Our Calder valley rail priorities

  • Get service back to normal – cuts must not be permanent
  • Get service right for present users – “easy wins”
  • Develop better service for new travel patterns – more trains for Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse and Elland – Taktfahrplan Calder Valley
  • And decarbonise by modern, but tried and tested, technology – electrification

First job must be to restore our service to normal. At present it’s looking like the service Bradford-Huddersfield and Halifax-Hull cut to 2-hourly, plus “missing trains” in the Manchester-Burnley “Todmorden curve” pattern, could last at least until the December 2022 timetable change, when the plan is to re-establish the Dec’21 pattern. And if we are facing a summer of discontent with strikes this situation could last longer[1]. Northern needs to catch up on crew training that could not be done during the periods of lockdown, and there are still issues of staff sickness. At a webinar in May We understand the reasons for the present cuts but do not know whether there is a hidden agenda – maybe imposed by Government.

The present service pattern makes little sense for passengers. If your service is 2-hourly, you have to remember which hour you are on. Bradford Huddersfield is important for college students and connections with TransPennine Express trains. And in hours when the Hull train is missing Halifax-Leeds has three trains in less than half an hour then nothing at all for the next half-hour. Uneven patterns catch people out and discourage use.

A train every hour must be re-established as absolute minimum at all stations, all routes, with higher frequencies where they have been established. And – as we go on to say – where they are clearly needed.

Then let’s get the easy wins. Correction of silly things like a late night 2-hour gap at Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge in trains from Manchester. Restoration of Sunday stops by Manchester trains at Mytholmroyd. It should not be necessary to produce a business case (see below) to fix such obvious errors in the timetable. Nor should such an exercise be necessary to implement stops at stations such as Sowerby Bridge which is not served most of the day by Blackpool trains and Manchester “fasts”.

Then real service development – post-pandemic rail can contribute much more to people’s lives. Northern Trains have said they aim to restore services this December to the level established in December 2021. That should include hourly services Halifax-Hull, Bradford-Huddersfield and round the Tod curve, as well as York-Blackpool and Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester both hourly, and Leeds-Bradford-Manchester (2/hr) or Chester (1/hr). There are fewer services on Sundays, something that needs to be addressed as travel habits change post-pandemic.

First job must be to restore our service to normal. At present it’s looking like the service Bradford-Huddersfield and Halifax-Hull cut to 2-hourly, plus “missing trains” in the Manchester-Burnley “Todmorden curve” pattern, could last at least until the December 2022 timetable change, when the plan is to re-establish the Dec’21 pattern. And if we are facing a summer of discontent with strikes this situation could last longer[1]. Northern needs to catch up on crew training that could not be done during the periods of lockdown, and there are still issues of staff sickness. At a webinar in May We understand the reasons for the present cuts but do not know whether there is a hidden agenda – maybe imposed by Government. The present service pattern makes little sense for passengers. If your service is 2-hourly, you have to remember which hour you are on. Bradford Huddersfield is important for college students and connections with TransPennine Express trains. And in hours when the Hull train is missing Halifax-Leeds has three trains in less than half an hour then nothing at all for the next half-hour. Uneven patterns catch people out and discourage use.

A train every hour must be re-established as absolute minimum at all stations, all routes, with higher frequencies where they have been established. And – as we go on to say – where they are clearly needed.

Then let’s get the easy wins. Correction of silly things like a late night 2-hour gap at Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge in trains from Manchester. Restoration of Sunday stops by Manchester trains at Mytholmroyd. It should not be necessary to produce a business case (see below) to fix such obvious errors in the timetable. Nor should such an exercise be necessary to implement stops at stations such as Sowerby Bridge which is not served most of the day by Blackpool trains and Manchester “fasts”.

Then real service development – post-pandemic rail can contribute much more to people’s lives. Northern Trains have said they aim to restore services this December to the level established in December 2021. That should include hourly services Halifax-Hull, Bradford-Huddersfield and round the Tod curve, as well as York-Blackpool and Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester both hourly, and Leeds-Bradford-Manchester (2/hr) or Chester (1/hr). There are fewer services on Sundays, something that needs to be addressed as travel habits change post-pandemic.

StationWeekday trains/hr, daytime off peak, existingNumber of wards served (approx)Estimated catchment popn, potential!
Todmorden4112400
Hebden Bg41+13100
Sowerby Bridge22+24000
Elland (future)2221000
Brighouse2221500

Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse and soon to open (we hope) Elland station each serve roughly two council ward areas. The population estimates in the table are our rough estimates based on ward boundaries. Even allowing for inaccuracy you can see that our three station’s potential exceeds those for either of the two upper valley stations, but they have about half the number of services. It is also noteworthy that the 2 trains/hour at Brighouse (and future Elland) are on different routes serving different destinations: Manchester-Leeds and Bradford-Huddersfield. So really, they only have one train per hour to each destination. There is much discussion of commuting not recovering to pre-pandemic levels. We should welcome that. The threat must become an opportunity to develop new markets based on the idea that rail can do much more to enhance people’s lives. Work is something people have to do but what we are working for is the freedom to make the most of leisure time, time with friends, time exploring, time just doing ordinary stuff but not worsening road congestion.  

We propose:

  • Sowerby Bridge should have a level of service equal to Hebden Bridge’s and Todmorden’s, with all Blackpool services calling, and all Manchester services, every day of the week. Mytholmroyd should also have more trains calling – if only to justify the station’s massive new car park!
  • Brighouse and Elland should have their service doubled. 2 trains/hr on both Bradford-Huddersfield and upper Calderdale-Brighouse-Leeds corridors. Variants of this are possible, including trains from Calderdale to Wakefield and from Hebden Bridge to Huddersfield. And more trains on Sundays.
  • Where the two routes cross as at Brighouse/Elland, services should be coordinated to enhance connectivity. What we are advocating is a predictable timetable – Swiss-style taktfahrplan.
  • Sunday services should reflect weekday provision, recognising the social importance of leisure.

We call on Northern trains with West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Transport for the North to draw up the required business case for the above improvements.

Decarbonisation must mean electrification. There seems to be reluctance by government to give the go-ahead to electrification. Yet we are convinced that wiring will pay back in the long term. It’s not just about decarbonisation but about conserving energy and cutting the costs of running a modern railway. Electric trains are cheaper to build, cheaper to operate, cheaper to maintain because they are simpler than diesels or hydrogen trains. 80%, 65% and 34% are roundly the respective efficiencies of pure electric, battery and hydrogen trains. Remember efficiency is the percentage of energy not wasted in conversion processes – such as making hydrogen from electricity, transporting it, and the using fuel cells to get the energy back. Hydrogen will have its uses – not least as an interim solution – but surely not on busy lines like the Calder Valley that also carry heavy freight. While we are developing the bright ideas of people with new machines to sell we are wasting time when we could be putting up wires, using new technology to reduce costs.

Electric trains, light and efficient, are attractive to passengers for speed and acceleration allowing more stops so more people can benefit.

After a decade of prevarication the government seems to have said yes to a little more electrification: Midland Main Line, and – at last! – TransPennine via Huddersfield. Bradford Interchange is also there – but not yet the full Calder Valley electrification which the Northern task force gave top ranking in 2015.

It must happen. – JSW


A version of this article will go to West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Mayor Tracy Brabin, Transport for the North, Calderdale councillors, Members of Parliament, plus – need we add? – Northern Trains and Network Rail.


[1] It is not for HADRAG to comment on the rights and wrongs of industrial action, however much we might sympathise, however much our summers may be threatened by the inconvenience. We do not know the dates of strikes at time of writing. See for example: https://inews.co.uk/news/rail-strike-when-dates-rmt-walkout-2022-uk-trains-affected-explained-1649473

Come to our meeting in Brighouse!

HADRAG annual meeting will be in Brighouse at the end of June open to all rail users – actual and would-be – at our first in-person meeting since lockdown. Focus will be on community rail, with a new partnership now spanning the Pennines across Rochdale and Calderdale districts.

We look forward to welcoming as speaker Karen Hornby, former rail professional and newly appointed community rail partnership (CRP) officer for the Calder Valley Line. The CRP wants to work alongside station “friends” groups such as those at Brighouse, Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd. They have transformed their stations and continue to work magnificently.

Saturday 25 June
Doors Open 12.30 for 12.40 Start
St John’s Community Hall, St. John Street, Gooder Lane, Rastrick, Brighouse, HD6 1HN

(We’ll finish for 2.30pm)

Community rail will be main theme at HADRAG’s annual general meeting, on Sat 25 June. The Calder Valley Line now has a community rail partnership (CRP) with the backing of Calderdale and Rochdale councils. Our speaker Karen Hornby is the partnership’s officer. Karen has a history of working in rail, having recently stood down as Network Rail head of performance and customer relationship based in Manchester. Karen was responsible for budgets at four of Network Rail’s managed stations.

As rail recovers after the pandemic, the CRP will have a vital role in raising the profile of our line, from Brighouse and Halifax to Rochdale and beyond. This builds on – but does not replace or compete with – the success of station “friends” and partnership groups. Those groups have done such a fantastic job at Brighouse, Sowerby Bridge,  Mytholmroyd and elsewhere. The CV Line CRP must build on that success as it raises the profile of the whole line involving businesses, and wider community groups and building a whole-line profile. CRPs already co-exist to mutual benefit with station groups on other lines – Bentham, Mid-Cheshire, Lancashire and elsewhere. For example http://thebenthamline.co.uk/about_us/ .

Venue

This year’s venue is the community hall behind St John’s church just off Gooder Lane. It is less than 5 min walk from Brighouse train station. Bus 563 from Halifax and Elland goes past, and routes 548/549 Halifax-Rastrick & 363 Bradford-Huddersfield are close by. And of course there is the train, accessing up and down the valley, plus Bradford, Halifax and Huddersfield