Northern Fares: Still Fairly Unfair?

Not so long ago a HADRAG member starting in Halifax needed to spend the morning in Selby before travelling to Todmorden for an evening of singing. The off-peak day return from Halifax to Selby is £17.20, but for travel before 0930 the price goes up to £19.90. By coincidence if you were in London the same £17.20 would buy an Anytime Day Travelcard Zones 1-6; that is a ticket valid throughout Greater London, all day on train and Tube not to mention bus and tram. For off-peak travel the day Travelcard costs just £12.10. On an Oyster smartcard the effective price comes down to £11.80 – that’s Anytime not Off-peak. (Fares quoted are 2016 rates from National Rail/TfL online 15/12/15.)

Our Halifax rail user had to go to Todmorden after his morning in Selby. So to save money he bought a single from Halifax to Micklefield (the WY boundary) to travel in the morning peak (£5.40), plus a day return Micklefield-Selby (£6.20), plus a WY train+bus day rover (£7.90) to complete the day’s travel (skilfully avoiding the teatime-peak trap on the Tod trip!). Total £19.50 – less than the peak-time return just for Halifax-Selby and still more than a day’s travel in London. So who says fares are cheaper in the North?

Note that fares within West Yorkshire are cheaper than outside the boundary. But anomalies remain. Remember our good news story a year ago about fares from upper Calderdale to Huddersfield being reduced? After reminders from HADRAG, Northern has dealt with further anomalies so Halifax-Huddersfield is now actually a bit cheaper than the longer journey from Sowerby Bridge. But Halifax-Huddersfield (£4.70 anytime return, £4.30 off-peak or £3.10 one-way) is still quite a bit more than Halifax-Bradford (£3.90, £3.60 or £2.70). The higher fares are for a journey of little greater distance, but half as fast and with a quarter of the service frequency. Forgive the pun, but fares fair? We think not.

We can’t wait for smart ticketing London-style across Rail North. But let’s hope we get the fare deals – and fair deals – to match.

Header image attribution: flickr photo by underclasscameraman shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license


Network Rail and DfT must keep promises to Calder Valley Line

When Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP, Secretary of State for Transport announced that the Huddersfield Line and Midland Main Line electrification projects were in a state of pause, HADRAG’s committee had already agreed to write both to the Secretary of State and to bosses of Network Rail. At the end of September, when Mr McLoughlin made his surprise announcement that the two big schemes were to be immediately “unpaused” – but significantly delayed – we wrote again.

Sir Peter Hendy, freshly moved from his old job as Transport for London commissioner to shake up Network Rail as its new chair, is actually still reviewing the whole programme of “CP5” projects originally planned for the 2014-19 “Control Period”. For HADRAG this is not just about electrification of our line which was recommended by the task force earlier this year for CP6 (2019-24), but also about more urgent enhancements between Manchester and Bradford that should be in CP5.

Our latest letter to Patrick McLoughlin and Sir Peter Hendy expounds three wishes:

a)     linespeed and capacity upgrades Manchester-Bradford to be delivered as promised to enable more trains and quicker journeys on the CVL before 2020;

b)     replanning of Huddersfield Line electrification to include significant capacity increases as well as electrification. We want restoration of four tracks, Huddersfield-Mirfield, to allow CVL services via the Brighouse Line to be increased and speeded up;

c)     electrification of the Calder Valley route Leeds-Manchester/Preston via both Bradford and Brighouse to follow straight on after Huddersfield Line wiring is finished in 2022, aiming to keep the 2024 promise of the Northern Electrification Task Force.

Back in June, if you knew anything about current UK rail development, you had known for months that Network Rail was struggling to deliver its ambitious 2014-19 plan that had been sold to a government eager for pre-election good news. It was clear that North-west electrification was running late – it still is. And, we heard, planning work had ground to a halt on Trans-Pennine electrification scheme to extend the wires from Stalybridge via the Standedge Tunnel route to Huddersfield, Leeds and York. We were worried delays to Huddersfield Line electrification could have a knock-on effect on projected improvements including electrification on the Calder Valley Line.

Before HADRAG’s 30th anniversary annual general meeting in May this newsletter reported optimistically on the outcome of the Northern Electrification Task Force. The task force was a cross-party group of MPs, councillors representing Rail North, and officers from Rail North, the Department for Transport (DfT) and Network Rail. Professional work for the task force yielded in spring this year a list of lines recommended to the Secretary of State for electrification in the rail industry’s CP6 – the 2019-24 control period. Just to remind ourselves: in terms of points scored on economic, business and operational criteria Calder Valley Line (CVL) was ranked top of this list.

We say the CVL should follow on immediately after electrification of the Huddersfield Line. Economic and business modelling apart, it is simply common sense. The two routes are closely linked in terms of railway geography and operation. We are a diversionary route for TransPennine Express. Already our Blackpool-York trains run on lines (Blackpool-Preston, Leeds-York) that will be electrified in a few years. Planned services from Bradford should run to Manchester Airport by the end of 2019, probably with regional express branding, again over already electrified lines in south Manchester. In short it makes no sense not to electrify the CVL straight after the Huddersfield line with the teams that erect the masts and string up the overhead wires simply moving round the curve to get started on our line.

Maybe Huddersfield Line and Calder Valley Line electrification should be seen as a single project to be completed by the end of CP6. Whether Network Rail will see it that way is another matter.

Early essentials for Calder Valley as prelude to electrification

But there are other essential and more immediate enhancements required if the new Northern franchise (taking over next spring) is to deliver promised timetable improvements. The specification demands: extension of a Calder Valley service every hour to Chester via Warrington (from December 2017), and from 2019 an extra fast train hourly Bradford-Manchester with (as mentioned) through running to Manchester Airport. (The Airport service also requires the Ordsall Chord to be built in, a matter only very recently resolved in the courts) To facilitate the Calder Valley improvements as part of the wider Northern Hub development, we understand plans are already drawn up with funding both from Network Rail’s resources and (via West Yorkshire Combined Authority) from the West Yorkshire Plus Transport Fund for the following:

  • line-speed improvements, Manchester-Bradford. Current limits of 70mph west of Hebden Bridge, 60 as far as Halifax, then 55 to Bradford could, we understand, be raised to 75 or 85mph.
  • capacity improvements Hebden Bridge to Bradford with new signals so trains can run at closer headways.
  • remodelling Milner Royd Junction, where Bradford and Brighouse routes diverge east of Sowerby Bridge, allowing existing 40mph speed restrictions to be raised.

These enhancements are considered urgent for another reason. When Huddersfield Line electrification does go ahead there will be a need to use the line via Brighouse and Hebden Bridge for diversions. So capacity and speed improvements round our way really should precede a start of serious engineering work on the Huddersfield TransPennine route.

Our first letter went to Patrick McLoughlin and also both to Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne and Sir Peter Hendy. We pressed the case for the Manchester-Bradford CP5 enhancements to go ahead, and, in CP6, for electrification of our line to follow the Huddersfield Line. We received fairly prompt replies during July, from a DfT official in response to our letter to the Secretary of State, and from Network Rail boss Mark Carne himself. Both were brief but reasonably positive in tone. Not surprisingly Mr Carne could not give direct assurances but was good enough to put us in touch with a regional strategy director who has promised to brief a delegation from HADRAG on the outcomes of the Hendy review later in the autumn. The offer will be taken up.

The reply from the DfT reasserted commitment to £13bn of transport investment in the North. (We take it this refers to Network Rail’s budget for enhancements, not to be confused with a higher figure sometimes quoted of about £39bn which includes like-for-like renewals.) “The budget for rail enhancements remains intact and the… pause on some projects will not impact on the delivery of the new rail franchises for TransPennine Express and Northern… .” That sounded encouraging in terms of the work required to deliver timetable improvements.

The DfT reply went on to say that consideration of schemes for delivery during CP6 (2019-24) had started, but it was “not possible yet to say whether or how the Electrification Task Force’s recommendations for the Huddersfield and Calder Valley lines might be accommodated in CP6”. A little worrying, perhaps? (And spot the error: Huddersfield electrification had already been approved and so was not on the task force list!)

Then three months after the great pausing of 25th June came the great unpausing of 30th September, in the middle of the party conference season. The full Hendy Review is not expected to report until November, and so is pre-empted by the surprise announcement (did Sir Peter have his arm twisted to agree to this?). Network Rail now seems to be saying it thinks it can probably electrify Stalybridge-Huddersfield-Leeds-York by 2022 – four years later than originally planned. For two years starting now there will be a “a full planning exercise” involving Network Rail, the DfT and Transport for the North resulting by the end of 2017 in a project that “increases benefits to passengers compared to the previous paused scheme” (letter from Sir Peter Hendy to Patrick McLoughlin, 29 Sep’15).

Make Huddersfield line improvements work for Brighouse and the Calder Valley – and then electrify our line!

Everyone concerned with campaigning for rail in the North certainly hopes that the replanned Huddersfield Line electrification will be a better scheme, building in significant capacity increases as well as just electrifying existing tracks. From a mid-to-lower Calder Valley perspective there is obvious scope to restore the mainly 2-track route between Dewsbury and Huddersfield to the 4-track railway that it used to be. This is important for HADRAG because it could help with the need for improved services on the Brighouse line, benefitting the whole of Calderdale. We are saying sensible capacity enhancements on the premier trans-Pennine route could also work for our line, as a prelude to full electrification as recommended by the task force.

But comments by Mr McLoughlin dampened optimism that schemes in the task force’s list would follow during CP6. Since questions remained about Calder Valley projects up to and including electrification, rather than simply wait for the outcome of the Hendy Review, HADRAG wrote again. We welcomed the restart of Huddersfield Line electrification, but set out our 3-point wish-list, expressing concern “to see progress with work that will enhance infrastructure and hence services on the Calder Valley Line which is linked geographically and operationally with the Huddersfield route. These Calder Valley enhancements are vital. They are both the short term (CP5) projects associated with the Northern Hub on the Bradford-Manchester route, and also medium term (CP6) aspirations including the extension of electrification to our line.”

Our Calder Valley route has been waiting decades for serious infrastructure enhancement. Services have been improved despite long-standing capacity and speed limitations which affect performance as well as limiting development. If the promised transformation is to be delivered by the new franchise, faster tracks and more signals will be needed before the end of the current decade. We say Sir Peter Hendy’s review of Network Rail projects must keep the promise to Calder Valley line passengers, actual and would-be, of speed and capacity improvements in the current “control period”, laying foundations for electrification in less than ten years. We are not giving up on this.

Header image attribution: flickr photo by Department for Transport (DfT) shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Paused, Unpaused…But What About Our Line?

Put on a back burner – paused – by Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin on June 25th and unpaused (similarly) on September 30th, we speak of the Midland Main Line and Trans-Pennine electrification projects. Trans-Pennine means the Huddersfield Line, not to be confused with any other cross-Pennine route including our Calder Valley Line. Network Rail’s new troubleshooting chair Sir Peter Hendy has told the Government he now thinks the Huddersfield line can be “wired” by 2022 – four years later than originally projected. So, back on the front burner, heat’s being turned up slowly. The hope is for a better project with wider benefits.

In November Sir Peter should deliver his review of 2014-19 projects. HADRAG wants to be assured about promised Calder Valley Line speed and capacity enhancements, part of the “Northern Hub”. The winning bidder for the Northern train-operation franchise should be announced before Christmas, their remit to deliver upgraded services to new destinations before 2020. The tracks and signals on our line need to be made ready for that.

HADRAG has written twice to both Government and Network Rail. The top-ranked recommendation of the Northern electrification taskforce to electrify the CVL by 2024 is a promise the Department for Transport and the railway must keep.

Enviably New Modern Train!

  • good as new after 15 years in service;
  • high-powered for 90/100mph running, hill-climbing and acceleration from stops;
  • quieter and greener than a diesel;
  • recently fitted with free wi-fi.

This is not some rich southern route but just over our West Yorkshire hills. Lines between Leeds, Ilkley, Skipton and Bradford Forster Sq (scene of this pic) were electrified 20 years ago, when good old bad old British Rail was handing over its physical network to Railtrack, and Regional Railways North East lived out its final years of state ownership. West Yorkshire Metro (reflected in the red livery) was abiding force for development – and still is today as Combined Authority. But in an early case of the North making do with cast-offs, electrified Airedale & Wharfedale services started with 25 year old slam-door stock no longer good enough for Essex commuters. So when the pictured Class 333 arrived brand new in 2000 it was a big quality leap. These trains are designed with high-density interiors for short commuting trips but contrast strikingly with old fashioned 1980s stock used for longer journeys on the Calder Valley line.

Our turn for modern trains is surely due.

Judge gives green light to Ordsall

The Ordsall Chord is a new railway that will allow TransPennine and Northern trains via Victoria station to swing round the west of the city to Oxford Rd and Piccadilly stations. It will open a route for Calder Valley trains to Manchester Airport and other southward destinations. Transport and Works Act approval for the chord was given by the Secretary of State for Transport in Spring following an inquiry. But this was challenged in the Royal Courts of Justice in September by former president of the Institute of Civil Engineers, Mark Whitby. Mr Whitby argued the decision-making process was flawed and the benefits of preventing harm to heritage assets were not given due consideration. Network Rail’s new line slices through two historic bridges where it intersects the route of the “world’s first inter-city railway”, the Liverpool & Manchester, causing physical and contextual damage to heritage structures. Mr Whitby’s claimed an alternative “Option 15” would be better. But Option 15 was certain to cost more. It would have meant diverting the existing Liverpool-Manchester Victoria line to cut through a massive economic development site, Middlewood Locks in Salford, where work on a first phase including hundreds of new homes could start early next year. Clearly Mr Whitby’s option would affect this! The Ordsall Chord inquiry inspector had acknowledged damage to heritage, but recommended approval for the Network Rail scheme. On October 14th Mrs Justice Lang dismissed Mark Whitby’s challenge, saying the inspector had given “considerable weight and importance” to heritage issues. She found no error in law, and gave no permission to appeal; so this looks like a green light, not a yellow.

If you value both transport heritage and transport development this has been a messy, uncomfortable process. But the Ordsall Chord should now be ready by the end of 2017.

Header image attribution: flickr photo by Thomas’s Pics shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Helping the Brighouse Line

As HADRAG has been pointing out with mind-numbing regularity since Brighouse station opened fifteen years ago, potentially fastest existing route from Brighouse, Sowerby Bridge and upper Calderdale to Leeds actually uses part of the Huddersfield Line through Mirfield and Dewsbury. A fast train from Brighouse to Leeds via Dewsbury would take about 20 minutes; it would be 30 min from Sowerby Bridge and at most 40 minutes from Hebden Bridge – bettering present times either via Bradford or on the Dewsbury stopper. There is also an obvious need for a better service from upper Calderdale via Brighouse to Huddersfield. But the invitation to tender for the new Northern Rail franchise prohibits more trains Brighouse-Huddersfield round the “Bradley curve”. Bradley Jn is where our trains routinely stand at the signal waiting for a path into Huddersfield. Similar junction conflicts occur at Heaton Lodge Jn, Mirfield where CV Brighouse services have to give way to TransPennine Expresses in both directions. Mirfield-Huddersfield used to be a 4-track railway and could be again without major difficulty – given the will and the funding. With four tracks, parallel movements would be possible. A train from the Calder Valley would be able to run into Mirfield or Huddersfield alongside a TPE service instead of having to wait

Rolling Stock Roundup

Pictured mid-August – the first Vivarail D-train carriage, converted from a decades-old “cast-off” London Underground car, ready for a trip round a Warwickshire test track.  We couldn’t resist the chance to muck about on a “new” (?!) train and so joined an invited party of stakeholders to look at work in  progress. Low-emission diesel engines have been fitted, and a new strengthened cab. Inside, it still felt very much like a London “Tube”, with District Line blue moquette replaced by a duller grey. There were mock-ups to look round of innovative modern interiors more suited to longer trips. It will be good to see these in service. The test-track demo was a pretty good ride at maximum speed of maybe 35mph (though we were advised to remain seated at one point). It could go at 60 in service. Faster than the usual 45 max on the District Line. Slower than a Pacer or Sprinter, but with better acceleration. Could the D-train replace Pacers in the North? Surely not. The bidders for the Northern franchise have made such decisions by now and the D-train is some months away from useful evaluation. A 3-car prototype should enter service on the Plymouth-Gunnislake branch next Spring. Scenic branch lines in the South West of England or elsewhere could just suit this train, with its good views out of the window hopefully improved by upgraded seating. Overall it’s a laudable re-engineering of a train that is too good to just throw away.

On the Calder Valley D-trains just wouldn’t do. We hope to receive a share of the 120 brand-new carriages required by the franchise specification for non-electrified routes, and speculate hopefully that these proper new trains could be used on a network of regional express routes including our York-Blackpool and future services to Chester and Manchester Airport. The franchisee will also have to refurbish all existing stock to modern standards, provide a significant increase in capacity and banish Pacer units by 2020. Interestingly, however, the Porterbrook train leasing company’s prototype refurbished Pacer is expected to be trialled on Northern lines as we write this. Well-tested in the North, Pacers could yet come out of retirement down south, slightly redressing the balance!

Meanwhile the North West continues to go electric as 25-year old Class 319 units from Thameslink, refurbished to look like new (well nearly), provide a lot more seats on routes from Liverpool to Manchester Airport, Wigan etc. The 319s are 10 years older and significantly less powerful than certain other electric trains in the North, including Class 323s which work existing Manchester electric routes and the 333s (pictured front page) that work the Airedale and Wharfedale lines. Now we hear that Northern’s 323s will likely go to the Midlands in the next few years and it’s obvious 319s would struggle to maintain timings on routes such as the tightly scheduled Glossop line. After the removal of TransPennine Express Class 170 diesels to Chiltern Railways, it sounds like the Northern Powerhouse could be suffering a Northern Power Loss. Oh dear!

Down at the Station…


We wandered along one midsummer morning to find the Friends of Brighouse Station hard at work putting final touches to floral displays before the arrival of judges from Yorkshire in Bloom (YiB). Throughout the summer, colourful displays on the station have transformed the environment for rail users. Praising the Friends’ voluntary efforts since their formation last October, YiB’s judges noted: “The station now looks more inviting to visitors and users. Sponsored planters and self-watering half baskets make the platforms colourful and inviting. The volunteers have made a great impact, making the station clean, [and] litter, graffiti and weed free. Improvements [are]now taking place in the car park making the area more inviting and safer for rail users.”

Sowerby Bridge

Just up the line, FoSBRS, the Friends of Sowerby Bridge Railway Station, have been going a bit longer, and – you guessed it – they scooped yet another award this summer. Awarding Gold in the Open Spaces category YiB commended a “well organised, enthusiastic group with specific aims utilising members’ specialist skills and interests, working with various groups and stakeholders to ‘breathe new life into the station’ for the benefit of rail travellers and visitors”. There was praise also for links with schools and scout groups, and for recruitment and social activities. An “impressive number of information boards depicting persons of note and interesting events” from local history now adorn the platforms. And FoSBRS looks after its environment, providing habitats for wildlife and harvesting rainwater. Coffee grounds and card from the Jubilee Refreshment Room are composted for use by the group’s eager team of gardeners.


Mytholmroyd Station Partnership & Neighbourhood were judged “Outstanding” in YiB’s Neighbouhood category. This “dedicated group who are committed to improving the station and neighbouring green spaces for the local community and visitors to the town to enjoy” were commended for their partnership with the railway, local authority and local church, for planting on and around the station, and for encouragement of local schoolchildren to get involved with artwork and seed cultivation.

Community displays brighten the scene. “Ironman” boards celebrate a 1968 science fiction story by Ted Hughes the locally born Poet Laureate. As at Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge sponsorship by local businesses is acknowledged and highly valued – essential in fact. Mytholmroyd station partnership celebrates its tenth year in 2016.

With continuing community involvement Mytholmroyd should become an even more attractive place to get on the train, and is due to get a new station car-park. What some users have been calling for is simply more trains – or maybe not so simply! The weekday service is twice-an-hour to Manchester and to Leeds. By national standards, that’s not a bad service frequency for a village halt, but there’s a greater catchment area if park & ride expands. We know people want more frequent trains to Bradford and it would be nice if currently rare stops by the York-Blackpool service could be increased.


HADRAG has repeatedly argued, notably in the Northern franchise consultation and to the shortlisted bidders, that more is needed for stations by-passed by the faster services. We have long said that all the York-Blackpools should serve Sowerby Bridge – seemingly half-promised in the past but a lot less than half delivered. By the end of the decade the franchise will deliver an extra semi-fast service every hour on the Bradford route; surely, we say, this should call at Sowerby Bridge. The station now has a big car park that is almost full most mornings.

A lot more is needed to realise Brighouse’s rail potential, drawing on a key position within the M62 corridor. Here is another station where the car-park fills early. With talk of tourism development let’s make rail first travel choice for more people! For starters we’ve called for the Manchester-Brighouse-Leeds service to run later in the evenings and on Sundays. There must be a case for a service, maybe from Preston, linking upper Calderdale with Huddersfield, giving an additional hourly train for all stations along the valley bottom – not forgetting Elland. Brighouse is also on a potential direct route via Wakefield to York, avoiding the Leeds bottleneck. And finally, if the capacity can be created for a fast service, Brighouse could in the future be within 20 minutes of Leeds itself by train – something this newsletter will never let you forget!

Volunteer action by the friends and partnership groups makes our stations more attractive and creates a sense of community ownership. But we need the rail businesses and transport authorities to give us more trains, market them, and get even more of us using them.