Brighouse by Train

Weekdays, Brighouse has two Northern trains an hour in each direction over two routes. Leeds-Dewsbury-Brighouse- Rochdale-Manchester “valley bottom” trains run daytime till early evening. Brighouse- Manchester takes an hour. Leeds-Brighouse (via Dewsbury calling most stations in between) takes 30-35 minutes. The slower “semi-circular” Leeds-Bradford-Huddersfield service mainly leaves Leeds at 35 minutes past the hour and (after pausing in Halifax) arrives in Brighouse just under an hour later. Train times in our table are a rough guide: check on line at http://www.nationalrail.co.uk. Best printed timetable for Brighouse trains is Metro’s Calder Valley Line booklet.

The valley bottom service is great for a day out along a line of market towns—Dewsbury, Sowerby Bridge, Hebden, Todmorden—as well as Brighouse itself. There are some famously great pubs and cafés close to the stations. West Yorkshire day rover tickets are still excellent value (currently adult £8, bus and rail, family £12) but watch out for the evening peak trap.

The valley service via Brighouse does not run on Sundays—a missed opportunity to promote local leisure journeys HADRAG says. The new franchise is to increase the 2-hourly Sunday service on the Leeds-Halifax-Huddersfield route to a more useful hourly frequency by the end of 2017. HADRAG, of course, says more is needed.

Brighouse is also of course served by open-access train operator Grand Central (another Arriva company) with four trains daily (including Sundays) to London also serving Wakefield Kirkgate, sometimes Pontefract and Doncaster. Wakefield’s Kirkgate station, recently improved, is a good stop-off for the Hepworth Gallery. Grand Central trains accept most normal rail tickets including West Yorkshire MetroCards and Day Rovers (but sadly not the regional South Pennines Day Ranger). Have a good trip!

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Sowerby Bridge: reasonable, achievable demands!

Many of the trains that do not stop at Sowerby Bridge have the same timing Hebden Bridge to Halifax as ones that do stop. The non-stoppers often have a couple of minutes “performance allowance” in the schedule. In theory most if not all could all stop, but don’t because of “performance risk”. This service has to hit time slots over complex junctions at Preston, Leeds and York, so the train operator wants some slack in the timings to meet punctuality targets. We understand that. But in our report we also say the new timetable to be introduced at the end of 2017 could and should be designed so that all the Blackpool-York expresses do serve Sowerby Bridge. This has been half-promised in the past and it’s time to deliver. We also think a few more of these trains could serve Mytholmroyd.

By 2019 there will be an extra train every hour on weekdays between Bradford and Manchester—through to the Airport. We say this should also serve Sowerby Bridge.

These reasonable, achievable proposals would double daytime service frequency at Sowerby Bridge during the week, responding to clear latent demand. ORR figures show passengers at Sowerby Bridge increased by 115% between 2006/7 and 2014/15, beating all other Calder Valley Line stations apart from Brighouse.

A better class of cast-off!

These ScotRail “TurboStar” Class 170 diesel trains built around 15 years ago are a lot more modern than most of what currently runs on the Calder Valley Line.  We hear that they could be taking over Leeds-Brighouse-Manchester-Southport services (along with the Harrogate Line) in a couple of year’s time, displaced by Scotland’s electrification programme. So is this another case of Northern England having to make do with cast-offs, this time from further north rather than down south?

Such a view would be unfair. Arriva promises that, whilst acquiring 281 brand-new carriages, they will refurbish all older units as new. This means modernising, complete with free wi-fi and compliant access, not just any 1999-2005 vintage Turbostars, but also our ancient Class 150s that in their present state really are a step back into the grim
1980s. (That such transformation is possible has been demonstrated by South West Trains with its 30-year old Class 455 electrics.) Our guess is that”150s”will still be running Leeds-Halifax-Huddersfield services in five years time but there is every reason to hope they will look and feel much more like modern trains. They will keep one current advantage
doors part way along the carriage to facilitate quicker boarding and alighting at busy times compared with later”super sprinter”and “express”types. The 170s also have the doors advantage, plus higher power that HADRAG hopes will help improve journey times on the Brighouse-Manchester route.

Of course the really good news for all Calderdale stations apartfrom Brighouse-is that most trains via Bradford and Halifax will become Northern Connect services employing brand new”Civity”Class 195 trains being built in Spain”as we speak”, to quote Northern boss Alex Hynes. We expect the 195s to have all mod cons including tables, leg room and a decent view out of the window!

Enhancements Confirmed

Network Rail has confirmed projects to enable Calder Valley service improvements are programmed for completion over the next three years:

  • Calder Valley (West) already started, due for completion by the end of this year — track renewals, bridge strengthening and signalling work for higher line speed and capacity.
  • Calder Valley (East), on site next March, for commissioning Dec’18 — various track work Hebden Bridge-Bradford for higher line speed. Increased capacity linked to Huddersfield-Bradford resignalling (which we understand goes right up to Hebden Bridge).
  • Bradford Mill Lane Junction capacity — new crossovers to enable more parallel moves and increased services Halifax- Bradford-Leeds. Also due to be commissioned Dec’18.

Down At The Station

The new franchise under Arriva promises a quiet revolution on stations across the North with a return of human railway resources to halts that have been unstaffed for years. Many stations will be branded “Northern Connect” after the new network of express trains serving them. Northern Connect stations should have staff presence from 06.00 till 22.00 every day, plus catering facilities and that 21st Century necessity free wi-fi. It has been pointed out by at least one HADRAG member that “catering facilities” could in some cases just mean a vending machine – cynical or what?

Four Calderdale stations will be Northern Connect. Three of them already have catering. Halifax already has its “Cafexpress” café-shop, Hebden Bridge its “Coffee Station” and Sowerby Bridge of course the justly famous Jubilee Refreshment Rooms. Todmorden did have a vending machine for a time.

Staffing until 2200 will mean extended hours for all of these stations compared with what they have now. Of the four designated stations only Sowerby Bridge does not already have a booking office but its platforms are usually staffed at peak times by the now familiar revenue protection staff in their hi-viz jackets. Indeed we wonder whether the new staffing will be not so much people sitting in offices as roaming the platforms giving help and advice as well as selling tickets. We are also likely to see a lot more ticket vending machines (TVMs) and maybe “virtual ticket offices” a bit like the “smart wall” recently installed on the concourse at Harrogate.

Brighouse and Mytholmroyd will not be Northern Connect Stations, even though it seems from what we can deduce about service patterns that Mytholmroyd at least will have some Northern Connect services. Both will, however, have rail staff around for part of the day. We shall see whether they also get TVMs. The question arises what form of accommodation will be provided for staff. A traditional booking office may be inappropriate where stations have several entrances and platforms are connected by indirect pedestrian routes using nearby roads. Again there seems to be a logic favouring roaming staff – but they still need a base, shelter and restroom. One “size” is unlikely to fit all. At Sowerby Bridge, could railway staff make use of the Jubilee’s excellent refreshment and restroom facilities?

Sowerby Bridge is complicated by having two entrances, though in a different way to Mytholmroyd. Neither station has a single convenient place for a ticket office. Brighouse has four entrances. But it does have the wonderful Station Café, not quite on the station but just a minute round the corner in Gooder Lane, and already in a positive relationship with that other Arriva brand, Grand Central.

The lack of direct pedestrian links across the line also arises with the new car park at Mytholmroyd, which is planned and hopefully should be ready in 2017. Returning commuters from Leeds who have parked next to the eastbound platform will have a long walk round in the evening back to their cars – they already do but it will be even further! Locations like Hebden Bridge, Sowerby Bridge and even Halifax will always be more physically convenient for park and ride – but their car parks are often full!

The big new car park at Mytholmroyd may make more people ask whether their station should actually be served by more trains. That will not be easy to achieve given the need to strike a balance between serving the village community and providing a attractively frequent and fast inter-urban service.

Back in the physical here and now (rather than the speculative future) a recent innovation at Halifax aims to improve safety for ever-increasing crowds. Signs have gone up exhorting people to keep left on the stairway between footbridge and platforms which should mean less bumping into each other. It’s still easy to not notice and go the wrong way if you are running for a train of course. A central handrail might be a further help.

We continue to ask for progress on HADRAG’s oft-repeated suggestion to reduce crowding on the narrowest part of the platform near the automatic sliding doors. Polite signs and yellow hatching on the floor would encourage passengers to move along, improving safety, aiding door operation and promoting faster boarding and alighting when the train comes in.

Performance and Infrastructure Worries

The next November 2015 downpour is about to start as the Manchester-Leeds train heads towards Mytholmroyd. Recent weather, rail conditions, floods and landslips played havoc with our service recently, not helped by a timetable that is barely fit for purpose. Our trains have miniscule turn-round times at Manchester and Leeds so if a train is delayed going one way it has little chance of setting off back on time. Arriva say they have tough targets and will design a robust timetable. But not even German efficiency can instantly improve the British weather in a grimly changing climate.

Our line needs infrastructure upgrades to cope with more trains including freight. The scene in the picture was once four-track, a place where fast trains could pass slower ones. Before restoration of loops is even considered Network Rail has to complete linespeed and capacity improvements all the way from Manchester to Bradford. These improvements are needed to support the faster and more frequent service planned by 2019. The DfT has promised us that work will start on the ground in January 2016. But this is the “west” work around Rochdale. The Hendy Review of Network Rail projects is now out, but it is still unclear whether Hebden Bridge-Bradford capacity and linespeed, and capacity improvements at Bradford will be sorted by the end of “CP5”, the 2014-19 control period. It is also rumoured that construction of extra through platforms at Manchester Piccadilly – on the route to be used by our Manchester Airport services – will be delayed into CP6 (2019-24).

The works at our end of the CVL are vital if the franchise is to deliver what is promised. We hope to have a further update in our next newsletter.

Unsere Deutsche Bahn!

Our German railway! Because whatever a Northern train looks like in April 2016 or December 2019, it will likely say something like “Part of Arriva – a DB company”. You might possibly have seen that on our nice Grand Central trains that take us to London in such a (usually) trouble-free way. GC is another Arriva operation. And Arriva is a commercial subsidiary of (DB), the German state-owned railway. So pretty well all trains through Halifax and Brighouse will soon be part of “Our German railway”.

DB, through Arriva, is well established in UK passenger transport, mainly as a result of a series of takeovers. Rail franchises include Arriva Trains Wales and the less overtly branded Cross Country. Then there’s Chiltern Railways, who operate quality services out of London Marylebone to Oxford, Warwickshire and Worcestershire, and run what are surely the best-refurbished Mk 3 coaches. The London Overground concession is an equal partnership of Arriva and MTR Corporation (the latter 76% owned by the Hong Kong Government). Let’s not forget either the Tyne & Wear Metro, or Alliance Rail, younger open-access sibling of Grand Central. Arriva also operate numerous services in 13 other countries across mainland Europe (though interestingly not in Germany itself), so none can say that our new train operator is without experience. Arriva’s UK company HQ is in Sunderland. By the way if you see “DB Schenker” on the side of a red locomotive pulling a freight or engineering train, that’s another offshoot of the very same Deutsche Bahn!

Before the German takeover Arriva Trains North (ATN) ran our trains until the birth of Northern Rail in 2004. ATN had taken over the original north-east franchisee MTL; they refreshed image and marketing but ran into problems with staff and train shortages, and industrial disputes. DB didn’t buy Arriva until 2010; so the new company could be very different. Swerving political comment about foreign state ownership of privatised UK rail operations, we must wait and see whether there will be closer cooperation between corporate cousins Arriva Rail North and Grand Central. Currently Halifax and Brighouse enjoy cheap advance-purchase tickets on GC. Through Advance fares from other Northern stations via Grand Central to London could encourage more people from up the valley to connect with GC for London. Station facilities are already pretty well shared, it would appear.

Header image attribution: flickr photo by 47843 Vulcan https://flickr.com/photos/47843_vulcan/15941574467 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license