All systems go for HADRAG’s meeting in Brighouse

It’s all systems go for HADRAG’s annual meeting in Brighouse on Saturday (14 May’16). Our speaker David Hoggarth, Director of Rail North has confirmed. Start time is 13.00 (1pm) at the Central Methodist Church with an update on HADRAG’s campaign to get a better deal for the Calder Valley’s “Cinderella Line” through Brighouse and Elland that links Halifax and Sowerby bridge with Huddersfield and Mirfield, after which we’ll have David’s talk followed by questions and discussion. All actual and would-be rail users welcome! The meeting will conclude the group’s formal AGM business all of which will be done by 15.30 (3.30pm).

Doors open 12.30 for “light refreshments” (probably tea/coffee and biscuits unless somebody decides to bake a cake).

The weather forecast for Saturday morning in Brighouse looks pretty fair. So why not make a day of it? Take a stroll on the canal bank, seek out the open market, and enjoy brunch in one of the town’s cafes before coming along to the meeting.

Better Rail Deal

The unloved”Pacer”at Brighouse will be gone by 2019.  What will replace it? Great news that under the new Arriva franchise most Calderdale stations will see brand new trains on “Northern Connect”services to York, Blackpool, Liverpool, Chester and Manchester Airport. But it looks like Northern Connect will bypass Brighouse. On the plus side,
Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester stopping trains are expected to be extended to Southport and should get millennium-vintage “Turbostar”trains in 2-3 years time. The promise is that everything not new will be refurbished to top modern quality with free wi-fi, and improved access and toilets. Expect 30 year-old”Sprinters”looking like new-it’s not impossible!

HADRAG, the group that fought to get brighouse station reopened 16 years ago has released a report advocating a better deal. Capacity around Huddersfield and Mirfield prevents new operator Arriva from increasing services along the Brighouse line. But HADRAG says the Manchester trains should be speeded up as”semi-fasts”exploiting Turbostar performance. Longer term we want track authority Network Rail to build in extra capacity as it electrifies the Huddersfield line so that more trains can run through Brighouse to Huddersfield, Mirfield and beyond. HADRAG has always said a fast Brighouse-Mirfield-Leeds train could cut journey time from 35 to 20 minutes. And the Brighouse Line timetable must be designed to include stops at planned Elland station.

Sowerby Bridge also has a good case for more trains. HADRAG argues all York-Blackpool”Northern Connects” should stop there, plus the extra Manchester-Bradford trains due to start in 2019. We believe our ideas are sensible and achievable. And we believe Arriva, Rail North and the other “powers that be”are listening to us.

Brighouse by Train

Weekdays, Brighouse has two Northern trains an hour in each direction over two routes. Leeds-Dewsbury-Brighouse- Rochdale-Manchester “valley bottom” trains run daytime till early evening. Brighouse- Manchester takes an hour. Leeds-Brighouse (via Dewsbury calling most stations in between) takes 30-35 minutes. The slower “semi-circular” Leeds-Bradford-Huddersfield service mainly leaves Leeds at 35 minutes past the hour and (after pausing in Halifax) arrives in Brighouse just under an hour later. Train times in our table are a rough guide: check on line at Best printed timetable for Brighouse trains is Metro’s Calder Valley Line booklet.

The valley bottom service is great for a day out along a line of market towns—Dewsbury, Sowerby Bridge, Hebden, Todmorden—as well as Brighouse itself. There are some famously great pubs and cafés close to the stations. West Yorkshire day rover tickets are still excellent value (currently adult £8, bus and rail, family £12) but watch out for the evening peak trap.

The valley service via Brighouse does not run on Sundays—a missed opportunity to promote local leisure journeys HADRAG says. The new franchise is to increase the 2-hourly Sunday service on the Leeds-Halifax-Huddersfield route to a more useful hourly frequency by the end of 2017. HADRAG, of course, says more is needed.

Brighouse is also of course served by open-access train operator Grand Central (another Arriva company) with four trains daily (including Sundays) to London also serving Wakefield Kirkgate, sometimes Pontefract and Doncaster. Wakefield’s Kirkgate station, recently improved, is a good stop-off for the Hepworth Gallery. Grand Central trains accept most normal rail tickets including West Yorkshire MetroCards and Day Rovers (but sadly not the regional South Pennines Day Ranger). Have a good trip!

Sowerby Bridge: reasonable, achievable demands!

Many of the trains that do not stop at Sowerby Bridge have the same timing Hebden Bridge to Halifax as ones that do stop. The non-stoppers often have a couple of minutes “performance allowance” in the schedule. In theory most if not all could all stop, but don’t because of “performance risk”. This service has to hit time slots over complex junctions at Preston, Leeds and York, so the train operator wants some slack in the timings to meet punctuality targets. We understand that. But in our report we also say the new timetable to be introduced at the end of 2017 could and should be designed so that all the Blackpool-York expresses do serve Sowerby Bridge. This has been half-promised in the past and it’s time to deliver. We also think a few more of these trains could serve Mytholmroyd.

By 2019 there will be an extra train every hour on weekdays between Bradford and Manchester—through to the Airport. We say this should also serve Sowerby Bridge.

These reasonable, achievable proposals would double daytime service frequency at Sowerby Bridge during the week, responding to clear latent demand. ORR figures show passengers at Sowerby Bridge increased by 115% between 2006/7 and 2014/15, beating all other Calder Valley Line stations apart from Brighouse.

A better class of cast-off!

These ScotRail “TurboStar” Class 170 diesel trains built around 15 years ago are a lot more modern than most of what currently runs on the Calder Valley Line.  We hear that they could be taking over Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester-Southport services (along with the Harrogate Line) in a couple of year’s time, displaced by Scotland’s electrification programme. So is this another case of Northern England having to make do with cast-offs, this time from further north rather than down south?

Such a view would be unfair. Arriva promises that, whilst acquiring 281 brand-new carriages, they will refurbish all older units as new. This means modernising, complete with free wi-fi and compliant access, not just any 1999-2005 vintage Turbostars, but also our ancient Class 150s that in their present state really are a step back into the grim
1980s. (That such transformation is possible has been demonstrated by South West Trains with its 30-year old Class 455 electrics.) Our guess is that”150s”will still be running Leeds-Halifax-Huddersfield services in five years time but there is every reason to hope they will look and feel much more like modern trains. They will keep one current advantage
doors part way along the carriage to facilitate quicker boarding and alighting at busy times compared with later”super sprinter”and “express”types. The 170s also have the doors advantage, plus higher power that HADRAG hopes will help improve journey times on the Brighouse-Manchester route.

Of course the really good news for all Calderdale stations apartfrom Brighouse-is that most trains via Bradford and Halifax will become Northern Connect services employing brand new”Civity”Class 195 trains being built in Spain”as we speak”, to quote Northern boss Alex Hynes. We expect the 195s to have all mod cons including tables, leg room and a decent view out of the window!

Enhancements Confirmed

Network Rail has confirmed projects to enable Calder Valley service improvements are programmed for completion over the next three years:

  • Calder Valley (West) already started, due for completion by the end of this year — track renewals, bridge strengthening and signalling work for higher line speed and capacity.
  • Calder Valley (East), on site next March, for commissioning Dec’18 — various track work Hebden Bridge-Bradford for higher line speed. Increased capacity linked to Huddersfield-Bradford resignalling (which we understand goes right up to Hebden Bridge).
  • Bradford Mill Lane Junction capacity — new crossovers to enable more parallel moves and increased services Halifax- Bradford-Leeds. Also due to be commissioned Dec’18.