boundary) to travel in the morning peak (£5.40), plus a day return Micklefield-Selby (£6.20), plus a WY train+bus day rover (£7.90) to complete the day’s travel (skilfully avoiding the teatime-peak trap on the Tod trip!). Total £19.50 – less than the peak-time return just for Halifax-Selby and still more than a day’s travel in London. So who says fares are cheaper in the North?

Note that fares within West Yorkshire are cheaper than outside the boundary. But anomalies remain. Remember our good news story a year ago about fares from upper Calderdale to Huddersfield being reduced? After reminders from HADRAG, Northern has dealt with further anomalies so Halifax-Huddersfield is now actually a bit cheaper than the longer journey from Sowerby Bridge. But Halifax-Huddersfield (£4.70 anytime return, £4.30 off-peak or £3.10 one-way) is still quite a bit more than Halifax-Bradford (£3.90, £3.60 or £2.70). The higher fares are for a journey of little greater distance, but half as fast and with a quarter of the service frequency. Forgive the pun, but fares fair? We think not.

We can’t wait for smart ticketing London-style across Rail North. But let’s hope we get the fare deals – and fair deals – to match.

Header image attribution: flickr photo by underclasscameraman https://flickr.com/photos/underclasscameraman/3464921345 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license