Timetables, tickets, and the human “touch”

No-one is surprised that train companies are not printing timetable booklets at present. Nothing is permanent, nothing worth printing. But even pdf timetables can be difficult to find on train company websites. A worrying movement says people can look up times on phones, so there is no need to bring back printed booklets. Wrong. Paper timetables can be browsed in a way that can’t be done on your pocket digital friend. And instead of leaving in ticket offices used by people who already know what time the train is they could be distributed in local shops, cafés, and other community outlets. Station adoption groups could help with distribution.

We also fear ticket offices are about to be run down as more people buy on line or use ticket vending machines (TVMs). But Halifax’s always seems to have customers, and staff can make sure passengers get the right ticket at the right fare. A recent trip up the valley, with queue in booking office, involved more than 20 touches of the TVM screen; this was a railcard return to Todmorden, not Tonypandy!

You can’t beat the human “touch” – even through a glass screen!

Valley Line Partnership Gets Up and Running!

by HADRAG’s Richard Lysons, Calder Valley Line Community Rail Partnership steering group member

Four years ago, at the launch of the Electric Railway Charter at Calderdale Industrial Museum, I expressed my hope that not only would the Calder Valley line be electrified, but it would become a community rail partnership!

Well, after years of patient campaigning, liaison and behind the scenes work by local authority elected officers and officers, the Calder Valley Community Rail Partnership (CRP) has arrived!

The partnership is jointly supported by Calderdale and Rochdale councils. Route covers (for now) the stations in the two boroughs from Mills Hills to Halifax and Brighouse. Market towns, villages and district centres are included as is the planned station at Elland on the Halifax-Huddersfield and Sowerby Bridge-lower Calderdale routes. (Extensions to into Bradford, Leeds and Manchester might be a future possibility.) 

Karen Hornby has recently been appointed rail officer for the partnership. She brings with her over 30 years’ experience of working for Network Rail in the north west. Karen has already started meeting volunteers and station adopters along the route, building working relationships.

The DfT’s community rail strategy aims to provide a voice for the community, promote sustainable and healthy travel, bring communities together and support social and economic development. There are more than 80 community rail partnerships around the country, supported by the Community Rail Network. Railway lines with such a partnership have seen growth in passenger numbers, improvements at stations and socio-economic development.

Red spots are in Calderdale and Rochdale and so are in the CRP area. Elland should join in 2024. Low Moor (Bradford) could join later.

Promoting Green Tourism

There is great potential for the Calder Valley Line partnership to encourage green tourism with the possibility of walking guides, especially using the adjacent Rochdale Canal and Calder & Hebble Navigation.

Many community rail partnerships have line-based artwork and link up to work with young people and disadvantaged groups. In many cases a clear “line identity” has been created with slogans (such as “The Poacher Line”) and printed timetables have been sponsored by the rail partnerships to encourage tourism and greater off-peak travel.

Our friends and colleagues at Community Rail Lancashire are supporting the new partnership and we can learn from their many successful initiatives. HADRAG is represented on the partnership’s Stakeholders’ Group and looks forward to supporting the various projects that are planned. There are huge opportunities to both build on current good practice along the route and start on new initiatives to involve local groups and communities. The Calder Valley Community Rail Partnership’s Prospectus is available to download at Calder Valley Line Partnership Prospectus (rochdale.gov.uk).

Working Together

From Brighouse to Mills Hill, station adoption groups are already doing fantastic work. They all have their own themes, creating diversity along the line. The CRP will take a more regional perspective linking across the Pennines and developing whole-line themes interacting with a wider community. That is not a threat to the station groups’ valuable and continuing work. Long may they thrive! – JSW


Header Image: “Todmorden Station” flickr photo by Tim Green aka atoach https://flickr.com/photos/atoach/51362234511 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Elland Latest

Elland station of course is not just a rail station, but a whole local package.

The access package received planning approval last September. Planning permission for the station is pending with a long list of documents on the planning department website (refs 21/00824/FUL for the station & 21/00017/LAA for the access package).

To reach the elevated platforms users will have a choice of stairs, lifts or ramps. The car park will have  12 blue badge spaces and 15 EV-charge spaces among 100-plus in total. Proposed access between car park and north side platform has been improved.

“FBC” (full business case) milestone should be later this year, with completion of the station in 2024. Network Rail, Northern Trains, and WY Combined Authority are all involved alongside Calderdale and consultants. Our Northern contact is involved in discussions and reports no major cause for concern. Trains on both Bradford-Huddersfield and Wigan-Brighouse-Leeds trains will call.

HADRAG wants to see service frequency doubled. Campaigners were disappointed when Brighouse reopened 22 years ago, Elland having been dropped. Now we see White Rose station moving ahead. So there is frustration that we are still not – quite – there.

Summer Timetable – We Trust Cuts Are Temporary

Northern Trains are to cut the hourly (Monday-Saturday) Halifax-Hull to two-hourly from May. This segment of the Calder Valley line timetable has been 3 trains every 4 hours since January. It could be argued that straight 2-hourly is less confusing for would-be passengers, but it is still the second stage of a two-stage cut. We hope and trust these and other cuts are temporary.

The timetable has been visible on the “RTT” (Real Time Trains) website and on www.nationalrail.co.uk for a couple of months but Northern (prudently) declined to respond to our questions until trains shown on the latter as subject to possible change were confirmed.

Confirmation came in mid-March, along with a note in Northern’s list of services explaining that halving Hull-Halifax trains allows reinstatement of hourly stopping Hull-Bridlington trains. So the Calder Valley’s loss is the Wolds Coast’s gain. Which is understandable but, we would argue, not exactly fair. And, Northern managers told a Railfuture Yorkshire webinar in March, the full pattern would come back. What is not clear is when it will come back.

Meantime, a mess is made of our local timetable, because 3 trains/hour does not mean every 20 minutes. Oh no. In a “full” hour trains from Halifax to Leeds go typically at 05, 17 (Hull train), 38, and 53 (precise times vary). In some hours the 38 is actually about 42 . That means that when the Hull train is missing there is a gap of typically 33 min, sometimes 37 min before the next train to Leeds. So if you turn up at the wrong hour miss the five-past you will likely have more than half an hour to wait. The Halifax-Hull cut also reduces the local service at east Leeds stations to 3 trains every 4 hours.

Bradford-Huddersfield was cut to 2-hourly in January, making it truly a back-and-forth shuttle. If one service misses, there is a minimum 4-hour gap. We have seen that happen. And what use is a 2-hourly service for a town that has potential to serve a population equal to Hebden Bridge and Todmorden combined? Thankfully the hourly Wigan-Brighouse-Leeds service is unaffected, as are Chester/Manchester-Halifax-Leeds and Blackpool-Halifax-York trains.

But the “Tod Curve” service Blackburn-Rochdale-Manchester-Wigan retains annoying gaps about every five hours. In other words three segments of our service remain reduced for the summer – or at least part of it.

Training Backlog Blamed

In the end-of-March update from Northern’s Pete Myers, regional stakeholder manager, wrote:

One look at the cancellation figures  [Northern’s east region 5.44% cancelled for present period (punctuality was nearly 86% within 3 minutes)] will [show] that these are too high. The reason for this is the lack of consistent and available resources (in the most part traincrew). We are not short of drivers or conductors, but in the case of train drivers we do have a gap in training and qualification, which comes from the first months of the pandemic when no training took place. [Training] is a serious issue, and while we have moved mountains in this regard, it is the backlog that drives most of the changes planned. What is not pushing these changes is the number of people using the trains, nor is it an attempt to save money, what it is, is a need to be able to deliver our timetable reliably this summer and to do this we must better use our available resources. There are other reasons for this resource gap, which I won’t go into here, but these are short-term changes that we will reverse as soon as we are able to do so.” The other reasons include an ASLEF ban on drivers’ rest day working which “sadly continues and when coupled to the above training backlog and absence rates it simply further exacerbates the situation ”. Mention of absence rates reminds us that the pandemic is not over. Looking more widely at this May, some other routes are as badly affected as ours. Bradford to Airedale and Wharfedale is cut from half-hourly to hourly. Huddersfield-Wakefield has no trains at all (just a few buses). And there are cuts to the hourly pattern on the two Leeds-Knottingley routes. Sheffield-Gainsborough, a franchise-promised all-day hourly service is just a few morning and teatime trains. Harrogate loses two early morning services and “gains” a 2-hour gap in the evening. Hourly fast extras are very much on the back burner, as are York-Scarborough locals that may in the end be supplied in some form by TransPennine Express.

Still Campaigning for Brighouse, Sowerby Bridge Elland!

RTT goes further ahead than National Rail’s journey planner. Hull-Halifax, Bradford-Huddersfield and Tod Curve cuts now look to continue all summer. We must heed Northern’s warning against using RTT as a reliable predictor. Some future trains may, we suspect, be shown to safeguard paths for future use.   

HADRAG campaigned to get the Brighouse line opened, and saw success in May 2000. We are still waiting for the second station – Elland. Each of Brighouse, future Elland, and present-day Sowerby Bridge serves catchment population as great as Todmorden and Hebden Bridge combined. But the two upper valley towns have a lot more trains. It feels like stations such as Brighouse and services like the “Tod curve” are treated as soft options for temporary cuts whenever there are problems. ORR footfall figures showed Brighouse as fastest growing local CV line stations[1] over a decade 2008-18, +343%, with Sowerby Bridge second on 94%. We say all trains that serve Hebden Bridge should serve Sowerby Bridge. Bradford-Brighouse-Huddersfield should be doubled, as should the east-west “valley bottom” service. The Calder Valley line is really a network, and we see a taktfahrplan approach employing connecting services on the different arms (our ‘Taktfahrplan‘ for example). How about a service from Bradford to Manchester Piccadilly linking our line with Huddersfield-Manchester Piccadilly? That would be while we are waiting – how long?! – for that other yet-to-be delivered promise, a Calder Valley-Manchester Airport hourly service. – JSW


Could Hull-Halifax and Bradford-Huddersfield be combined?

Why do we have separate Hull-Halifax and Bradford-Brighouse-Huddersfield services? Hourly service as specified needs (in terms of train provision):

4 (Hull-Hfx) + 2 (Bradfd-Hud) = 6 units.

This summer will be 2-hourly on both routes so that will need 3. Combining the 2 services so that Hull-Hfx trains continue to Hud and back would require 5 units, saving one.

How about Selby-Bradfd-Hud hourly? That would need 4 units, maintaining frequency Selby-Leeds-Bradford-Hudfd. Selby-Hull would be maintained by TransPennine and Northern’s York-Hull trains. Complications include pathing at Huddersfield and current use of Hull-based train crews. Nothing is ever simple. Could it be worth a try?


[1] In Bradford, Calderdale and Rochdale

HADRAG Responds

Integrated Rail Plan: Select Committee Call for Evidence
Northern and TPE Dec’22/May’23 timetable plans
Halifax Station Gateway

LINKS above will take you to HADRAG responses to recent consultations[1]. It was a busy winter. The Integrated Rail Plan proposed a high speed line from Warrington to Marsden, after which “Northern Powerhouse Rail” would be conventional 3-track, 4-track and a final 8 miles of just 2 tracks Dewsbury-Leeds. We say we will support NPR if it benefits our area. So how about extending the line from Marsden in a tunnel to Bradford? A station at Elland could serve Calderdale, linking with local trains, buses and mass transit. We say more important and more urgent than high speed rail is improving our existing Calder Valley line service, getting trains across Manchester, and getting the line electrified

Other consultations have included the December 2022 and May’23 timetables, following the Manchester Recovery Task Force reports. We have repeated our concern that the idea of a service from Bradford, Calderdale and Rochdale to Manchester seems to be indefinitely shelved. Yet this was a central promise when Manchester’s “Northern Hub” was first put forward. The Ordsall chord line, opened to a limited Calder Valley service in 2017 now has just one TransPennineExpress (TPE) train every hour. Which looks like a fixed pattern until “Castlefield corridor” capacity through Oxford Road on the way to Piccadilly is improved.

It’s not just that we all want to get to the Airport, a dodgy objective in world that must, to secure a civilised future, transition to zero-carbon. But Calder Valley passengers need better access to the south side of Manchester city for work, higher education, health services, history and culture, the arts, and sports attractions, as well as onward regional and inter-city connections.

As an interim measure we have suggested extension of the Manchester Piccadilly-Huddersfield stopping service to Bradford via Brighouse, benefiting lower rather than upper Calderdale, but providing useful regional links. It would also provide a useful service from stations such as Greenfield, Marsden and Slaithwaite to Calderdale and Bradford for commuting and outdoor leisure.

We have repeated our concerns about the Calder Valley service pattern, not least trains that miss out places like Sowerby Bridge and as well as the need for a better service via Brighouse and Elland.

Halifax station gateway plans should now move towards local planning approval. We have written a generally supportive response to the second consultation. The new building and foot (& cycle?) bridge will transform of the whole area. We have expressed concern at a decision to put the ticket office on the ground floor, OK for people arriving by car but useless for those accessing on foot via the new bridge. We say ticket offices will still be needed in the future and putting them out of the way of half the passengers is unhelpful. Just an idea, but how about combining ticket issuing with general retailing? This has been done stations such as Southport and Liverpool Central for years.             Train operator Northern told us they want the ticket office downstairs so that staff can keep an eye on people going into the toilets.         Understandable. But you couldn’t make it up, could you?


[1] Postal members of HADRAG will be sent paper copies.