Stripped of Franchise?

WE HAVE IT on good authority Arriva Rail North (aka Northern by Arriva) is indeed in trouble. Running, it seems, out of money. The year-long conductors’ dispute took its toll. So too have external factors preventing the company from delivering promises including additional services on our line.

Something big, we hear, will have to give by next Spring. Rather than being “stripped of the franchise” Arriva could be granted a “direct award”, effectively a management contract to deliver specified outputs. Or the “Operator of Last Resort” could take over —
effectively nationalisation. The latter might bring in new blood (personified as veteran rail operators) at board level. But let’s just be careful what we wish for. Whoever runs the company, public or private, will need new resources from government to deliver the franchise ambitions of 2016. Or it could just be an excuse to rein in aspirations and make cuts.

New Trains Down Our Way

YES, that’s a brand new train taking the curve into Halifax, snapped from Shaw Lane bridge in July. That was a trial run, but now the “Class 195s” are in service on Manchester and Chester trains, and expected on the Blackpool route in December.

Entry to service was not without hitch. We hope causes of recent delays and cancellations across Calder Valley services (not just the new trains) will be quickly resolved.

We also trust there will be enough extra carriages to relieve overcrowding. The benefits of a new modern will be lost on passengers who are still crammed like sardines.

And we’ve asked for the new trains on the Leeds-Manchester -Wigan service that goes through Brighouse. This route was promised modern (albeit second hand) Turbostar trains from Scotland but these have gone to the Bridlington-Sheffield route instead. It’s not good enough for the Brighouse line to struggle on with older sprinter-type trains when higher performance units would be better suited to a pattern of frequent stops.

Timetable development is a major issue. The railway collectively finds itself unable to keep promises such as extra trains on our line including ones to the south side of Manchester. Instead of bringing comprehensive improvements the December timetable looks like a kick in the teeth for Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd station users who lose most of their trains to York and Blackpool. Northern have made changes to repair some of the damage, but we fight on for a better deal for the whole line.

Read our recent paper with reasonable demands for improvement and realistic ideas for implementation at this link.

With the future of the train company in doubt, we are pressing West Yorkshire Combined Authority (Metro) and Transport for the North to come up with a strategy to provide the comprehensive, modern, reliable Calder Valley line service that the Northern franchise was supposed to deliver.

December timetable update

195SOW2019.07.25(2)HADRAG has been pressing Northern Rail to improve the proposed December 2019 timetable for Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd. You can read our updated review of the new timetable HERE. The two stations are to lose calls by the York-Blackpool trains on Mondays to Saturdays, which amounts to a 33% cut in service frequency in the “standard hour”. Northern has now introduced some improvements which will maintain present frequency for Sowerby Bridge commuters who work in Leeds but this will not help Mytholmroyd and will not restore the all-day Blackpool and York trains fir these two stations.

On Sundays the York-Blackpools will be stopping at “SOW” and “MYT” but the Manchester trains will not be – so that’s a 50% service cut. There are hints, however, that the Manchester stops at least for Sowerby Bridge may be put back in and there could be further improvements next May.

To be fair this is not entirely the fault of the Northern train operator, who have been forbidden to bid for enhancements such as the proposed new service from Bradford and Calderdale to Manchester Airport, and are dependent on the system operator Network Rail to agree to their bids. This has been a barrier to getting other improvements over the last year including dealing with gaps in the late evening service from Manchester back to SOW and MYT.

Meanwhile brand new trains have been introduced to Leeds-Manchester and Chester trains on the Calder Valley line. Good news, though the first week has been far from smooth, with a lot of delays and cancellations. Clearly some snagging work to do

December timetable: changes needed to avoid kick in teeth for Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd

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Brand new Northern train speeds through Sowerby Bridge in July this year. This was just a test run, but we’ve been led to expect to be able to ride these trains, already in service in the North West, on our Calder Valley Line before the end of this year. Sounds good, but there could be bad news for Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd if the first public version of the December 2019 timetable is not improved. It looks like the two valley stations will no longer be served by the York-Blackpool service on weekdays, whilst on Sundays Manchester trains will not stop. HADRAG is on the case.

HADRAG members will be hearing from Northern Rail at their September Committee meeting (Contact us for details.) . Theme is how to improve the Calder Valley Line timetable.

A preview of the December timetable is now available on-line via the Real Time Trains website (see for example https://www.realtimetrains.co.uk/search/advanced/HFX/2019/12/17/0200-0159?stp=WVS&show=all&order=wtt), and HADRAG’s review of what we’ve seen is here. There is good news for Halifax in December with an even-interval service of 4 trains an hour from Leeds, improvements to the (still uneven) westbound pattern and a new hourly service to Hull, restoring the useful commuting link between Calderdale, Bradford and local stations east of Leeds.

But Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd look to be taking delivery of a kick in the teeth.

The provisional timetable shows all York-Blackpool trains (Mondays-Saturdays) running non-stop Halifax-Hebden Bridge, reversing an useful improvement brought in last year, and cutting basic service frequency at “SOW” and “MYT” by a third.

On Sundays passengers from the two valley stations look like they will lose trains to Manchester; the Sunday York-Blackpools will still call. Manchester passengers will have to change at Hebden Bridge, but the wait could be something like half an hour. We can not believe that this is really what Northern intend so we believe there is some hope these proposed cuts may be reversed.

For the Brighouse Line the December timetable makes concrete what has always been effectively true, that Brighouse really only has one train an hour to Leeds. In recent years the two trains have been timed such that the direct one via Dewsbury either overtakes or effectively catches up with the one via Bradford. So from December, weekdays Brighouse will have one train an hour on the Leeds-Dewsbury-Manchester-Wigan route, and an hourly Bradford-Huddersfield shuttle. The shuttle looks to give sensible journey times Bradford/Halifax to Huddersfield (unlike the present timetable): so that’s an improvement. But connections for Huddersfield from upper Calderdale are unsatisfactory – particularly for Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge. On Sundays Brighouse now has a more or less hourly service on the Huddersfield-Bradford-Leeds route. We say the Brighouse trains via Dewsbury should also run on Sundays.

It’s the policy of West Yorkshire Combined Authority to have a useful 2 trains per hour on local routes. So HADRAG’s call is for Brighouse to have 2/hr on the upper Calderdale-Dewsbury-Leeds route, and the same on the Bradford-Huddersfield shuttle. This, surely is a reasonable demand for when Elland station opens in less than three years time (we hope). A fast service Brighouse-Leeds via Dewsbury would bring the journey down to about 20 minutes, with benefits for stations further up the valley.

In the meantime Northern’s franchise commitment was to run 3 trains/hr Bradford-Manchester from December this year including an hourly service round the Ordsall Chord to Manchester Oxford Rd, Piccadilly and Airport stations. That is not going to happen this year because there is insufficient track and platform capacity Piccadilly. Plans to deal with this should have been implemented along as part of the original Northern Hub project in Network Rail’s 2014-19 control period to enable all the service possibilities of the new Ordsall line. Sadly that plan is now very much kicked into an unmown region of the Department for Transport garden. But TransPennine Express is still allowed to run 2 trains/hr from North East England whilst Northern’s promised are on hold. Not fair, is it?

HADRAG’s committee meeting with a speaker from Northern Rail is Monday evening 16 September. You are not a member and would like to attend as an interested rail user (actual/would-be) please contact us for details.

 

 

New Trains Worry

We’ve been seeing lot of aging “Pacers” recently, whilst waiting patiently for the brand new trains promised to be on Calder Valley services this year. The new “Class 195s” have been under test and a problem has been found with couplings. We gather the engineers have a solution but it means further delay. This follows disappointment that the “Class 170” trains from Scotland, second hand but pleasantly modern, are not now likely to be deployed on the Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester route. As far as we know officially the Pacers are still expected to go by the end of this year, and the brand new trains should come our way.

Hell to pay if they don’t arrive! Again, we are pressing Northern for confirmation of intent.

 

Header Image: “A spanking new 195 113” flickr photo by 70023venus2009 https://flickr.com/photos/70023venus2009/40723003743 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license

Reforming rail: come to our Annual Meeting!

 

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Manchester Leeds train glides through greenery into Halifax. The Calder Valley Line is a scenic route, so why shouldn’t commuting be a pleasure? We want rail to be first transport choice for more and more people. All are welcome at our annual meeting on June 1st. Come and tell us how you think the railway could be made better.

COME AND TELL US what you think! Rail users in Halifax and along the Calder Valley Line hold their Annual Meeting in Halifax on Saturday morning 1 June 2019 (details below). Theme will be reforming rail in the north – making our railway better. For HADRAG the most urgent needs are a better deal for commuters, and a better deal for stations like Sowerby Bridge and Brighouse that serve sizeable towns but are the “Cinderella stops” on our line. As a new timetable starts (20 May) early morning commuters from Brighouse and Halifax and Bradford and Leeds face a cut in service. We want the present flawed timetable replaced by a fit-for-purpose service ready for when the new station opens at Elland hopefully by 2021. And wearing our Electric Railway Charter hats we want to see progress towards a truly modern and sustainable Calder Valley Line.

The meeting on June 1st is open to all rail users and others interested in developing better train services through our part the Pennines as a stimulus to quality travel, good growth and a clean environment, and starts at 1015, at the Carlton Centre, Harrison Rd, Halifax HX1 2AD. Doors open from about 0945 with light refreshments available before the speeches start.

Guest speaker will be Prof Paul Salveson, community rail pioneer, and now chair of the Rail Reform Group. Retired from the railway “establishment”, Paul provides an independent voice and interesting ideas about how a truly Northern-based railway could serve the cities, towns and smaller communities across the central belt of the North from west to east centred once the territory of the “Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway”. The Rail Reform Group, a body of respected former railway professionals, proposes a “railway for the common good”, bringing together functions that are at present fragmented, to create a railway shackled neither by top-down nationalisation, nor by a need to put profit before passengers. The RRG has submitted its ideas for a new “L&Y” to the Williams Rail Review. See also Paul’s piece in the Yorkshire Post earlier this year.

Williams was commissioned by government to look at how rail could work better following the May 2018 timetable shambles. The review is still open until 31 May to receive ideas and evidence from any member of the public – so readers of this blog may still have a little time to send in views online. HADRAG submitted comments early on.

We want a truly modern, sustainable transport system that provides commuters with a good deal, encouraging people off congested roads – polluted and polluting – and plays the maximum role in tackling the climate emergency.

Writing on 19 May 2019, we hope last year’s timetable shambles is not about to be repeated.  HADRAG made this argument: Trans Pennine Express and Northern operate nearly all local and regional trains across the North of England. Each of these companies has its own team of train planners. Each must each bid for timetable slots to nationalised Network Rail, with its own train planning office in Milton Keynes (where knowledge of the needs of Brighouse or Sowerby Bridge may be limited). Three organisations, three timetabling offices, to plan a single network of services. Would it not be better to have one organisation, whether publicly or privately owned, planning service patterns and delivering a timetable that works across our northern sub-nation?

We hope Williams hears what we and others are saying about creating a railway that is integrated, devolved and puts passengers first, a railway that is simple to use with fares that are not seen as extortionate, and flexibility that will attract people from their cars. Williams talks about balancing the needs of taxpayers and passengers. But are not passengers themselves taxpayers, and is not the railway a massive public asset that should be providing an increasingly attractive public service with non-user benefits? Trains – passenger and freight – can reduce the volume of cars and lorries on the roads. Should we not reject the term “subsidy”?  We do not talk about “subsidies” for other public services such as the NHS, the police or indeed the programme of road building that we continue to see. We need investment in the North that matches that in London and the South East.

Transport seems likely always to require social payments, especially if it is to provide a comprehensive service promoting high quality growth and wider values of environmental protection and social inclusion. Perhaps the best way to get the best value for taxpayers is to develop a railway that turns more taxpayers into passengers. – JSW

Elland Station: Progress and Questions

When it comes to investing public money you can’t “just do it”. Every project must jump a course of hoops. Elland station’s Outline Business Case is due to be signed off at West Yorkshire Combined Authority as we write this. Detailed plans should now be developed and Full Business Case (FBC) is due by the end of next year, allowing work to start in 2021. That puts station opening in Spring 2022. We have some concerns about how the project might be affected by the TransPennine Route Upgrade. TRU is the

Huddersfield Line electrification and capacity project, a “CP6” scheme, meaning Network Rail’s 2019-24 control period. Work on TRU will mean blockades — weekends and probably some longer periods — of the line through Huddersfield, in turn meaning diversion of TransPennine Express trains via our Calder Valley line through Brighouse and Elland. We really hope this will not mean Network Rail saying “We can’t stop trains at Elland because we need to run too many diverted services along the route”. CP6 begins in a few weeks but, lacking a communicative fly on the wall at Network Rail HQ, it is still not clear what work will be scheduled when. If the works run till 2024 could it mean a two-year delay for Elland? Surely that must not be acceptable. We have waited long enough for a station originally envisaged as part of Brighouse line reopening nearly 20 years ago. But what if there were another possibility? With major works to put up electrification structures, and – we very much hope -add extra tracks, Huddersfield station could be temporarily closed for significant periods. So could Elland be a convenient alternative railhead for Huddersfield passengers? And so could there be a good argument for bringing the Elland project forward and opening the station sooner rather than later? HADRAG has asked the questions; we shall press for answers.