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.

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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

Great news for most – better needed for Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge!

Under two new franchises across the North of England £1.2 billion will be invested in trains, stations and smart ticketing. In total there will be 500 brand new carriages designed for 100mph running on Northern and 125 mph on TransPennine Express (TPE). 40,000 extra seats at peak times are planned to tackle overcrowding.

TPE operates services via Huddersfield, Sheffield, long distance trains linking North East, Yorkshire & Humber, Manchester Airport, Liverpool and Scotland.  Under the new franchise TPE will also cover local stops on the Leeds-Huddersfield-Manchester Line. TPE has been operated by First Group in partnership with French company Keolis for a decade. The new franchise will be First in its own right. Regular travellers on the Huddersfield line know about overcrowding and problems with First TPE’s 3-car trains which although modern and pleasant when there is space, have needed more coaches for years. TPE’s new trains will be longer and go faster and they plan to run to Edinburgh via the East Coast Main Line. First group beat off bids from its former partner Keolis with the Go-Ahead group, and from Stagecoach.

The Northern franchise has been won by German-owned Arriva Rail North (see also our back page piece), seeing off rivals Abellio (Dutch railways – who own 50% of the outgoing Northern Rail) and Govia (another partnership of Go-Ahead + Keolis).

Halifax and Calder Valley Benefits

Arriva is to invest £400 million in more than 280 brand-new carriages formed as 98 trains, a mix of 2, 3 and 4-car units. About 43 trains will be electrics for Airedale, Wharefdale, Leeds-Doncaster and Manchester-Glossop and so on. And 55 will be diesels. In total this is significantly more than the 120 new carriages (maybe about 50 trains in total) demanded by the Invitation to Tender (ITT). Remember the ITT was the Department for Transport (DfT)’s franchise specification. The diesels will be modern 100 mph intercity-style units for use on a new network of express services – Northern Connect – that will include the majority of trains on the Calder Valley Line. Clearly Arriva has agreed with HADRAG that our line is well overdue an injection of new rolling stock.

Northern Connect is perhaps best defined as a network of regular, inter-city standard fast or at least semi-fast services. New service patterns to be introduced over the next four years will give increased frequency on the core Leeds-Bradford-Manchester route. Most CVL services will continue beyond Manchester Victoria to other North West destinations:

  • As required by the ITT, Leeds-CVL-Chester fast/semi-fast trains should – will – start by December 2017;
  • Also in the ITT, Calder Valley-Manchester Airport trains (fast/semi-fast) are due by Dec’2019 when an additional Bradford-Manchester train will increase from will run each hour;
  • Extras planned by Arriva include through services between our line and Liverpool (probably fast/semi-fast) and also Southport via Wigan (probably a stopper).

Stopping patterns are not yet completely clear, but all of the above except for the Southport will become Northern Connect routes, operated by the new trains, by 2019. The aim is a best time of 50 minutes Bradford-Manchester. It can’t all happen overnight on 1 April 2016!

Our popular York-Blackpool service will also become Northern Connect, with new trains.

Adding in the Brighouse Line gives, by 2019, 5 trains/hour between upper Calderdale and Leeds, and also 5 trains/hour between Halifax and Leeds. There will be earlier trains on the Halifax-Huddersfield Line through Brighouse. More evening services are promised: let’s hope they run late enough for people to enjoy a reasonably civilised night out in either Leeds or Manchester. There are questions still to be answered here. Could there for example be night time trains to/from Manchester Airport as there are already on the TPE Huddersfield Line? It looks like the answer to that, for now, is no.

The Chester service will run on Sundays and Bradford-Manchester Sunday frequency will increase from hourly at present to half-hourly.

Sowerby Bridge Also Needs More Trains

We also think Sowerby Bridge needs an increase in its present service. This is a well-used station where passengers are frustrated by trains that go through fast. The recently enlarged car-park is often full by 07.30 (just like at Brighouse). The station serves not just Sowerby Bridge town but the large urban area of south-west Halifax plus the leafy Ryburn Valley. Copley Valley housing and business development will generate new demand. We are asking Arriva for more trains to stop, including:

  • all York-Blackpool trains;
  • the additional Bradford-Manchester trains each hour that are to be introduced in 2019.

The above would almost double the number of trains. We hope we are pushing at an open door because it Sowerby Bridge to be one of four Calderdale stations to be designated “Northern Connect” – see our Down at the Station feature.

Elland Station

EllandStationSiteSJW
Site of Elland Station (SJW)

We have reminded Arriva not to forget about Elland. Their timetable must include allowance for trains to stop. Also somebody needs to find the £10M or so needed for construction. At least from this view of the Lowfields site it looks like the station may already have a café!

Fares and Subsides — Should We Worry?

The Government boasts that the new franchise does more for less. They think the present level of subsidy to Northern Rail is excessive – something we could argue with given the amount of DfT support given, for example, to Transport for London. So Arriva are expected to reduce the amount of subsidy required to top up fares income, cover costs (and, since they are a private company, make a profit). That may be a good deal for “the taxpayer” and the Government’s fiscal plans but what about passengers who pay fares (as well as taxes)? It is clear that with new trains, longer trains, more frequent services and lots more staff on stations Arriva Trains North is going to have bigger outgoings than Northern Rail did.

So won’t fares have to go up? Apparently not, says the government. The additional costs are expected to be covered by growth in traffic. It sounds like something rail campaigners were saying years ago. Provide a decent service, encourage more passengers, and the improvements will pay for themselves.

But there are lots of questions still to be answered.

Header image attribution:  flickr photo by tj.blackwell https://flickr.com/photos/tjblackwell/830433088 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Arriva for Northern and First hold on to TransPennine Express

Just when we thought it was safe to have a lie-in, a glance at the phone gave the alert. White smoke from the Department for Transport (DfT) revealed Arriva Rail North Ltd in line for the Northern train operating franchise. TransPennine Express will stay with First group.

It’s a year since we put our views to the Arriva team, who impressed us as good listeners. Campaigners had already demanded (against an originally disappointing DfT prospectus) train services comparable with what London and the home countries enjoy. The result was a reasonably expansionist specification (the “ITT”) that it’s clear Arriva now intend to deliver well beyond.

With the worrying proviso that Network Rail has to complete infrastructure enhancements on time, four years from now, our line will be part of the Northern Connect express network, with regular trains to Liverpool, Chester and Manchester Airport as well as Blackpool, Preston and York. Halifax should have 5 trains/hour to Leeds, plus an extra train each daytime hour Bradford-Manchester with journey times reduced by at least 10 per cent. Stations will have a new staff presence. Sunday services will be increased. And there will be significant additional rolling stock both new and refurbished to reduce commuter overcrowding.

Will it be enough? We are disappointed at how little is proposed for the Brighouse Line. We don’t blame Arriva for this but we want more to be done. And we say Sowerby Bridge should be served by all Blackpool-York trains and by the extra Manchesters to be introduced in 2019.

HADRAG’s work continues

Header image attribution: By Geof Sheppard (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

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 https://flickr.com/photos/underclasscameraman/3464921345 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) https://flickr.com/photos/transportgovuk/9305649181 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.