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!

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Down at the Station…

Brighouse

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

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.

Overall

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.