Halifax station: chance to look at options for progress – option  zero not enough!

After years of planning, 2022’s surge of inflation got the better of several West Yorkshire capital schemes. One was Halifax station’s Gateway, a project complicated by involving five (at least) different legal stakeholders. Calderdale Council, owner of ground-level property leased by the Eureka! museum including their car park and the 1855 original station building. Northern Trains and Network Rail have the railway premises. And West Yorkshire Combined Authority (Metro) have an oversight in terms of transport policy and the money from government – money that is no longer enough. (If we have got any of this wrong, please tell us.) So we have moved from about to go ahead to “pause and pipeline”. Pause is obvious. Pipeline means, we think, hoping that funding will come from alternative sources yet to be identified.

So what next for rail’s gateway to our town? The station is ideal as an access point for Square Chapel Arts Centre, the library, the unique Piece Hall and all the shops, cafés and events it hosts. We could go on. With so much work done on planning the Gateway scheme we can see there’s an argument for not doing anything until full funding appears. How long could that be? Five years? Ten?? “Option zero” (our phrase) – wait until the whole scheme can be funded – seems to be in favour. That means waiting for alternative sources of investment.

The plans could be improved. It was good that a new bridge was to be provided for pedestrians – and we hope cyclists – to access the first floor concourse, the bad news was that the ticket office was to be on the ground floor. We were told this was because Northern felt it necessary to keep a physical eye on people going in and out of the public toilet also on the ground floor. But access to the trains is via the footbridge, rather obviously on the first floor. You couldn’t make it up.

“Option 1” would be a programme of incremental improvements retaining what we have without sabotaging future development. Do we really need to demolish the present building containing booking office and shop? Could it be retained and improved, built upon?

What are our priorities?

Toilets

The issue of “public conveniences” seems to have painfully emerged more often than anything else about Halifax station over 38 years (heaven help us) of HADRAG meetings. Toilets on the station are important, not least because our new trains have only one and if that one is not working discomfort (at best) will result. The present station facility is a single unit at the back of the platform waiting room, so not accessible outside staffing hours. During autumn 2022 it was out of order for several weeks. When it reopened HADRAG’s anonymous secret consumer decently took a peep, initially put off by the lock indicator which has always suggested “engaged” when “vacant”. The sink contained an empty whisky bottle and a crisp packet. Everything else looked “normal”: reasonably clean, but suggestive of a previous century.

We suggest:

  • A new unit be installed at the station entrance where an eye could be kept by staff on who is going in and coming out. There is a staff toilet at that level so this proposal would seem achievable.
  • In Greater Manchester there is a programme of new modular toilet installations (as pictured) at stations including Littleborough. Clearly this must be spread across the Northern network.

Platform access – lift, doors and footbridge

The lift, essential for some rail users to access trains, seems to work but is another feature with a last-century air. What can be done at low cost to modernise it?

  • Sliding doors from the foot of the stairs to the platform have never worked and need to be removed.
  • The footbridge itself appears to need structural repair.
  • How might waiting passengers be encouraged to stand in the best place, promoting efficient boarding and alighting, and on-time departures, whilst and not blocking access from the footbridge stairs to what is actually the narrowest part of the platform. Do trains stop in the best place?

Approach bridge – remove general parking and refurbish

Able-bodied drivers who fill the station car park on the approach bridge early in the morning could park at ground level. A deal could be reached with Eureka! to provide free parking for rail users. Removal of general parking on the bridge ease movement everyone.

  • Direct access by ramp (possibly lift) would be required from ground level to the station entrance.
  • The approach bridge would then be free for walkers, disabled car users and cyclists.
  • There would be more space on the bridge for drop-off, pick-up, and taxis.
  • With at least medium-term future assured the bridge needs serious refurbishment with attractive paint colours.
  • The ticket office and shop are both well used. Many people will queue in the booking office rather than battle with awkward ticket vending machines that can never deliver the ticket and information services provided by the station’s excellent staff. Not everyone wants to depend on a mobile phone.

More platforms and future use of 1855 building?

The original 1855 station is part of the Eureka! estate but seems to be little used. It was rejected in early iterations of the Gateway scheme. A strength of the Gateway project was provision for possible future reinstatement of Platform 3, alongside the 1855 building.

Why stop at Platform 3? If mass transit eventually reaches Halifax, or more complex service patterns develop in a future where public, not private, transport is the norm, why not Platform 4 as well? Future plans must respect that possibility.

Community rail at Halifax

If you have seen posters at Halifax station featuring Calderdale scenes and Anne Lister they are down to students at Calderdale College. The college and Northern have developed a station adoption arrangement, involving young people in support for the station. HADRAG enthusiastically supports this.

  • Now that the station is going to stay as it is for the time being, could the posters be more permanent?
  • Community rail groups and the Calder Valley Community Rail Partnership should be involved in developing an action plan for the station.

Conclusion: There is much that can be done and must be done to improve Halifax station for rail passengers and the local community. This cannot wait 5 years or more for a grand scheme to attract funding. A step-by-step process must be considered. – JSW

Mass-transit – get your thoughts in by 16 January!

Header Image: They’ve had them for decades! When will it be West Yorkshire’s turn? Karlsruhe, Germany: tram-trains run on street or heavy-rail tracks. More recent examples can be seen in South Yorkshire!

West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s mass transit plans have been refined. There is a new, short consultation which closes two weeks into the new year – your opportunity to support progress but also to raise concerns. From HADRAG viewpoint main concerns might be how mass transit will complement existing transport including heavy rail, coupled with how long we shall have to wait for the trams (light rail), tram trains ultra-light rail or advanced buses that might eventually come our way. Phase 1 options not surprisingly centre on Bradford and Leeds, with light rail in the lead for East Leeds, Leeds-Bradford, and Leeds-Heckmondwike-Dewsbury. A fourth phase 1 proposal links Bradford with the Spen Valley and Dewsbury – mode still to be specified. Later phases could bring the system to north Halifax via Queensbury and on through Elland and Brighouse. The consultation can be found at this link: Have your say on the West Yorkshire Mass Transit Vision 2040 | Your Voice (westyorks-ca.gov.uk).

Surely there is little doubt that improving and developing our regional heavy rail network – existing lines! – can deliver benefits earlier than either still-to-be-developed mass transit or very long term, very uncertain high speed lines. Benefits will be different for different people. And the will of central government needs to be there. West Yorkshire Combined Authority has a strong rail team and the next draft rail study is out late spring (after the May local elections we guess). There is talk of infrastructure expansion: things like passing loops in the Calder Valley hopefully more ambitious than the now shelved (we think) scheme to facilitate diversions during TransPennine Route upgrade works. Our impression is that HADRAG’s ambitions chime at least in part with those of the combined authority. Better services for more stations!


Header Image: CC BY-SA 3.0 File:Heilbronn Bahnhofsvorplatz Stadtbahn01 2002-09-08.jpg. Under creative commons Share-Alike_License

HADRAG’s Autumn-Winter Diary

The new weekday timetable started on December 12th. Hourly Bradford-Huddersfield and Halifax-Hull trains restored. But on the first day one in four of the latter was cancelled. On the second day we were into a week, of strikes. This is not the place to discuss the rights and wrongs of industrial action; HADRAG has never done that – but it’s not just workers in the rail industry who are angry is it? Friday 16th trip to York by bus (change at Leeds, 3½ hour journey). Sunday 18th, not a strike day, two HADRAG members travelled back from York – but no Northern trains at all on the Calder Valley line (much-maligned TransPennine Express to the rescue). Same six days later on Christmas Eve – no CV line service. (Genuine staffing problems, corporate tantrum or government edict?) Apart from that, Week 2 of the timetable had gone reasonably well.

In November we had a successful second HADRAG general meeting of the year. We thank Cllr Colin Hutchinson, one of  Calderdale’s representatives on West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s transport committee who gave us cause to be hopeful about the forthcoming rail strategy. We really do hope that WYCA’s proposals will meet at least some of our aspirations. The present Calder Valley service may be back to “normal” – but normal is far from adequate considering the potential of stations like Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse and future Elland, each serving a population matching valley Hebden Bridge and Todmorden combined. Mytholmroyd also needs more trains. Walsden only has hourly trains off peak. Reliability needs improving (though Northern does a lot better than TPE). HADRAG’s aspirations paper at this link: Ideas for Calder Valley service upgrades: HADRAG updates after meeting – Halifax and District Rail Action Group .

We have been assured Elland should be open by 2025 though there remains a concern that work on the TransPennine Route Upgrade could be a spanner in the works. We shall keep pressing for progress. 2025 will be 25 years late but nonetheless welcome.

There may be a fight on for vital ticket offices, and for guards on trains.

HADRAG’s committee will be considering future meeting patterns. We need to talk about Halifax station ideas early in 2023. Then later in the spring discussion of the West Yorkshire rail strategy could follow. We need more members to get involved.

Please send feedback on this newsletter. Wishing you a continuing happy Christmas (well under way by time you read this) and…
… a peaceful, hopeful ride into 2023! – JSW


Header Image: “frosty morning on the train tracks” flickr photo by TriggerHappyDave https://flickr.com/photos/fromthefrontend/5220598904 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license