What’s to be done about Northern trains? – HADRAG’s annual meeting in Sowerby Bridge

 

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When will we see modern, non-polluting trains like on the Calder Valley Line? Four campaigning rail user groups launched the Electric Railway Charter in Halifax in May. The launch event was addressed by Holly Lynch (MP for Halifax), Nina Smith (Chair of Railfuture Yorkshire Branch), Anthony Rae (Chair of Yorkshire & Humberside Transport Activists Round Table), and Richard Lysons (Chair of Friends of Littleborough Station). The call is for a rolling programme of electrification across the North, based on the “Northern Sparks” task force report which made recommendations to the governments more than three years ago. Top-ranked recommendation was, of course, electrification of the Calder Valley Line.

HADRAG holds its annual meeting in Sowerby Bridge on Saturday morning, 2 June at the end of what seems to be the most chaotic first fortnight of a new train timetable that anyone can remember. The meeting, at St Paul’s Church centre, Tower Hill, Sowerby Bridge HX6 2EQ from 10am, is open to all Calder Valley Line rail users to make their views known. Invited guest speaker is Adam Timewell, commercial franchise manager at the Rail North Partnership. The Partnership involves North of England transport bodies and the Department for Transport. Adam has a key role in overseeing the Northern trains franchise operated by Arriva and will be expecting to field a variety of questions about the present state of Northern trains and how we move forward towards a real alternative that offers not just the promised new destinations but also a well-designed and reliable service for local users, attractive to the whole community. The meeting on Saturday at St Paul’s is doors open 10.00 (light refreshments); speeches from 10.20 and discussion until 11.45, followed by business meeting to finish at 12.30.  READ on for more on our concerns:

HADRAG is concerned about Sowerby Bridge and the Brighouse corridor. The new timetable (even when it’s working properly) has lost the easy connections we used to have from upper Calderdale to Huddersfield, and we can see people who used to change trains at Brighouse leaving the station and getting on the bus instead. There are also still questions about future service patterns and exactly which trains will stop and Sowerby bridge and Mytholmroyd from 2019. From this month Brighouse itself sees an effectively reduced service to Leeds with the slow train via Bradford overtaken in both directions by the direct service via Dewsbury – surely a mockery of the specified 2 trains/hour pattern. HADRAG wants to see a commitment from the railway to provide more trains over the Brighouse corridor, particularly important when we get Elland station open.

In January the Arriva-owned Northern train operator announced that it would be forced to defer some of its May 2018 enhancements. This was because delays to electrification on the Bolton line would result in a shortage of diesel trains. (Commuters forced to endure sardine-can conditions already knew there was a shortage of carriages.) It is not clear why it only became clear in January that certain works would not be completed for May. Plans were eventually announced in April: service extensions to Manchester Airport and Chester deferred, and the popular Blackpool-York service temporarily cut back to Preston-Leeds, a big disappointment. But at least we were expecting a timetable that would work. Sadly this was over-optimistic; now it seems driver shortages are leading to delays and cancelations that are worse than anything that any of can remember for a timetable change.

Back in February we had serious concerns about what we’d seen online about the May timetable. Promised trains to Manchester Airport and Chester sounded great, but it looked like Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd could be missing Sunday trains to Manchester, some important peak services seemed to be missing and there was a serious issue about “clockface” patterns. The good news was that the April announcement, despite the deferred enhancements, suggested that concerns had been at least partly addressed. Which didn’t prepare us for the collapse of reliability and punctuality when the new times actually came in. It is hoped some of the promised enhancements and reinstatement of Blackpool-York will be made by the end of this year when more trains cold be available. We shall be pressing Northern to introduce the new destinations without doing further damage to existing local connectivity. Much more urgently however, we are looking for an action plan to be implemented in the coming days and weeks to get the present timetable running properly.

Here (dated 30 May and updated from our Spring newsletter) is HADRAG’s review of the May 2018 changes – based on what they are supposed to be running not the chaos that’s been happening over recent days:

Peak commuter services. With a major recast a lot of times have changed. A relief for Calderdale-Leeds users is that the extra Halifax-Leeds train operated by a 5-car Grand Central unit not only continues to run but will start back from Hebden Bridge at 0702.  And it will have a return working at teatime. The latter in particular means additional capacity. But it is difficult to be optimistic about further early relief for overcrowding at least until the new trains are in full service by the end of next year.

Blackpool-York trains are temporarily cut back to Preston-Leeds, with connections at Preston, but will run through on Sundays. You can see the logic given a shortage of diesel trains and the Blackpool line now electrified; but this is still very unwelcome. Some other CVL trains will be linked through to/from York or Selby in compensation for existing Calderdale cross-Leeds users. With the Airport and Chester services deferred, it’s odd that extension of Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester trains to Southport has gone ahead, increasing frequency on the Manchester-Atherton-Wigan line. Calderdale’s loss is Atherton’s gain? Southport is surely the least useful of our new destinations. Southport and Wigan people would really rather have trains to Manchester Airport. Wouldn’t we all?! Northern have said they will restore Blackpool-York as soon as trains become available. It is expected that the service will then become fast Leeds-York, which sounds like good news.

Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd do, thankfully, keep their hourly Sunday service to Manchester, and in addition have all Blackpool/Preston-Leeds/York stopping — good news we’ve been waiting for, except that there is now going to be a wait for most of these trains actually to run through to York and Blackpool!  (They do go through on Sundays.) But Mytholmroyd is not shown in Northern’s online pdf York-Blackpool timetable. We shall see if it’s in the eventual printed version. At time of writing online timetables were still showing a 2-hour late evening gap in trains back from Manchester to these stations, despite two services running through non-stop in between. We raised this with Northern in late April and it sounded like a genuine error the train planners could fix. We are waiting.

Upper Calderdale connectivity to Huddersfield is damaged. So if you are travelling from say Mytholmroyd or Sowerby Bridge you can no longer get off at Brighouse and board a closely following train to Huddersfield. Worse, the trains that stop at MYT and SOW do not connect with the Huddersfield trains at Halifax. Journey planner recommends going travelling to Dewsbury and then doubling back at an inflated fare with no cheap returns available. Ridiculous. The situation is slightly better for Todmorden/Hebden Bridge-Huddersfield as the fast trains that stop there connect with the Brighouse/Huddersfield trains at Halifax.

Clockface patterns are far from ideal. Just as an example, Halifax towards Leeds is now roughly 00, 12, 34, 43, deviating significantly from even-interval. Annoying variations between hours could make people miss trains. Some journey times increase. Eastbound Preston-Leeds trains call at Bramley, whilst Huddersfield-Hfx-Leeds trains are non-stop from New Pudsey. Overall verdict: rather messy.

Brighouse Line. More clockface and journey time issues. Leeds-Brighouse-Manchesters are fast Rochdale-Manchester, a gain partly lost by extra time westbound Brighouse-Sowerby Bridge. Would it not be better to hold them in Brighouse station, rather than have the trains waiting for signals at Milner Royd? Issues like this should be helped when new signalling is commissioned. The Leeds-Brighouse direct trains overtake the ones via Bradford in both directions. This makes a mockery of the franchise Train Service Requirement of 2 trains/hour Brighouse-Leeds. If you just miss the direct train (or it’s cancelled) you might as well wait for the next one a full hour later rather than get on one that is overtaken. With “pathing” time approaching Huddersfield—which actually means waiting at the signals at Bradley Junction—Brighouse-Huddersfield now typically takes 14 minutes. Surely some better solution to both of these problems can be devised? Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester will be running later in the evening, but not yet on Sundays: we shall keep pressing for that. Sundays Leeds-Halifax-Brighouse is more or less hourly, a promise delivered, though with irritating variations (dodgy clockface again).

Three Northern booklets (8, 36 and 45) are still required to show the whole CVL service—somewhat unsatisfactorily. We understand there is a plan to improve the booklets. Dare we hope for a clear, well presented Calder Valley line booklet showing all services when Northern Connect branded services are introduced in December 2019? This is clearly something that Northern find difficult, but remember West Yorkshire “Metro” produced complete line timetables right through from the 1970s to a year or so ago. Why can’t Northern  under Arriva replicate what the county body used to do?

December 2019 will be another major change with an extra service each hour Bradford-Manchester and through trains to Liverpool as well as Man Airport and Chester. We say this should be an opportunity to deliver a better clockface pattern,  and serve more local stations with the Airport trains. Enhancements must surely be brought in without damaging the service at local stations. Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse and the future Elland station deserve a much better train service.  —JSW

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Halifax station. Wanted: future-proof design!

 

Overview of Halifax station concept design. Note: natural stone extension of 1855 Building to north with modern glazed concourse attached; restored pedestrian underpass using Navigation Road archway.

 

Calderdale Council is setting the ball rolling to transform Halifax station. The expected result  will be a new centrepiece in the lower part of town linking with Halifax’s developing cultural hub, shopping and business areas. 

Bus-rail interchange should improve with bus stands serving a wide range of destinations located by a new public square below the complex of attractions around the Piece Hall. New pedestrian access to the train station is expected to be via improved public domain in the new square and pleasant “station gardens”. Direct routes will lead pedestrians arriving by train towards Square Chapel, Library, Piece Hall, Industrial Museum as well as the towns shopping and business areas.  As currently envisaged the  transformation will include a new glazed concourse complementing and literally reflecting the original 1855 station. There will be space for increased numbers of passengers and increased facilities for them both in both new and old buildings. The 1855 building could be home to new leisure or retail facilities attracting more people to the site. The original Navigation Road underpass will be opened up as a pedestrian link not just for station users but for anyone needing to access between new development to the east around the Nestlé site and the town centre.

Comparison has been drawn with Sheffield where the rail station, at bottom of town as in Halifax, now opens out onto a modern public square.

It needs to be emphasised that concept designs described in the report to the council’s cabinet on Monday 19 March are just a starting point. HADRAG will keep up pressure to get a final design that puts first the needs of train passengers, whether they access on foot, on bike, by park and ride or by drop-off/pick-up/taxi. And we encourage others to make their views known.

HADRAG fully supports the transformational aspirations. There now seems to be a consensus that the present road approach bridge with its road congestion and indeed safety issues has to go. The bridge, inadequate for the coming and goings of station users on foot or in vehicles, is also an architectural detraction from the glorious original 1855 station building .

Initial suggestions in the concept design would relocate not just rail users’ car-parking but also taxis and drop-off/pick-up to the east side of the railway. All levels from restored underpass up through the new concourse to the footbridge would be connected by a new lift. Clearly the lift will have to be highly reliable! But we have a serious concern that the proposed arrangements could mean indirect and inconvenient transfer routes between car and train. We say this needs further thinking. One idea known to be under consideration is having a further lift and stairway going up through the Navigation Road archway direct to Platforms 1 and 2.

Restoration of the archway below the station pedestrian link will put the station on a through route for pedestrians between the town centre and potential new development to the east. So the station will no longer be a dead end for people on foot.  An underused office block owned by sweet manufacturer Nestlé (who make Mackintosh’s Quality Street on the site) could be demolished to make way for the new car park. Could this be a general as well as rail users’ car park?

We also want a design that offers flexibility to develop new and improved train services, and we shall be working to persuade the railway authorities that our station needs not just the reinstatement of Platform 3  to deal with growing numbers of passengers, but also a third operational train track to deal with potentially increased and more complex services in the future.

The concept designs envisage widening, building out P3 to serve the track currently serving P2. This would vastly increase circulation space for passengers with trains going west and south using P1 (as now) and trains for Bradford, Leeds and York using the restored enlarged P3. In effect the station would be doubled in size, creating physical room for crowds arriving for events at the Piece Hall as well as providing a spacious, modern environment for business and tourist visitors.

At present rail infrastructure company Network Rail seems to be saying it can not see the need for a third operational train platform within its current planning horizon. At a station where passenger footfall has roundly doubled in a decade, we ask whether the railway is being sufficiently ambitious. We want a design that is truly future-proof!

Here is the statement given to Halifax Courier by HADRAG chair Stephen Waring: (published Fri 9 Mar’2018): 

“It is many years since HADRAG first called for Halifax train station to be transformed as a welcoming gateway between railway and town. The station gateway proposal coming from Calderdale Council shows the ambition to do this. We discussed the concept designs at HADRAG’s committee meeting this week (Monday 12 March), and they look truly transformational, making the station itself a much more attractive feature at the centre of a greatly enhanced environment linking with new bus stops, the Piece Hall, cultural hub and town centre.

“HADRAG therefore welcomes the broad concept as presented but wants to see further work done to ensure the best possible access for existing rail users. Wherever possible, level horizontal routes are better than either stairs or lifts. The architects of the final scheme must consider how passengers will negotiate changes in levels, as well as the need to create a direct route between the proposed new east-side car park and the current station platform.

“We also think that, rather than completely segregating pedestrian and vehicle access, drop-off, pick-up, cycle and taxi access could be retained on the west side of the station – the “town side” – where pedestrians will access through the proposed station gardens and a new public square.

“The final design must be future-proof, allowing for greatly increased train services and new service patterns. Reinstatement of platform 3 will create space for growing numbers of passengers. We think it should be done so as to allow in the future for an additional railway track, giving three fully operational lines so that more trains can run through, terminate and reverse in the station. So far the railway authorities haven’t seemed interested in doing this. We need to persuade Network Rail and the train companies to have greater ambition matching the local ambition of the station scheme itself.

“Opening up the Navigation Road arch puts the station on a transformed pedestrian route between new development east of the line and the town centre. This should make the station a centrepiece. With new development in and around the historic 1855 Building the station hub should become an attraction its own right.

“But most importantly it must also be designed to work for train passengers, better for both existing users and increasing numbers in the future.

“HADRAG hopes there will be early public consultation on the proposals, getting present-day station users involved.”

And here is a link to the report to Cabinet: https://www.calderdale.gov.uk/nweb/COUNCIL.minutes_pkg.view_doc?p_Type=AR&p_ID=56987

— JSW 

Call for action – HADRAG reflects commuters’ anger about overcrowding

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GOOD NEWS! Northern ran the first public train over a brand new railway on Sunday 10th December, turning out a shiny refurbished Class 150 train. From now until May 2018 one Calder Valley service very hour at off-peak times is extended beyond Manchester Victoria station round the Ordsall Chord to Deansgate and Oxford Road, giving direct access from Bradford, Calderdale and Rochdale to the south side of Manchester city centre for the first time. It may be a small start, but it’s a stepping stone to better, and  Northern deserves congratulations on being the first train company to operate a regular service over the new line. Come May, we are expecting a big step change, when Calder Valley trains will start to run through every hour to Manchester Piccadilly station and on to Manchester Airport. Transpennine Express will run two trains an hour from the Huddersfield Line round to the Airport, and Northern’s second Calder Valley service each hour should go through to Warrington and Chester, opening up further new regional connectivity.  Of course this may be of limited help to Calder Valley commuters who just want to get to Manchester, Bradford, Leeds or York and would love to be able to do so on a train where they can get a seat and arrive relaxed for a productive day at work – not to mention some quality evening down time. The train in our picture may have shiny new colours and a brightly refurbished interior, but it’s still 30 years old and part of a fleet of rolling stock that just isn’t enough for the number of passengers travelling on our line and others across the North. The good news is that brand new trains really are coming to our line by the end of the decade. There will also be more refurbished carriages coming in from other train companies over the next two years. They can not come soon enough for commuter and increasingly off peak travellers forced to travel on trains that at times seem to be dangerously overcrowded.

Campaigning group HADRAG has again written to the managing director of the Northern train company, with a renewed call for action on commuter conditions and questioning the policy of taking trains out of service for refurbishment when there is a clear shortage of carriages. The group wants “a train service that gets people to work, and home again, rested and relaxed, not tired and jaded” – benefitting productivity and the economy. Following an initial response from the train company HADRAG representatives expect to meet with Northern early in January.HADRAG’s latest letter, addressed to David Brown, the new managing director of Arriva Rail North, HADRAG reflects the anger of commuters about overcrowding on the Calder Valley Line. HADRAG appreciates that the problems are part of a national situation and not directly the fault of the regional train company, but calls for early action by the company to deal with the issue of trains on the Calder Valley frequently not having enough carriages for the number of passengers wanting to travel at peak times. The campaigners also welcome the good news that more trains – brand new trains – will be introduced before 2020, with a 37% increase in morning peak capacity across the franchise. But HADRAG’s letter says that with commuters reasonably arguing that the trains they travel on are more like 100% overcrowded “we feel bound to ask whether the promised capacity increase will be enough!”

HADRAG wants action sooner to help passengers and in the letter asks Northern specifically:

  • Can the present programme of taking trains out of service for refurbishment, affecting both capacity and reliability, be justified when commuting conditions are so difficult?
  • Can a popular extra morning train, the 0728 Halifax-Leeds be kept on at least until all the new rolling stock is in service? This train is a 5-car intercity-type unit and it is not yet clear whether it will still be in the timetable after May 2018.
  • Can we expect more trains to be “cascaded” from other regional train operators in the next few months given expected progress to complete electrification of lines in Scotland and on the Great Western route?
  • Could InterCity 125 trains coming out of service in other parts of the country be used temporarily to provide additional capacity in the North?

The HADRAG letter, signed by the group’s chair, Stephen Waring, reiterates a welcome for planned enhancements to the Calder Valley Line timetable from May 2018, when it is hoped trains will run through to Manchester Airport and Chester. The plan is also for Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd to be served by the York-Blackpool express service – fulfilling a long-standing HADRAG demand.

But the group is concerned about the planned service pattern between Leeds and Calderdale and raises issues about service patterns and journey times the could impact on local passengers from next May.

The letter calls for Sowerby Bridge station to be served by the Manchester Airport trains, and asks for an assurance that service levels not just at Sowerby Bridge but also at smaller stations such as Mytholmroyd will not be adversely affected when most Calder Valley Line trains become express-style “Northern Connect” services at the end of 2019. HADRAG also supports calls by other groups along the line for improved services at Littleborough and at the new station Low Moor, in Bradford.

Beyond 2019, HADRAG calls for an improved service along the Brighouse line with a faster journey upper Calderdale-Brighouse-Leeds, ready for when the new station opens at Elland, hopefully by 2022.

The letter also calls for improved quality published and printed timetable booklets, and expresses concern that proper booking offices should be maintained at stations and developed to offer a wider range of retail and information services.

HADRAG Chair Stephen Waring commented:  “We have written to the new managing director of Northern, to introduce ourselves as a group that has been supporting positive development by the train operators as well as putting forward our own ideas for development for 32 years. We welcome much that the Northern franchise is planning, but we must reflect the daily concerns of people using our line who are crammed in conditions that frankly seem unhealthy. We want a train service that gets people to work, and home again, rested and relaxed, not tired and jaded. That will surely be better for productivity and the economy.

“We have had an initial response from Northern and they have offered to meet us in the coming weeks. That is really good because we want to continue to engage with them in a positive way.

“To describe Calderdale commuters going into Bradford, Leeds and Manchester in the morning as hard-pressed would perhaps be too literally true. The good news is that new trains are coming, but people crammed daily in frankly unhealthy conditions are still being asked to wait for this. We hear of regular instances of passengers being left behind at the station because it is physically impossible to get on the train.

“We really hope the new trains when they arrive will be enough, but meanwhile we really hope Northern can get hold of more carriages, sooner rather than later.

“And we must question the present train refurbishment programme which can only reduce peak capacity whilst the work is going on. We also suspect it puts pressure on maintenance leading to reduced reliability. The refurbished trains now running on our line are a big improvement and we welcome that. There is more work to be done on them. But it’s not much comfort having a nice modernised train in smart new colours if it’s so crowded that you can’t get on it.”

On service development, Stephen Waring added:

“We have already welcomed positive aspects of the May 2018 timetable proposals, but there has to be a better deal for stations serving medium-size towns like Sowerby Bridge and Brighouse that always seem to miss out on the faster services. Again, there is good news that Sowerby Bridge – and Mytholmroyd – will be getting the York-Blackpool trains, but we are a bit concerned that service improvements given next year could be taken away when the Northern Connect brand of fast services is introduced in 2019. They are planning an extra service every hour between Bradford and Manchester from December 2019. HADRAG wants that to be used to improve the service more stations, with places like Sowerby Bridge sharing in the benefits of the new service across Manchester to the Airport.”

 

Ordsall Chord ready for Calder Valley services

First public trains are due to run over a brand new railway in Manchester starting Sunday 10th December – and they will be Calder Valley Line serviP1070519ces from Leeds via Halifax and Rochdale, operated by Northern. The Ordsall Chord will link lines through Manchester Victoria station with the ones through Deansgate, Oxford Road, Piccadilly and towards the Airport.  From this month Calder Valley trains will run through, daytime off-peak only for now, to Oxford Road station. This is a prelude to a full hourly service to Manchester Piccadilly and the Airport in May 2018. First train scheduled over the new curve on the Sunday morning should be an 0840 local working from Manchester Victoria station to Oxford Road. This returns at 0857 to Calder Valley stations and Leeds. First westbound Sunday service from Calderdale is scheduled 0945 from Halifax through to Oxford Road. Hopefully there’ll be one or two HADRAG mHFX Ordsall posterembers on these first trains to mark the historic occasion – we are keeping an eye on the forecast as wintry weather threatens.

 

Weekday services will be the ones that leave Leeds around 18 minutes past the hour. The first Oxford Road weekday service will be the one that picks up at Halifax at 0756, after which they’ll be more or less hourly until late afternoon. Hopefully this is a taste of a much more useful service to come. From May 2018 Calder Valley Manchester trains should run not only round Ordsall to Manchester Piccadilly and the Airport but there will also be an hourly service to Warrington and Chester.

 

Summer update: Part 2 – Elland station good news. Ambitious transport hub is another reason to upgrade Brighouse Line timetable!

 

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Huddersfield-York Sunday train calls at Low Moor station on the recent new station’s first day. In not too many years time this train should also serve Elland. Time for an update on this summer’s good news:

HADRAG welcomes this summer’s major step forward in planning Elland station as an ambitious transport hub, and calls for the Northern train operator to rise to the challenge of upgrading train services on the line. We say with a decent timetable Elland-Leeds by train could take just over 20 minutes. MORE BELOW…

Elland map

In June the combined authority’s West Yorkshire and York investment committee recommended allocation of up to £22million from the West Yorkshire Plus Transport Fund (WY+TF) to an ambitious project that should make the new station at Elland a local transport hub, with pedestrian, bus, park & ride and cycle links, by 2022.

This is a major step forward for Elland, the town that has been waiting for its own railway station since Brighouse opened 17 years ago. The scheme will now move forward towards the next hurdle, outline business case, which should be completed by the end of next year. By then the project will have achieved what Network Rail calls “GRIP 4” – single option development, with detailed design (GRIP 5) following over the next two years.

The £22M (which includes allowance for 20% overrun in delivery costs) buys considerably more than just a simple train station. The key elements of the ambitious  project are:

  • The new station itself, located at Lowfields Way. This would be next to the big “figure of eight” roundabout off the A629 bypass road;
  • Pedestrian, cycle and public realm improvements to link the new station to Elland town centre as well as to surrounding areas of planned employment and housing growth;
  • New footbridge over the River Calder. This will link to the Calder Valley Greenway on the canal bank (Route 66). It will also give good links to the station from the north and west where the Local Plan suggests significant housing growth. Current employers in the area could also benefit with opportunities for “intensification” of activity;
  • New bus infrastructure to enable bus-train interchange at the station, providing sustainable access from a wider catchment area; and
  • Dedicated station car park and highway access to bring in park & ride to bring in passengers from existing and new housing area around the periphery of the town.

This sounds very much like the sort of local transport hub that HADRAG called for just four years ago after we held our 2013 annual meeting in Elland .

We understand the car park could be built on two levels, and hope bus operators will be persuaded to provide services linking the station and all the surrounding communities. Sustainable commuting and leisure also look to be encouraged by the scheme. We look forward to being able to access the station on foot or with a bike from the canalside “green” route.

The station also has an obvious potential role in hospital transport for staff, patients and visitors. Could shuttle buses linking the two NHS sites at Calderdale (Salterhebble) and Huddersfield (Lindley) be developed to call at Elland station?

In terms of the local community, HADRAG says Elland station, with good park & ride and sustainable transport links should be seen as serving not just Elland itself but also Greetland and Stainland, a total “Greater Elland” population of more than 20,000. As such the station will have a catchment as populous as the areas served by stations like Brighouse or Sowerby Bridge. In fact we reckon any one of Sowerby Bridge, Elland or Brighouse stations potentially serves as big a population as the two main upper Calderdale stations – Todmorden and Hebden Bridge – combined.

Upper valley-Elland-Brighouse rail corridor: we hope for timetable improvements!

But of course Todmorden and Hebden Bridge, along with Halifax, currently have almost double the train service level of either Sowerby Bridge or Brighouse. Sowerby Bridge (and Mytholmroyd) should see some improvement next year with the Blackpool-York trains stopping. We really hope Northern will build on that at the end of 2019 when the next big timetable recast comes. And of course HADRAG continues to argue the case with train operator Northern for a better deal for the Brighouse corridor. In our response to Northern’s timetable plans we have specifically asked for future timetables to include make allowance for all trains that currently stop at Brighouse also to serve Elland. We have also want the Manchester-Rochdale-Brighouse-Leeds “valley bottom service” to run later at night and on Sundays, something that does not, so far, seem to feature in Northern’s plans.

As an ambitious transport hub, Elland station will be another reason to upgrade the timetable. Opening 22 years after neighbouring Brighouse, the new station may still seem frustratingly in the future. But at least by 2022 we hope there may be further timetable improvements. Under the existing service patterns, Elland would be served by hourly trains on the Manchester-Brighouse-Leeds and Huddersfield-Bradford-Leeds routes, effectively an hourly stopping service to key destinations. We have joined our colleagues in the Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Sustainable Transport Group in calling for a service from the upper Calder Valley to Huddersfield, meeting commuting, educational and other sources of demand. That would give an additional service along the Sowerby Bridge-Elland-Brighouse corridor. But we also need better services Elland/Brighouse-Leeds.

Potential for fast journey to Leeds

We want Northern, Network Rail and their train planners to rise to the challenge of providing an upgraded timetable for Elland/Brighouse rail corridor. It probably needs some capacity improvements in the Huddersfield and Mirfield area as well as a more ambitious approach by the train operator.

Finally, HADRAG has repeatedly, over may years, pointed out the potential to speed up trains on the direct Brighouse-Dewsbury-Leeds route. At present Brighouse-Leeds takes about 34 minutes, calling at nearly all stations. So that would be 37-38 minutes from Elland. A fast service, with maybe just intermediate stop, would easily cut the Brighouse-Leeds journey to 20 minutes. So stations all the way up the valley would get a Leeds service that could be 10-15 minutes faster than at present. Elland-Leeds could be about 23 minutes.

What could go wrong? One complication is the TransPennine Route Upgrade. This is the project that was meant to include Huddersfield Line electrification, though it sounds increasingly as though it may not. With or without electrification there is likely to be upgrade work to improve capacity that will mean diversions of TransPennine Express via the Calder Valley line while the work is going on. The plan seems to be that this will be completed before Elland opens. Fingers crossed, then. -JSW

Summer Update: Part 1 – helping Northern to get the May 2018 timetable right

GC BDI Sept16
Northern currently uses a 5-carriage Grand Central train, like this one at Bradford, to provide an extra morning commuter train from Halifax to Leeds. It’s looking like this train, the 0728 from Halifax (lovingly known to some commuters as the Halifax Pullman!) could disappear at the May 2018 timetable change. The hope is that the train company will have enough extra carriages by next May to compensate for this loss. The fear is there will be a gap of more than 20 minutes in the Halifax-Leeds timetable at a key time for commuters, and even worse overcrowding than at present on other trains. HADRAG wants this train to stay in Northern’s timetable at least until all the new rolling stock – currently being built in Spain – is in service, probably by 2020.

HADRAG, you may have gathered, has not been idle over the summer. (And summer’s not over yet.) We were pleased to be included in the consultation by Arriva Rail North (aka our Northern train operating company) on proposals for the May 2018 timetable change. May’18 will be the first big timetable recast under the 9-year franchise that started in April last year and should bring serious upgrades to the service on our Calder Valley Line (CVL) including regular trains via the soon-to-be-completed Ordsall Chord to Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport (18 months earlier than expected), as well trains to Chester. Other pleasant surprises, including regular Blackpool-York trains (our popular Roses Rail Link) serving Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd. There are also less palatable and perhaps unintended consequences such as the same two local stations, if a circulated draft timetable is to be believed, losing services to Manchester on Sundays. And, having digested a graphic service pattern displayed by Northern regional director at HADRAG’s AGM, we have fears for service levels at local stations when the next big change takes place in December 2019.

The question is: Can the enhancements be introduced without damaging the service for existing users, not least regular Calderdale commuters who work in Leeds or Manchester, and people who use the Brighouse line for example to travel between upper Calderdale and Huddersfield?

We hope so, but the circulated draft timetable suggests that the train company may be struggling. Read on…

HADRAG worked with Hebden Bridge and Todmorden-based colleagues in the Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Sustainable Transport Group (UCVRSTG) to produce a detailed joint response to Northern’s timetable consultation. There are certainly things to welcome (some unexpected) but we have identified a list of serious concerns about the effect on service patterns and connectivity for existing passengers. In this we believe we are in good company. As a statutory consultee, the county transport body West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), representing the five district authorities, submitted its own detailed comments and was reported as expressing fears the service pattern between Leeds and Halifax would be markedly worse than the present timetable.

Anxious to be positive, we welcome headline developments proposed by Northern for the Calder Valley line in May next year:

  • Bradford, Halifax and Hebden Bridge and Todmorden will have direct trains to Manchester Airport. These trains are expected to operate hourly, 7-days a week, via the Ordsall Curve, the new line due to be completed later this year that will allow trains from the Calder Valley as well as from the TransPennine route via Huddersfield to continue beyond Manchester Victoria and turn left to access Oxford Road and Piccadilly stations and continue to the Airport.
  • The other CVL Manchester train each hour will continue to Warrington Bank Quay and Chester. This will maintain a Warrington-Leeds link (withdrawn by TransPennine Express), and open up the possibility of connections from our area for Cheshire, Staffordshire, the West Midlands and Wales.
  • Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd will be served by the hourly York-Halifax-Blackpool semi-fast trains (what we still call the “Roses Rail Link”), increasing train frequency at these two stations from 2 to 3 trains/hour to Leeds and from 1 to 2 trains/hr to Halifax and Bradford. But there are big problems with the proposed Sunday service, and fears that what is given in May 2018 may be taken away in December 2019. 
  • The “Roses” trains will also run fast Leeds-York (with one stop, at Church Fenton). On the face of it this ought to speed-up Calderdale-York journeys, but the benefit is partly neutralised by extended dwell times in Leeds stations (which may or may not improve reliability).

BUT: Despite the headline improvements, we can only agree with reported WYCA comments that the proposed timetable could lead to a “markedly worse” service between Leeds and Calderdale. Serious concerns identified by HADRAG and UCVRSTG include:

  • Uneven “clockface pattern” of services, effectively damaging service frequency.
    • We say the train company needs to rethink the proposed timetable that shows, for example, a 4 trains/hour Leeds-Halifax pattern at xx08, 19, 42 and 49 past the hour – intervals of 11, 23, 7 and 20 minutes, a mockery of the ideal even 15-minute frequency. The train at xx19 actually catches up with the preceding xx08 (which is the Brighouse and Huddersfield train calling at Low Moor) and these two trains are planned to be within 6 minutes of each other at Halifax?
    • Hebden Bridge departures for Leeds are shown as xx14, 28, 42, 50 followed by 24 minute gap before the next xx14.
    • Under the same heading the xx08 service from Leeds to Huddersfield via Bradford and Brighouse is actually overtaken by the xx22 Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester train, effectively making Leeds-Brighouse frequency just one useful train per hour.
  • Disappointing Sunday services:
    • No direct Sunday service Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge to Manchester (Sunday trains at these two valley stations are planned to go to Blackpool instead). Connections at Hebden Brige are not, shall we say, particularly attractive.
    • Lack of plans for Sunday service Leeds-Brighouse-upper Calderdale-Manchester, which we say overlooks potential for weekend work and leisure travel. Sunday service plans for Brighouse appear to be no more than an hourly service on the Leeds-Halifax-Huddersfield route, which is at least better than the present 2-hourly.
  • Early morning trains
    • An existing popular early Brighouse-Leeds direct train at 0702 is missing from the draft timetable which implies users of this service would have to go the long way round via Bradford. Surely this must be a mistake. We hope so.
    • Proposed loss of the popular extra Halifax-Leeds morning commuter train that leaves at 0728 and uses a 5-carriage intercity train unit supplied by sister Arriva company Grand Central. By proposed loss we mean it is not shown in the draft May’18 timetable, leaving a gap in the proposed Halifax-Leeds service between 0718 and 0741. That’s a 23 minute service interval at the busiest time of the day (what price quarter-hourly?). We fear this will lead to even worse morning overcrowding than is seen now. Obviously, the train company is planning for additional rolling stock to be available by May 2018.  But we fear withdrawal of this popular train which uses the best rolling stock currently in use on Northern could lead to poorer comfort standards and even worse overcrowding than is seen on many trains now. The groups want the “Halifax Pullman” – as we call this intercity-style Halifax-Leeds train – to be retained at least until all of the new rolling stock is in service. (And HADRAG has already expressed concern as to whether all the new carriages on order will be enough.)
  • Extended journey times on some routes. Good news that the Monday-Saturday Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester service is to run fast Rochdale to Manchester is negated by a proposed six-minute increase in journey time Brighouse-Sowerby Bridge. Brighouse-Huddersfield journey time is shown as 19 minutes – which just seems ridiculous. We can’t see any reason for this in terms of pathing into Huddersfield. So maybe it’s a mistake. Again, let’s hope so.
  • Loss of late evening trains from Manchester to intermediate stations such as Walsden, Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge in the draft timetable. This seems to be another unintended consequence. We think they might be able to sort it out.
  • Loss of upper Calderdale to Huddersfield connections at Brighouse. This is a particular concern of HADRAG’s upper valley colleagues, and we agree with them! We say that there is significant latent demand for direct services between upper valley stations and Huddersfield for work and educational purposes, but the proposed timetable changes will actually discourage such travel by rail.
  • Continuing lack of direct trains Littleborough/Walsden-Bradford/Halifax

We want to meet the train planners!

We duly submitted our detailed joint response to the train company’s stakeholder consultation in a 21-page paper earlier this summer. HADRAG and UCVRSTG are now seeking a further meeting with senior Northern managers to press our case. We are awaiting a response to this request.  

Anyone who has followed HADRAG over the years knows that we do not seek to find fault unreasonably, to complain unduly, or to carp; rather we support positive initiatives by the rail businesses and transport agencies to improve services, whilst putting forward our own ideas. In that spirit we have, with our colleagues further up the valley, submitted constructive criticisms in the hope that we can help Northern to develop a good timetable for May 2018 by pointing out some serious issues for existing rail users.

The 2019 threat

HADRAG and UCVRSTG’s response contains a “SWOT analysis” – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats – of Northern’s timetable proposals.

We have a further issue about what we know about plans for the next big timetable change in December 2019. At HADRAG’s 2017 annual general meeting in May, our guest speaker Paul Barnfield, Northern’s regional director, gave a presentation which included graphics showing service patterns for 2018 and 2019. Good news, as expected, is that the December 2019 graphic showed 3 trains/hour Bradford-Manchester. The bad news was that all three of these trains were shown as running non-stop Halifax-Hebden Bridge, reducing the Manchester service at Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd from twice-hourly to just one train per hour. This is surely not acceptable.

There also appears currently to be no proposal to improve service frequency at the new Low Moor station. Low Moor needs a Manchester service to stop each hour as well as the Leeds-Halifax-Huddersfield trains.

And we think the benefits of the investment in the new Ordsall Chord line crossing Manchester should be spread as widely as possible with stations like Sowerby Bridge being served by trains to Manchester Airport. HADRAG believes the catchment area for Sowerby Bridge station is at least as great in population terms as Hebden Bridge and Todmorden combined. Yet Sowerby Bridge at present has about half the service level of the two upper valley stations.

The same is true, in terms of potential catchment, of Brighouse, and of the planned new station at Elland. HADRAG will continue to press the case for further improvement at Sowerby Bridge, from December 2019, with the May 2018 timetable as absolute baseline minimum service level. Beyond 2019 we want a better deal for the Brighouse corridor including Elland. Remember a potential non-stop Brighouse-Leeds journey time of under 20 minutes makes this potentially the fastest route from upper Calderdale to Leeds. Then there is the need for better connectivity between upper valley stations and Huddersfield, a journey that is positively discouraged by the May 2018 proposals as they currently stand.

In a news release to local and regional media, Stephen Waring, Chair of HADRAG commented:

“We know Northern want to improve our services under the franchise agreement. We have put forward constructive criticisms on what is currently proposed. We want passengers to be able to welcome the May 2018 timetable when it is finalised not greet it with a storm of protest. We are delighted that our present York-Halifax-Blackpool semi-fast trains linking towns across the North are going to be stopping at Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd. That’s something HADRAG has called for over many years.  

 “But we are disappointed with aspects of the proposals that make the service less attractive for existing users, let alone attract new passengers. We are not alone in criticising the proposals because we know the county’s official transport body, West Yorkshire Combined Authority has said the Leeds-Calderdale service could be markedly worse. 

“We are glad about the extra trains stopping at Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd, but we have seen information shared by Northern that suggests service frequency at these stations could actually be cut again in December 2019 when many of our trains become “Northern Connect” expresses. This would surely not be acceptable.

 “We are hoping to meet Northern again to find out firstly how they hope to improve on the May 2018 proposals which as they stand are simply not good enough. Secondly, we hope they can assure us about future developments, not least to improve services on the Brighouse line ready for opening of Elland station, hopefully by 2022. Brighouse still gets a poor deal; more is needed.”

For the upper valley, Nina Smith, Chair of UCVRSTG commented:

 “Whilst we warmly welcome the new trains to the Airport, Chester and Southport, and a later train to Sowerby Bridge, Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge from Leeds, we are very concerned about the uneven pattern of trains from Leeds and Manchester to the upper valley stations, which will mean people who just miss a train could have to wait nearly half an hour for the next one.

 “We are also concerned that the opportunity presented by a major timetable recast has not been used to provide good interchange in both directions for people travelling between the upper valley stations and Huddersfield. This is a growing commuter flow, especially with staff and students for Huddersfield University, and our longer term goal is for a direct upper valley to Huddersfield service.

 “Finally, we were hoping that the May 2108 timetable would include early morning Sunday trains to Leeds and Manchester. Sundays are now as important for rail travellers as other days.” 

Halifax’s trains and station on agenda with Northern director at HADRAG annual meeting. And we’re not forgetting Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse and Elland!

Ordsall 2017.05.05 new framed by old
New framed by old. Modern arch bridge on the Ordsall Chord seen through girders of Quay Street road bridge. Left foot in Manchester, right in Salford. The Ordsall Chord is a new cross-city railway on schedule to be complete this autumn. It will carry Calder Valley trains to Manchester Oxford Road station at the south of the city by the end of 2017. Aims include regular hourly trains from Bradford, Halifax, Hebden Bridge and Rochdale to Manchester Airport maybe sooner than we thought.

HADRAG, The Halifax & District Rail Action Group, will welcoming any rail users, actual and would-be, at the group’s annual meeting on Saturday afternoon 13 May 2017 at the OrangeBox centre, Halifax HX1 1AF; doors open 13:00 (1pm) for 13:20 start. Topping the bill as keynote speaker will be Paul Barnfield who is Regional Director (East) at Arriva Rail North – the train company we know as Northern. Paul will give a presentation on progress and plans for transformation of train services through Halifax and along the Calder Valley under the train operating franchise that has now been running for a year. Paul expects to be joined by colleague Richard Isaac who is Northern’s community and sustainability manager for our area.

Big things are expected, with Calder Valley trains running via a brand new railway to reach the south side of Manchester by the end of this year. Promises for May 2018 include trains to Chester, earlier and later trains on the routes through Brighouse, and, 18 months sooner than expected, through trains to Manchester Airport. We are also hoping for good news for one or two of our line’s “Cinderella” stations including Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd. Northern is now consulting stakeholders on its May 2018 timetable proposals, and HADRAG will be making detailed comments, suggesting areas for further improvement as well as welcoming what is certainly looking like good news.

But with talk of new destinations beyond the big cities, regular users of our peak hour trains may be wondering what is to be done about conditions of overcrowding regularly endured by Calderdale commuters to and from Leeds and Manchester. The franchise promise is an increase in peak hour capacity of more than a third before 2020, including brand new trains for most Calder Valley Line services. Do we think this will be enough? And can anything be done to relieve conditions whilst we are waiting for the promised transformation?

Meanwhile decisions are due soon on transformative plans for Halifax station (pictured at bottom of this post), hopefully making it into the gateway to the town that HADRAG called for years ago. Ambitious ideas aim at a station, not just enabled to deal with growing numbers of local people using the train, but fit also to deal with big crowds attending events at the Piece Hall, fit indeed for continuing growth in rail travel for the next 50 years. There will be an opportunity for HADRAG members and rail passengers to comment on the developing plans at our meeting on May 13th.

Finally, our Elland next campaign remains high on HADRAG’s agenda. Plans are progressing for a station to serve what arguably is Yorkshire’s biggest urban area without a rail service. The catchment area for Elland, including Greetland and Stainland, encompasses a population of over 20,000. We want a commitment from Northern and Network Rail to include Elland in the December 2019 timetable.

-JSW (updated 12.v.17)

HFX 2017.05 panorama
Halifax station and its road approach bridge. How can this be not just made a bit better, but transformed as a gateway future-proofed for the next 50 years?