New Trains Worry

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

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


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

Reforming rail: come to our Annual Meeting!


Dryclough 153 xcrop 2029.05.04
Manchester Leeds train glides through greenery into Halifax. The Calder Valley Line is a scenic route, so why shouldn’t commuting be a pleasure? We want rail to be first transport choice for more and more people. All are welcome at our annual meeting on June 1st. Come and tell us how you think the railway could be made better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elland Station: Progress and Questions

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

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

Halifax station – making it better – December 7th deadline for comments!

DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE! Halifax Railway Station users have just a few more days to make their views known about ideas for transforming the station and its surroundings. Concept designs for an ambitious gateway scheme were published by Calderdale Council in March. Now (until December 7th) there is an on-line questionnaire inviting passengers to rate present facilities and prioritise a range of possible improvements. There are spaces for extended comments on what you like about the station and what you would change, and for any further suggestions or feedback on possible future developments.HFX Friay teatime 2017.05.12

HADRAG supports the broad scope of the concept designs which are truly transformational and promise make the station a centrepiece at the bottom of town linked by high quality public realm to new bus stops, the Piece Hall, Library, Industrial Museum and the town centre beyond. (See our March blogpost.) We have concerns about some aspects to do with pedestrian and vehicular access. We think taxi and drop-off facilities, and rail users’ parking should stay on the town-facing side of the station where the main entrance will be, not moved to the back involving indirect subway access. We accept that current arrangements on the road approach bridge are congested and potentially hazardous. The idea of removing the bridge and having a new concourse building next to a reopened Platform 3 is exciting and ambitious – but it has to work for train passengers. Bringing P3 back into use would reduce pressure on the congested island platform (1/2) effectively replacing platform 2. We say this must be done in a future-proof way so that a third operational rail platform could be introduced in the future to accommodate more frequent trains and new service patterns.

Here are our answers, submitted on behalf of HADRAG by Stephen Waring (Chair) on the three open-ended questions:

What do you like about Halifax station?

  • Compact layout easily navigated with only one change of level (by lift or stairs) between the entrance (including drop-off point) and platforms. Entrance is level with bottom of Horton Street giving direct access for pedestrians with minimal level-changes, despite limitations of space and traffic conflicts on present road access bridge.
  • Reasonably modern concourse and booking office with small retail unit though all limited by space.
  • Island platform (1/2) allows cross-platform connections between upper Calder Valley trains and route to Brighouse, Huddersfield etc.

What would you change?

Not in order of importance, we see need for:

(a)    Larger concourse and other covered space, and better organised space on platforms.

(b)    More space for variety of transport modes at station entrance, retaining common access point to booking office and platforms for pedestrians, cyclists, bus passengers, disabled and taxi/drop-off users. Better transport integration i.e. bus stops as close as possible to train platforms + encouragement of sustainable access (walking and cycling) as well as more rail users’ car parking. Car parking could be on 2 or 3 levels.

(c)     Rail users’ parking to be provided with charging points for electric vehicles.

(d)    More retail, café/bar facilities, aimed at making the station a hub of activity and an attraction in its own right.

(e)    Community rail activity to embed the modern railway in local area – art and historical displays linking with community groups, schools etc; pop-up enterprises; mini-museum of local transport history (just a few ideas!).

(f)     Better public/passenger toilets essential.

(g)    Enhanced booking office providing local and regional travel/tourist information (gateway to Halifax) plus full retailing of commuter and tourist travel products

(h)    Better links between levels, particularly if the approach bridge is to go. To guarantee access for all, lifts need to be reliable, ideally duplicated. For level changes within the proposed new building provision of escalators in addition to lifts and stairs would be desirable, particularly for those who, whilst not requiring lift access, nonetheless struggle with stairs.

(i)      Train operation future-proofing. Provision for transformed, increased, more comprehensive train services in future e.g. design of reinstated Platform 3 should to allow for three operational train platforms which could facilitate improved service patterns.

Any other suggestions/feedback

HADRAG agrees with clear need to transform the station and better integrate it with the town. We strongly support broad aim of the published (March 2018) station gateway concept designs but have concerns about the details as suggested in those designs. The final design must put rail users first in terms of providing direct, safe access between station entrances and trains, and in terms of future-proofing the design for further future expansion of train services. Specifically:

(a)    Concern about proposal in concept design to relocate rail users parking, taxi and drop off on the east side of the line with access to the station entrance via reopened underpass (Navigation Rd). Opening the underpass is welcome to create a new pedestrian link from the Nestle site to town, but access from an east-side entrance to platforms would be very indirect. Even if platform 3 is reinstated, half of passengers arriving/departing would still use the existing island platform (1/2). Access between an east-side car park and P1/2 would require walking through a subway, then up a lift/steps to footbridge level, back over the footbridge and then down another lift/steps. This would be significantly worse for train users than the present access from the road approach bridge.

Also, subways are unpopular.

A further issue arises if access from the town direction is pedestrian only: this could become a rather quiet area at night creating issues of personal security from pedestrian station users. Having taxis, drop-off and (ideally) parking close to pedestrian access would avoid this problem by ensuring activity in the station gardens area throughout opening hours.

We feel strongly therefore that taxis/drop-off and, it is hoped, rail users’ parking should remain on the west, town-facing side of the station, where they could be no more than a few steps from the new station entrance.

(b)    Assuming the approach bridge is removed and platform 3 reinstated, the floor of the proposed new concourse should be level with P3 (not below it as shown in the concept designs), which would avoid an annoying and unnecessary level change that would be counter to the object of providing level access to P3.

(c)     Proposal to “build out” Platform 3 to serve existing Platform 2 track. This appears to make no provision for the possibility of a third operational platform with an independent track. Whilst it is not yet clear whether future service patterns will require this, the possibility must not be excluded; the design must be future-proof.

Future service patterns could involve a further significant increase in service frequency, and could have more trains terminating at Halifax, or trains reversing in the station, or more connections (passengers changing trains at Halifax); an additional operational platform would also enable trains to follow each other into the station at closer headways promoting punctuality, whilst Network Rail might be able to dispense with the existing turnback siding south of the station. Rather than building out the platform, which would also require provision of an enlarged canopy, it would be better to persuade Network Rail to move the P2 track to serve P3 in its present position. This appears feasible; some signalling cables (if still in use following recent resignalling) would need to be moved but this might also be required by the build-out proposal. This would allow for a third track and associated point work to be added later when required.

– JSW 

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?



180HBG Zeke
Grand Central to the rescue? First day of the May 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 service, which should also now return at teatime, 1725 from Leeds back to Hebden Bridge. Not just an “extra”, it ought to be seen as a vital part of the commuting timetable, particularly when “short formations” cause gross overcrowding on other trains. Sadly, reliability of this train has been poor, with frequent cancellations during October and the train sometimes just running Halifax-Leeds instead of through from/to Hebden Bridge.
(Updated October 2018)

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.

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:

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


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