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.
Campaigners in HADRAG, the Halifax & District Rail Action Group, are calling for Elland to be next new railway station in West Yorkshire following opening of Low Moor earlier this month. We want the Northern train operator (Arriva Rail North) and Network Rail (who oversee tracks and timetables) to declare their commitment to Elland station and ensure provision is made for trains to stop in new timetables planned for the next 2-3 years. Meanwhile we continue to argue for a better deal for Calder Valley stations currently missed out by “semi-fast” or “express” services. We say Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge deserve something more like the service level and quality enjoyed by Hebden Bridge and Todmorden. More below:
Low Moor station is on the Calder Valley Line between Halifax and Bradford. HADRAG joined with other groups including the Bradford rail users (BRUG), and the Friends of Low Moor Station (FOLMS) in celebrating the first trains at Low Moor station on the first Sunday in April (02/04/17). Low Moor is served by hourly trains on the Leeds-Bradford-Halifax-Brighouse-Huddersfield route. It also has intercity services to London operated by the Grand Central open access operator. With the other groups, HADRAG wants to see a better service at the new station and we hope a Manchester service can be arranged to stop every hour by the end of 2019.
December 2019 is the second of two big timetable change dates when services are expected to be transformed under the Northern trains franchise under Arriva. By then Bradford-Manchester should have 3 trains/hour (compared with 2/hour at present) and we say that should be an opportunity to boost the service at intermediate stations, not just provide an extra fast train that misses out a lot of stops.
If increasing usage is the measure (Office of Road and Rail station usage statistics, 2016), Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge should be the Calder Valley Line’s top two stations. (See also our newsletter piece: Two Cinderella stations again top table!)
Usage of Sowerby Bridge station has risen steadily and now stands at 392,000 passengers/year, an increase of 132% on ten years ago. Although passenger numbers are historically higher at Hebden and Tod, their ten-year percentage increase is somewhat less than Sowerby Bridge’s. Sowerby Bridge station serves not just the town itself but also the Ryburn valley and the eastern side of Luddendenfoot. This represents a catchment area of more than 20,000 population, and probably more than that of Hebden Bridge and Todmorden combined. Yet the basic half-hourly service at Sowerby Bridge is only about half the frequency enjoyed by the upper valley stations. HADRAG continues to argue that all of the York-Blackpool semi-fast trains should call at Sowerby Bridge (at present just a few do at peak hours). We also say that when an extra service every hour is introduced between Bradford and Manchester at the end of 2019, that train should also serve Sowerby Bridge.
Brighouse line – and Elland! Brighouse has an even better case for more trains, but apart from some increase to peak hour and Sunday services to be introduced by May 2018, little extra seems to be promised for Brighouse under the Northern franchise. This is in stark contrast to Halifax, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden on the Bradford-Manchester route which will benefit from “Northern Connect” branded regional express services by 2019. Like Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse serves a population covering at least two local council wards – 20,000 plus. The ORR’s figures show a ten-year increase of 476% at Brighouse station which now sees footfall of over 400,000 entries and exits annually. No better than Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse’s best local service frequency is hourly on each of two routes (Leeds-Brighouse-Todmorden-Manchester and Leeds-Bradford-Brighouse-Huddersfield). The Sunday service is at present 2-hourly (on the Bradford route only); the commitment is to increase this to hourly. HADRAG has been pressing for a speed-up of the Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester trains which we say should also run on Sundays. We hope that changes to stopping patterns may see these trains running semi-fast west of Todmorden in the next year or so. A few peak-hour trains on the Brighouse-Manchester route are planned to run non-stop Rochdale-Manchester from December 2017. We do not yet know whether this will become the pattern for all of these trains. Beyond 2019 and Northern’s initial franchise commitments we hope that the Brighouse-Leeds service will also be improved with fast or semi-fast operation. Non-stop running time Brighouse-Leeds is about 17 minutes but the current stopping service takes double this time. This is very much an area where we expect the train operator to deliver beyond its basic franchise commitment.
Which brings us to Elland, one of the top three sites in the West and North Yorkshire new stations study (now getting on for three years ago). The October 2014 Atkins report forecast demand at Elland as 240,000 annually. In the latest feasibility studies, consultants report a strong business case and confirm the buildability of an impressive-looking new station on the strategic site next to the A629 and Lowfields. HADRAG believes this could work well as a park and ride serving the whole “Greater Elland” settlement – again, a population of 20,000 plus. We understand the money for building Elland station (price-tag maybe £14 million) could come from West Yorkshire Plus Transport Fund, though there may be further hoops to jump before that can happen.
And the train timetable must be designed to allow trains to stop at Elland. So HADRAG calls on the Northern train operator (Arriva Rail North) and on Network Rail to declare their commitment now to operating Elland station with a good train service. Every local train that stops at Brighouse must also stop at Elland! There looks to be slack in the current timetable to allow that to happen but obviously with major timetable recasts in May 2018 and December 2019 that allowance must also be built in for the future. Faster line speeds on the Bradford-Manchester route and hopefully a semi-fast pattern for the Brighouse-Manchester trains should make this easier. The railway – train operators and infrastructure managers – should commit to this without further delay or equivocation. What’s to stop them? HADRAG is clear that after massively successful Apperley Bridge and Kirkstall Forge, and now Low Moor:
As part of the rail investment in the North, Network Rail are investing over £1 billion on targeted upgrades to the rail network, helping to support and grow the regional economy.
The Calder Valley Route Upgrade is part of this investment programme. The route upgrade will deliver faster services and improve connections between key towns and cities across the North.
As part of the upgrade plan, we will be carrying out track and signal upgrades along the Calder Valley route, this will pave the way for faster journeys.
We have already completed the upgrade to signals and track between Manchester Victoria and Littleborough. We are currently working on upgrades between Littleborough and Bradford Interchange.
From 19 March until 15 May 2017 (excluding Easter and Tour de Yorkshire weekends), we will be working weekends to renew and lower track in locations along the route. We’re working closely with train operators to communicate changes to services with passengers and advising passengers to check before you travel at www.nationalrail.co.uk
We understand that our work will also impact on communities (especially people who live and work nearby the railway); we will notify in advance of working, explain what work is planned and when we expect our work to be noisy.
We’re working with businesses, local authorities, media and politicians to make sure the general public know what is happening and when.
We are holding a series of community information sessions about the Calder Valley Route Upgrade; we would like to invite you to attend. Representatives from Network Rail and our contractors will be on hand to answer any questions about this planned work.
HADRAG, the Halifax & District Rail Action Group is expecting a panel of three speakers from Network Rail to talk about the current infrastructure and signalling improvement schemes on the Manchester-Bradford Calder Valley Line. All interested rail users – actual and would-be! – are welcome at the group’s open committee meeting, on Monday 19th December starting 7.30 pm at Halifax Town Hall, HX1 1ZS
The list of speakers given to us by Network Rail is:
Sarah Jones, communications manager for the Trans Pennine and Calder Valley schemes;
Vanessa Conway, project sponsor
Salim Patel, project manager.
HADRAG expects an interesting hour or so of presentation and discussion and may be sending its guests away with more questions than can be answered on the night!
Work has already been going on west of the Pennines to improve the West section of our Calder Valley route. A new turnback platform is already operational at Rochdale, and other works on the track are expected to yield higher line speeds. There will also be benefits between Todmorden and Bradford, with work on the East section about to start. Currently the linespeed maximum is 60mph Hebden Bridge to Halifax and 55 Halifax to Bradford. HADRAG is hoping that that these limits will be raised.
Together with the track enhancements is a resignalling scheme, somewhat confusingly described as “Huddersfield-Bradford” as it must also go out to Hebden Bridge in order to deliver improved headways west of Milner Royd (Sowerby Bridge) as well as Halifax-Bradford. This should enable improved service frequencies and better punctuality.
We understand that the Bradford-Manchester journey time for a train with intermediate stops at Halifax, Hebden Bridge, Todmorden and Rochdale could come down from about an hour to 52-53 minutes by 2019. More trains are planned on the route under the Arriva Rail North “Northern” trains franchise including services to Manchester Airport via the new “Ordsall Chord” line now under construction across Manchester. And in the slightly longer term West Yorkshire Combined Authority has an aspiration for four trains an hour Bradford-Manchester. Combined with the Brighouse line services and the York-Blackpools, that’s quite a lot of trains along the routes through Calderdale. Of course, we still want more for Brighouse – and more stopping at Sowerby Bridge!