Mytholmroyd (in picture) and Sowerby Bridge should be getting all York-Blackpool trains stopping when the May 2018 timetable plan is implemented (which may not be May 2018!). Worryingly, however, both stations were threatened in the draft timetable with losing Sunday services to/from Manchester as well as late night trains back in the week—unintended consequences of the service specification in the franchise agreement. We are more hopeful Sowerby Bridge will see improvement by December 2019 when the “Northern Connect” regional express brand is launched. Sowerby Bridge is to be an NC-designated station, and we are told all NC trains should stop there even though this would go beyond the franchise specification. We’ve asked Northern to clarify their intentions and we’ll let you know!
Northern Connect stations will also get “full staffing”, which is starting to sound something like a proper booking office. Mytholmroyd and Brighouse are meant to get for partial staffing, the meaning of which will doubtless become clear. When its big new car park is complete Northern may discover that Mytholmroyd needs more trains! Brighouse certainly deserves better.
The modern canopy at Manchester Vic is no preparation for platforms where some commuters complain of dirt and diesel fumes. Of the canopy: “Looks great,” emailed one of our commuters, “Although I can see that it isn’t getting cleaned. But Platforms 3 to 6 under the Arena are pretty grim. It might help if they cleaned the lights but there is so much dirt and diesel fumes around the bridge that it’s unpleasant to cross over above the platforms and possibly a health hazard. I have seen several people hold scarves over their faces presumably to avoid breathing in the muck in the air. The other day one woman suggested that people should complain and demand air quality tests. To avoid the smog you can walk to the east end of the platforms where there’s an open-air, but slightly decrepit footbridge. The air feels more breathable there but it’s not a pretty route. Did they run out of money when they refurbished? It feels like only half a job was done.” Victoria’s dark and dieselly through platforms will be used more and more by CV line passengers when almost all of our trains go through to the Airport, Chester and Southport. Most trains at the now-electrified station are still diesel. Surely the air quality argument strengthens the case for more electrification so we see dirty diesels phased out.
Image: “142036 – Manchester Victoria” flickr photo by Gene Hunt https://flickr.com/photos/raver_mikey/15803930143 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
Good to celebrate opening of the Ordsall Chord in December, linking Manchester Victoria station with the lines going through Piccadilly. Northern now extends a few Calder Valley trains weekdays (all-day Sundays) round to Deansgate and Oxford Road. It’s a stepping-stone to a full service linking our line with Manchester Airport — soon.
Ordsall was just one aspect of the “Northern Hub”, now seen as part of the Great North Rail Project. Also promised were two extra through platforms (15&16) at Manchester Piccadilly station to improve capacity and performance, creating the physical space for a better timetable for a diverse mix of local, regional, intercity and freight trains — including our trains to the Airport. But we don’t yet know if the Department for Transport will give P15&16 the go-ahead. We say the promise must be kept, the job completed.
Meanwhile, our commuters continue to suffer serious overcrowding on trains that obviously need more carriages. We hear stories of trains unable to shut doors because of the crowds, of tempers raised, passengers taken ill. What is the economic cost of people arriving to work stressed, day-after-day, by these travelling conditions? Brand new trains are coming from later this year. 37% more peak capacity is promised across the Northern franchise by 2020. Can nothing be done before then? And will it be enough? HADRAG has questioned the current programme of taking trains out of service for refurbishment when there is such an obvious shortage of rolling stock. With new stock already displacing old in other parts of the country dare we hope for relief without having to wait yet more years?
Northern expects to reveal its timetable for 20 May early in March. From what we have seen online, we continue to have serious concerns.
Physical evidence of improvement, new lineside objects appear by the Calder Valley railway. No real mystery, this example at Hebden Bridge is one of numerous new signals due to be commissioned this Autumn (though rumoured to be running late). Resignalling will eliminate long “block” sections reducing delays, and allow more trains to run at higher line speeds, cutting journey times.
On the day the Ordsall Chord opened last December, a Calder Valley train from Manchester Oxford Road leaves Deansgate station. Ours is the first service to use the new line, hourly on Sundays and a few trains continuing round the chord during the week. These trains will be extended to Manchester Airport, every hour, early morning till late night, when Northern has enough trains to do it.
The Oxford Rd service calls at Deansgate, useful for workplaces, Castlefield attractions, and trams to Altrincham and MediaCityUK.
But when our trains go on to the Airport it seems they’ll trundle through Deansgate non-stop. The two track section through to Piccadilly is an issue for timetabling. We need those extra platforms at Picc to make room for all the new services round Ordsall and a better timetable for routes across the North.
We hope the DfT has got the message.
Copley viaduct, on the line from Sowerby Bridge to Halifax and Bradford. Lower bridge over the Calder is route of Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester trains that come through Elland and Greetland. By chance both trains in this shot are 30-year old “Class 150” Sprinter types — the ones with cramped 2+3 seating. 150s should be banished from this line, though not from Northern, in less than two years’ time. Northern Connect services crossing the viaduct en route to Blackpool, Chester, Manchester Airport, Leeds and York will be brand new trains now being built in Spain, whilst the “valley bottom service” (soon to be extended to Southport) is expected, in less than a year, to get refurbished millennium-vintage “Turbostars” arriving from Scotland; these will be a lot better than 150s or Pacers or even the “express” 158s — trust us! We hear Northern hope to replace of more of the older units. So maybe things really can get better.
Halifax station should get three new ticket vending machines in the near future as Northern installs more and more of its shiny “smartwalls” across the network. Let’s support our staffed booking offices, expanded maybe to offer a wider range of services. More local and tourist information would be a start. Northern seem to be saying they want to develop the role of the booking office. Stations like Sowerby Bridge — at present unstaffed — could get modular buildings for staff to serve the public.
People still want printed timetables. HADRAG has criticised the current Northern style where you need three separate booklets to find the whole Calder Valley Line service. We understand the plan is for a smaller number of area-based timetables. That could be a step forward.
Image: Sowerby Bridge Station (flickr photo by calflier001 https://flickr.com/photos/calflier001/4605598267 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license)