After the May 2018 omnishambles!

It started badly. It got better. But it’s still not good enough. Following the May 2018 train timetable omnishambles, where are we going with service improvement and development on the Calder Valley Line?

 

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Grand Central to the rescue! First day of the new timetable saw a new morning commuter train at 0702 from Hebden Bridge to Leeds. Northern hire in a 5-carriage Grand Central unit for this train which used to start from Halifax. Now it is a vital service in the commuter pattern, particularly given gaps between other services from Calderdale to Leeds in a flawed new timetable. The train also now returns at teatime, 1725 from Leeds back to Hebden Bridge.

Read our early Autumn update below. But first a quick summary of HADRAG activity over a hectic summer, with links to documents. Since our June AGM, HADRAG has:

 

  • contributed to inquiries into the timetable chaos by the Office of Road and Rail (ORR) and the House of Commons transport committee. See also submission to the select committee
  • raised a shopping list of Northern issues at a drop-in session with Northern’s regional director and colleagues. In October we shall be discussing our aspirations for service development with officers at West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA).
  • strongly supported Elland station plans in the recent public engagement by WYCA/Calderdale and made suggestions. See our response Elland response July 2018. HADRAG will be holding its next committee meeting in Elland on Saturday 15th July (10.00 at the Cartwheel youth centre) and we’d be happy to meet anyone interested in the station. (This replaces the 10 September committee meeting.)
  • participated in the Transport Focus/Rail Delivery Group “Easier Fares” consultation (see Fares consultation HADRAG response ).

And we strongly welcome Calderdale Council’s cabinet level decision, aligned with the Electric Railway Charter, to lobby MPs, Government and Network Rail to bring forward Calder Valley Line electrification. See also the council’s report.

Remember Monday 21 May? There were a few hours during which we thought the new timetable was not going too badly. There was “good news” at Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd with the York-Blackpool trains calling every hour, fulfilling a long-standing aspiration of HADRAG. Except that the York-Blackpool trains were only running from Leeds to Preston. Calder Valley trains that had been running through to Manchester Oxford Road via the new Ordsall Chord had gone back to terminating at Victoria. So instead of getting through trains to Manchester Airport and Chester originally panned for December 2017 (yes, nearly a year ago now) our line went back to a worse service than we’d had under the old franchise. At least Brighouse now has an hourly service to Wigan and Southport, useful the for the few that want to make that journey. Although – surprise, surprise! – we hear that Southport and Wigan would much rather have an hourly service to Manchester Airport. Wouldn’t we all? (But we are having to wait a little longer.)

The immediate impression of the new timetable was that it simply did not work. People were turning up at the station, looking at the screen, wondering how late they’d be for work or whether they’d get home before the kids’ bedtime. The chaos went on for two weeks. Northern introduced a temporary timetable (i.e. temporary service cuts) mainly hitting the North West, to deal with shortages of trains, shortages of train crews. The cuts seemed to hit existing services (such as the Manchester-Todmorden-Blackburn route) not just the proposed enhancements. Thankfully service quality improved. Reliability and punctuality are back to historic levels, the service is usable (despite regular strike days – another story). And we want people to use it.

But that does not mean it is good enough. The term omnishambles seems to cover it. What had gone wrong? It seems the railway realised around Christmas that electrification of the Manchester-Bolton-Preston line (principal contractor Carillion – remember them?) through Bolton was not going to be complete in time to introduce electric services in May. This means the “cascade” of diesel trains needed to bring in enhancements on other routes could not happen. So Northern (we understand) prudently requested a delay to the whole May timetable change across the North. This was refused by Network Rail, it seems because other train operators (TransPennine Express et al) wanted to go ahead with their planned enhancements. Leaving Northern in a mess. The service had to change in May to fit in with other operators, but the enhancements could not be introduced. So the timetable had to be replanned over a couple of months, a process that might normally be expected to take a couple of years. Then there was a delay handing back the Preston-Blackpool line after an Autumn-Spring blockade to complete electrification. A six-month limit was breached meaning drivers had to re-learn the route. (Given the tendency of infrastructure projects to overrun, should jot this have been anticipated?) It meant only limited services could be operated on the Blackpool line, and continuing shortages of train crew hitting other services.

Before May, Northern had told us the York-Blackpool service would be restored as soon as enough trains were available. This sounded hopeful. But now now the expected timetable recast in December 2018 has been postponed (perhaps wisely) until at least May next year, and Northern seem to be unable to tell us whether there is a chance of earlier improvement.

And there are other serious defects in the timetable affecting local passengers. These include the following, all of which we believe need dealing with urgently:

  • Poor clockface patterns. Examples include 4 trains an hour Halifax to Leeds but nothing like even quarter-hourly. 2 trains/hr Sowerby Bridge but the fast closely follows the stopper and catches it up. Also “Brighouse overtaking issue” – see below.
  • Increased journey times on some services.
  • Inconvenient morning peak gaps for example from Sowerby Bridge to Leeds in the morning.
  • Evening gaps at Sowerby Bridge and Mytholmroyd. 2-hours between evening trains from Manchester. Last train back from Bradford to these stations significantly earlier than in old timetable. This despite late evening trains running through the two stations non-stop, a problem which it would appear could easily be solved. Why wait till next May or even December?
  • “Brighouse overtaking issue”. The Leeds-Bradford-Brighouse train is overtaken in both directions by the direct service via Dewsbury. This in effect reduces Leeds-Brighouse frequency from 2 trains/hr to 1 train/hr. This may confirm with the letter but surely not the spirit of the franchise service specification. We can see this might need longer to put right, but December 2019 seems a reasonable demand given this is the date when (last we heard) Northern must have all its service enhancements in place and will be the second of two major changes next year.

There seems to be a systemic problem. All the train companies including Northern and TransPennine Express who operate almost all internal trains across the North have their own train planning offices. They must bid for slots in the timetable to Network Rail who have their own train planners centrally – but for us remotely – based in Milton Keynes. So that’s three separate organisations planning the timetable across the North. Northern as “stopping train” operator is last in the pecking order and TransPennine gets priority for its trains from the North East to Manchester Airport going through Manchester Victoria, round the new curve and in via Oxford Road and Piccadilly. So Calder Valley trains and scores of other routes used by huge numbers of daily commuters must fit round a minority “inter-city” operation. Surely a better system is possible? How about a single, devolved and integrated joint train planning team for the North, setting out a strategic service pattern to meet commitments and building an optimised timetable that works fairly for all?

HADRAG’s priorities and aspirations

Early in July we were able to present Northern with a short “Issues” paper outlining our concerns and setting out our aspirations – including better services over the Sowerby Bridge-Elland-Brighouse corridor. We are developing this into a list of priorities that we hope to discuss with WYCA early in October. In short:

  • we expect the promised franchise enhancements to be introduced by December 2019. Commitments include the Airport and Chester trains plus an extra train each hour between Bradford and Manchester and trains to Liverpool. All these plus the York-Blackpools will be branded Northern Connect as regional express services, and will be due to get the brand-new trains that are now starting to arrive from Spain.
  • We really hope Northern will use the increase in Calder Valley frequency to improve the service at stations such as Sowerby Bridge, Mytholmroyd and Low Moor. It is still not clear what the level of service will be at Sowerby Bridge (and Mytholmroyd) by the end of 2019. We want the enhancements to be introduced without further damaging the service for existing passengers. And damage already done needs to be repaired.
  • Beyond 2019 and looking toward opening of the new station at Elland hopefully by 2022, we want to see a better service over the Halifax/Sowerby bridge-Elland-Brighouse corridor. We have already made that point in our response to the recent consultation on Elland station. Fast running Brighouse-Leeds could bring that journey down to 20 minutes or less. New services could be introduced for example linking upper Calderdale with Huddersfield and Halifax with Wakefield and York or Sheffield. We hope that capacity enhancements in the Huddersfield-Mirfield area will be part of the Network Rail’s TransPennine Route Upgrade which is expected to start next spring.

AGM: The May timetable chaos meant Adam Timewell, commercial franchise manager at Rail North Partnership (Transport for the North + Department for Transport) was unable to attend HADRAG’s AGM on June 2nd. Two weeks in, he was fully occupied dealing with fallout. We were really grateful to WYCA Transport Committee Cllr Daniel Sutherland and to WYCA rail development officer Richard Crabtree for attending at short notice and responding to a HADRAG presentation. Adam promised to talk to us later in the year and we intend to take up that offer.

Electric Railway Charter

The campaign gathers pace for electrification of the Calder Valley Line, top-ranked scheme of the Northern Electrification Task Force in its 2015 “Northern Sparks” report. Calderdale Council’s cabinet meeting in early September agreed to mount an intensified lobbying campaign to bring our line forward. The council’s position is aligned with the Electric Railway Charter, launched in Halifax in May. Along with HADRAG the Charter founder groups are Bradford Rail Users Group, Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Sustainable Transport Group, and STORM (Support the Oldham-Rochdale-Manchester rail line), supported by the Yorkshire and North West Branches of national pressure group Railfuture.

We intend to keep building support for the Charter and will be contacting all MPs and local authorities along the Calder Valley Line.

The Autumn edition HADRAG’s newsletter Rail Views will appear later in September.

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Get involved as Elland moves to next stage!

Aerial view

HADRAG wants local people to respond positively as the Elland rail station project takes a further step forward. WYCA (West Yorkshire Combined Authority) and Calderdale are consulting on the latest outline designs with drop-in sessions to look at the plans and meet members of the project team, and an on-line consultation. Downloadable displays show visual impressions of the new station itself and plans of the proposes wider access package, which could include pedestrian and cycle links from as far away as West Vale, with new bridges over the River Calder and canal. There is also a booklet which sums up both station and access schemes. 

Fingers crossed, we can be confident now that the station is on course to open by 2022 – who knows, maybe before? The whole combined scheme – a 2-platform station with lifts, car park and wider access package costed in total at a little over £20 million – is a lot more than just a simple train halt. It’s in the West Yorkshire Transport Fund capital programme, but there are still hoops to jump on the journey through outline then full business case to construction and commissioning for trains to stop there. The present consultation is part of that process. Deadline for responses is 20 July 2018.

WYCA is working on the station, and Calderdale on the wider sustainable access. This public engagement period is to allow everyone to see the work to date and give their thoughts. The scheduled drop-in sessions are:

      Thursday 28th June – 12pm to 6pm – Elland Southgate Methodist Church

      Wednesday 4th July – 12pm to 6pm – Brighouse Civic Centre

      Saturday 7th July – 10am to 2pm – Elland Southgate Methodist Church

      Monday 16th July – 12pm to 6pm – Halifax Town Hall

Whether or not you can make one of these sessions all the engagement materials including a list of “FAQ” answers are available on the WYCA website for review:  https://www.yourvoice.westyorks-ca.gov.uk/.

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

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!

 

Low Moor 153 edited
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