Staged Wiring for CV Line?

The Integrated Rail Plan proposes electrification Leeds to Bradford Interchange probably without a new Bradford station. A new station would be good of course, if suitably located for the city centre, and to end the need for Calder Valley line trains to reverse. The IRP suggests Bradford-Leeds should come down to about 12 minutes (which could be less with more new line).

But of course what we need is full Calder Valley electrification extending to Halifax, Manchester, East Lancs and Preston. Transport for the North’s rail committee looked at a blueprint in March which included an as yet uncosted proposal to electrify Manchester-Rochdale, along with Manchester-Warrington-Liverpool, under the heading of MNTP schemes (Manchester & NW Transformation Programme). The timeline arrow touches the early 2030s. In Yorkshire, early extensions of Huddersfield line wiring (beyond the IRP promise), through Brighouse towards Halifax, Hebden Bridge and beyond also seem possible (and easier than the many-tunnels section Bradford-Halifax).

So extensions stepwise of existing proposals could eventuate in full CV line electrification. This would amount to a rolling programme for our line. Bi-modes could be an interim solution, batteries (no more diesels, thanks) covering Rochdale or Littleborough to Hebden Bridge and Halifax to Bradford. But in the long term this is a less energy-efficient way of running trains than overhead wires, and with freight traffic as well as passenger, full electrification is what we need, not just for our line but right across the North.

Header Image: “Sunshine After the Rain” flickr photo by sjpowermac shared into the public domain using (CC0)

Back to the Future?

25 per cent carbon cut  – but surely  zero-carbon means 100 per cent less!

Northern is looking to order about 20 new trains with reduced CO2 emissions – possibly to use on Bradford-Huddersfield and Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester-Wigan trains on our line. As we understand it these would be diesel-battery hybrids, similar in design to the Class 195s now used on our York, Leeds, Manchester, Chester and Blackpool trains. We understand they would have diesel engines (that’s right) and electric transmission so energy recovered in electric braking could be used to recharge the batteries. This regenerative braking, coupled perhaps with other efficiency-increasing measures would, it is thought, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 25%.

So this is not zero carbon! A quarter of the way there sounds about as advanced as hybrid cars introduced 20 years ago. Zero-carbon must mean a 100 per cent cut!

The idea seems to be that the trains would run on routes close to the TransPennine Route Upgrade Huddersfield line, which (we are informed by the rail minister) is to be fully electrified. So you would think the trains would be able to run on energy supplied by the overhead, say from Leeds to Mirfield and from Bradley into Huddersfield. From what we have seen so far that seems not to be the case.

Or could the trains be “plug-in hybrids” that can be charged at stations? Or maybe converted later with pantographs to run on overhead electric and charge when under the wires? Hybrids are (as we tried to explain to the rail minister) less energy efficient than pure electrics but could be a step on the way.

What is proposed seems more a case of “back to the future”. But good on Northern for taking what could transformed into a strategic step.

WANTED: more toilets, through-gangways and a better view out of the window!

If Northern are going to order more new trains, shouldn’t the opportunity be taken to improve the passenger experience? If you are sitting at the wrong end of one of the Northern’s new 3-car trains, it’s a  walk through two coaches to reach the loo. That may be adequate for short commuter journeys but with the nature of rail travel changing with a greater proportion of leisure travel by families and elderly people, plenty of toilets should be a must. It’s even more difficult when – as we are now seeing again – trains are getting crowded. Toilet waste that used fall disgustingly onto the track is now retained for disposal later. This means train toilets are complex machines; having only one risks having none in case of failure. We thought Northern might go for an upgrade with the new battery-diesel trains they are looking at. We also thought consideration might be given to providing through gangway connections so that when 2-car or 3-car trains are coupled together both staff (for ticket checking and customer service) and passengers can get from one end to the other. We even thought (maybe this was a long shot) changing the seating layout might be considered giving more passengers the choice of watching the scenery, a time-honoured pleasure of rail travel.

Our understanding is that no such upgrades are intended.

A cost-saving but also, we might argue, a missed opportunity. Class 196 (West Midlands) have end-gangways, and 197s (Wales) also have 2 toilets in units of more than 2 carriages. The Northern, WMR and TfW trains are all built by CAF.

Header Image: “195120/002 at Hebden Bridge 28/07/20” flickr photo by Aaron 56125 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Electric Railway Charter: Keeping Up The Campaign

Here is the latest Electric Railway Charter letter to government. Wendy Morton MP and Andrew Stephenson MP are ministers of state at the DfT. Morton is the rail minister; Stephenson has responsibilities including HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail, and TransPennine Route Upgrade. He is also a northern MP. So we thought we’d write to both! We copied in local MPs and the opposition shadow Louise Haigh MP. A reply, from Morton, came very quickly by government department standards. (See next page and

We wanted to remind politicians who might have forgotten (or not been told) about the Northern Sparks report that gave top ranking to our full line, to note the inadequacy of IRP proposals to electrify Leeds to Bradford with no plan to extend beyond, and whilst accepting alternative fuels such as hydrogen will have a role, not for busy routes like ours that carry a mix of fast and stopping passenger trains and freight. And we shared our arrow diagrams comparing efficiencies.

Dear Wendy Morton MP and Andrew Stephenson MP,

As you may be aware, the Electric Railway Charter is a campaign founded four years ago by rail user groups on the Calder Valley Line (CVL) with Yorkshire & NW branches of Railfuture. We seek implementation of the all-party “Northern Sparks” Northern Electrification Task Force (NETF) report (March 2015) and Network Rail’s Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy (TDNS, 2020). (References at end.)

Northern Sparks gave the full CVL top-ranking in an initial 5-year plan of 12 schemes.[1] Panel (right) shows these schemes in order of economic, business and environmental scores. The more recent promise (Integrated Rail Plan) to electrify Leeds-Bradford is welcome. But it only makes sense as part of a plan to wire the whole route. Almost no trains terminate at Bradford.

Rail Industry Association (RIA) has shown that a wider rolling programme could cut electrification costs by 30%-50%. Disappointingly, the recent Integrated Rail Plan does not include a rolling programme of electrification.

Full electrification of the strategic Calder Valley line would join the Bradford and Brighouse routes via Rochdale to Manchester and via East Lancs to Preston. The scheme would link other electrified railways including the now approved Huddersfield TransPennine route[2].

The Northern Sparks taskforce reported to Patrick McLoughlin MP (now in the House of Lords) when he was Secretary of State for Transport. Lord McLoughlin is now Chair of Transport for the North (TfN). We hope that the Government will work bodies such as TfN to build on the plans already announced. We need a rolling programme of electrification, essential to efficiently decarbonise rail over the next 20 years. 

We urge great caution over hydrogen-fuelled trains or widespread batteries instead of full wiring: TDNS suggested around 85% of non-electrified routes need to be electrified.

  • Electrification is essential to decarbonise heavy freight.
  • Of course long remote routes with low frequencies may be converted to hydrogen. This must be genuine “green hydrogen” made by electrolysis using electricity from renewables. But hydrogen gas has insufficient energy density for frequent passenger and heavy freight trains across the Pennines. Hydrogen will be a useful way of storing energy off-peak electrical  energy, but may be more useful for domestic heating than for transport.
  • Batteries will be used over short sections that are difficult to electrify. But Northern Sparks and TDNS proposed full electrification schemes.

Our arrow diagrams (based on RIA figures) compare the approximate energy efficiencies of pure electric (overhand wires), battery and hydrogen traction. Compare pure electric (80%) and hydrogen (35%). Hydrogen traction wastes at least 65% of the original electrical energy in making the gas, compressing it for storage, using fuel cells to regenerate electricity, and in transmission via motors to the wheels.

Multi-mode/hybrid traction may be needed in some places, combining different systems, but is more wasteful of energy because the trains are heavier and more complex.

Rail electrification is tried and tested technology that can only improve in a well-planned programme. The Treasury needs to be persuaded that capital cost will be paid back, through:

  • Reduced running and maintenance costs of pure electric trains, compared with trains requiring more complex systems. Pure electrics’ lighter weight reduces track costs. So network – not piecemeal – electrification makes sense.
  • Reduced capital cost of simple electric trains compared with complex hydrogen or bimode units.
  • Regenerative braking returning electricity to the grid (or batteries).
  • “Sparks effect” – more passengers attracted by higher speed and acceleration serving more stations.

Final thought: Northern’s latest proposed new trains – diesel-battery hybrids, technology that has been around for decades with hybrid road vehicles – will give at best 25% reduction in carbon output, when 100% is needed, i.e. zero-carbon. We need to get our trains up to date!

We look forward to your comments. Rail electrification is established technology that will become more economical through a programme that builds and maintains skills, reducing costs. We look forward to engaging further with you in future, and look forward to news of such a programme.

Yours sincerely, J Stephen Waring and Richard Lysons, joint coordinators, Electric Railway Charter

[1] For historical perspective it is worth mentioning that this 5-year plan should have been for Network Rail’s CP6 2019-24, following schemes such as Midland Main Line, TransPennine Route Upgrade which were postponed and only recently revived.

[2] Incidentally, the IRP seems unclear on whether it proposes full electrification of the present route between Stalybridge and Marsden or is dependent on the proposed Warrington-Marsden NPR line. Please could this be clarified?

Grounds for Optimism?

Wendy Morton MP assured us that the government would “continue to build” on rail’s “strong green credentials”, by “progressing electrification and decarbonisation, … building back greener and meeting the net-zero commitment”. Short term focus would be on “largest sources of emissions” but continuing rail decarbonisation building on 800 track miles delivered in last four years. The “cleaner, greener vision” of the Williams-Shapps plan for rail was mentioned. Great British Railways, once established, will be responsible for “bringing forward costed options to decarbonise the rail network.” Sounds like more waiting.

There will likely be “a role for hybrid and bi-mode battery and hydrogen trains” including interim solutions deployed “while further electrification is being developed”. Government has provided, through First of a Kind schemes £4M to develop alternative technologies.

Morton states that the “IRP has confirmed” the TransPennine route via Huddersfield will be “fully electrified, this includes Stalybridge to Marsden.”

There is no response to our view that electrifying Leeds-Bradford implies the need to continue up the CV line as in Northern Sparks top recommendation.

There is no comment on our arrow diagrams illustrating overhead electrification at least twice as energy efficient as hydrogen power.

There is no acknowledgement of the fact that pure electric trains are simpler and cheaper to run than complex bi-modes, tri-modes and alternative fuel trains.

There is a comment that individual schemes – no mention of a rolling programme – must be value for money for the taxpayer. Quite right. But a mainly electric railway will be cheaper to run than more complex multi-mode alternatives. It will attract more taxpayers to use the trains. It will be investment paying back HM Treasury in the long term.

Header Image: “319 380” flickr photo by hugh llewelyn shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

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 (

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 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 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.